Being a full-time artist even if there’s still no way for you to make what you need solely out of your art is the perfect formula to becoming the stereotypical starving artist. Rory Gardiner joins Bree Noble on the show to explain why there is no shame in being a “balanced artist” – someone who has a day job, perhaps a family, and their art in the mix. In fact, he makes the case for its unexpected advantages over-focusing solely on the art. Rory believes that when you free yourself from thinking of your art as the way you make money, you will be able to focus more on getting it to the direction that you want. After all, even the great artists back in the day had patrons. Why not be your own patron and use your day job to sponsor your art?
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The Balanced Artist: Why Having A Day Job Makes Sense For Musicians With Rory Gardiner
I am excited to be talking to Rory Gardiner. We’re going to talk about many subjects because he is well-rounded. he is a multi-faceted artist and what I love about his platform is that he talks about being able to be an artist while being well balanced as far as balancing your work and your life, your family and your art, all those things because we are almost multi-faceted people. First, I would love to have you, Rory, let them know a bit of your background, how you got involved in music, what you’ve done in your career over the years up until now.
Thank you. I’m probably well-rounded because it’s mostly COVID weight. I got into music several years ago. Like everybody, I wanted to become a rock star. I did that for a while. Through that stumbling block, I did a few licensing things here or there, I had some cool shows here or there. I didn’t think I was creating much value in the music scene. I’d be doing these theater shows. I’d love to talk in between songs, tell jokes, reconnect with the audience between that. It got to a point where I was like, “I can’t wait for the song to be over I can talk to the audience in between songs. Maybe I’ll try stand-up comedy.” While continuing with music, I decided to do standup comedy as well. Several years later, standup comedy world is still prevalent in my life. The same thing happened with that. It’d be telling jokes about God knows what to make people laugh. I didn’t think I was offering any value to anybody.
Until 2018, my house got hit with this tornado and I created a video, an entertaining, funny outlook, a Cribs parody on the damage to the home. It ended up going viral. It got the attention of the TED people at TED Talks, “We’d love to talk to you about your interpretation of creating humor around a serious subject.” I went in this TED Talk in Colorado in 2019. It was an eight-minute comedy routine but with value. That thing gets shared at PTSD conferences and therapists use it to treat their trauma patients as an example of sublimation replacing a date of situation with a good one. That’s the first time I realized that what I do as an entertainer finally has value.
Has that spilled over into your music as well, like you realized a bit more that your music has value?
The music has always been prevalent. While we’re still doing these jokes, we’re creating music. I find that my music shifts with whatever happens to be going on in my own life. It started out as a country musician and still a country musician to this day but the weather changes. Somewhere around 2012, I decided it’s time to have kids. It wasn’t only my decision. We had kids and I couldn’t write country songs anymore. My entire life was Sesame Street. I decided I can’t take this music. I can write my music. Whether it’s better or worse, I’m going to take a crack at it. For the last few years, I’ve been writing children’s music and now I’ve got three of those albums out. It’s fun. This is a fusion of my interpretation of parenting kids and country music.
I love that because we, as musicians, we do tend to process through our music and it tends to be a bit of therapy for us as well. For you, that’s the part of life that you were in. You were interpreting that through your own lens, which is awesome. Plus, you’re creating value for other people’s kids and also for yourself, not having to listen to the music that you didn’t like that your kids were listening to and making something better. I know you are big on work-life balance. I’d love to know, this whole time where you were making music and going and touring, were you also working a day job? How were you balancing all that with your family?
It’s yes and no, I have seasons where I’ll create for a long period of time and then I’ll burn out. I’ll run out of ideas so I need a shift, something else to create. I have to create an adversity because that fuels the creativity. My education is in software. I decided to go back and do some consulting. The first day on the job, I wrote three songs because your mind is like this prison. I got to get out of this cubicle wall. You write your way out of it. I’ve been doing that on and off for over a decade, taking contracts when I run out of creative ideas because it’s like a reset switch.
That’s like tapping into our whole mentality of the grass is always greener. When we’re home and we’re able to do writing and we have that time then we have this block but then when someone’s keeping you from doing the writing then all of a sudden you get this burst of creativity.
It’s like perceived adversity. People gun for that full-time artist thing quickly and sometimes too quickly. They don’t realize that maybe that isn’t exactly what it is they want to do. I’ve done that. I’ve gone down that road at a publishing deal where I had to write songs every day. I had to fill a quota and you realize quickly, you don’t want to write songs every day. At the parties, you could tell people you’re a full-time artist but that life sucks. I love playing live but not every day of the week. I did that and I’d played pubs, weddings and private events 6 or 7 days a week.
You find out quickly, you burn out of that too. There are easier ways to make money. You don’t need to monetize your art. It stifles your art when you try to monetize it. If you played gigs in pubs or weddings or wherever it happens to be seven days a week, the last thing you want to do the next morning is pick up a guitar and write new music. Why wouldn’t you try to balance that with something, let’s say a day job something that requires a bit more linear thinking, as opposed to creative thinking, that way you have some fuel at the end of the day to write whatever it is you want.
That’s an interesting perspective. I know most musicians that their eventual goal is to do it full-time. This will speak to the readers that they like their day job. I hear from plenty of people that like day job and they love music and they want to do it and, on the side, they want to keep bringing in enough income to keep doing the music because we do have to have that money there, we can’t have it be the sinkhole of money. Did you find that you were always trying to balance like, “I need to make enough money over here I can keep doing this thing over here?”
The perception changed just because you have money coming in on this other source, it doesn’t make you any less of an artist. There are so much easier ways to make money than being an artist but creating art is what you do. It’s not necessarily what you have to do to create your primary income. I find that if you change your perception with that, consider your day job like a sponsor for your creativity. Instead of making it stifle, it’s treated as an opportunity. You have this competitive advantage now over the people slinging it away in bars and doing their thing. You have a little extra money that you can throw at studio time or a video production or advertising. You create the balance that way.Making money outside of music doesn’t make you any less of an artist. Click To Tweet
I love that idea of thinking of your job as a sponsor of your art. That makes a lot of sense. When I was in my early days of my career and trying to figure stuff out and I was in this band and I was working full time at the opera as a director of finance because I was at the executive level, I could reorganize my schedule and be like, “I’m going to work from 7:00 to 3:00.” I could go to band practice and still be home to be with my family. It did feel like that company was sponsoring my band because they were enabling me to be able to do that, to have the flexibility and money to be able to invest in equipment and stuff that I needed. All the people at the company, they knew I was leaving at 3:00 every day and where I was going. When we were doing our first shows, I was able to get them all to come because they feel like they were a part of it.
It’s hard to tell the person don’t tell your employer that they’re sponsoring your band.
Being on the executive team, I did have to go to the executive director and say, “This is what I want to do with my schedule and here’s why.” Being that it was an opera company, they understood artistic needs and like, “As long as it doesn’t affect what you’re doing, I don’t care if you’ve changed your hours.” If you’re going to be more productive in those hours, if you’re going to feel more creatively fulfilled then he was happy to let me do it.
It positions you in a different way in which allows you to be more experimental. If you’re trying to fit in this box because you need to monetize that creativity, let’s say you need to learn these Top 40 songs because you need to pay rent at the end of the month, you’re less likely to learn some of the experimental songs or create some of the more experimental music that you want to because no one’s going to hire you to play those songs. If you have the flexibility to have income coming in from other sources then you’re free to create whatever it is you want.
It also takes the stress off. Occasionally, I’ll have people come and join my academy and they’ll be like, “Can I get this up and running in 2 to 3 months because I have to have a full-time income by then?” You can if you work hard but you can’t guarantee that the fans are going to love your music, that the fans are going to support you, that your music is good enough to be able to draw a full-time income. I cannot give you that guarantee. To put that pressure on yourself where like, “I have to make this money.” It’s going to stifle your creativity. I’m glad we’re having this conversation.
That’s where you need to reevaluate what you’re doing. It sounds line in that scenario, they want to create money doing music because they hate their job. If that’s the case, find a different job. Don’t make music the thing that’s going to get you out of that particular job. I’ve done music full-time. I’ve created jingles. I’ve done everything you could think of to create money in music. I wasn’t happy. Look at Albert Einstein, for example, he had a day job at a patent office. He did that all day and it was a linear job. It didn’t use any of his creativity. He did that all day so that he could focus on his experiments and his Theory of Relativity all night. If he was trying to be creative all the time, if he was doing pharmaceutical work and creating beakers here or there all day, he probably didn’t want to do that all night.
Having that balance is what helps you out and your day job, assuming maybe but depending on what you do, that might make more money than Spotify streams at first. I remember, maybe 2008, I decided to level up my thing. I was doing a recording in studios around locally and I decided I’ve got to level it up. I’ve got to go to Nashville. I’m a country musician, let’s go where all the country musicians are. I did that. I used all the same session players that are on Reba McEntire’s album and Shania Twain, Tim McGraw, Blake Shelton’s album, all that. It sounded incredible because I was positioning myself in that environment where I can create the best album I could. I wouldn’t have had that opportunity if I didn’t have income coming from a different source. No bar band can afford to do that at first because they’re too busy trying to pay their other expenses.
When you talk about leveling up and getting to that pro level, people think in order to be a “pro” musician, you have to be doing it full-time. It sounds like that is not the way that you’re thinking about it.
No. You need to do what pros do and position yourself differently. I was told back then, “You’re no longer competing with the people in your local network. You’re now competing with Garth Brooks, Blake Shelton and with everyone else on contemporary radio. You need to sound as good or better. You don’t have to be better, just be unique, be at that same quality level as they are.”
If you’re competing at that level then you have to have the kind of services backing you up that they have if you want to compete. You’re going to have to hire a PR firm. Did you do that stuff with that record?
Funny enough, I didn’t. I released that album back in 2009, I released a single, this was going to be my big break, it sounded great. Everything was lined up. It was all good. I released it and it flopped at radio. It didn’t do as well as I thought. This is before Spotify. I thought it was a failure and I left it on the shelf. I put it up on YouTube, everyone have at it, go enjoy it. A year goes by and I get this call from this advertisement company in New York, “We love your song. We’d love to use it in this campaign for one of our products.” I thought it was a crank call. I hung up on them. Luckily, they called back. We made a deal happen. They wanted to use a song, I’m like, “Send me the $0.11 when you play it and I’ll be happy to tell people that my song’s in your thing.”
They sent me a check for $50,000. That was for licensing for a year. They continued to renew it year after year. I’m like, “There might be something here.” I dug into that world. I started releasing the rest of my catalog to other licensing things and ended up paying for cars, houses, the whole thing. It was lucrative at the time but it’s not why I got into music. I don’t want to write songs about hamburgers and pickup trucks. I wanted to write songs about what I want to write about, which goes back to the balance thing of I’d rather have my income coming from somewhere else if it means I can create whatever it is I want and not create songs about whatever.
My friend Michael Elsner talks about that too when he was working for American Idol and had to create bumpers and he only had an hour to do it. That stress that they put on your creativity or he didn’t want to have to write songs for a particular product or a certain brief or whatever of what they’re looking for in a song. He wanted to write what he wanted to write and then find somebody else that wanted it for licensing opportunities. He’s done well with that. It sounds like you have as well.
I’m trying to get people to separate their life from their art. Create what you want to create. Create whatever makes you happy. He’s got this thing for American Idol but is that what he wants to do?
It turned out it wasn’t what he wanted to do.
At that party, when people ask like, “What do you do?” He can say, “I do that and only that.” “Cool. You’re the coolest guy in the room,” but are you the happiest guy in the room? Probably not.
That’s why you have the Balanced Artist podcast.
The things I talk about could be polarizing because it changes the mindset of many people. That’s not what I signed up for but now it’s allowing you to change your perception of what being a full-time versus part-time versus balanced artist is.
I know when I first started helping musicians, I would always say, “Make a full-time income from music.” Over the years, I realized that’s not what everybody wants. It’s not right for everybody. Not everybody wants to work full time in music. They want to be fulfilled in the music that they do and they want to be able to make enough money to keep doing that. That is the language that I use now. I’m focused on helping people bring in different streams of income so they don’t have to rely on one thing. When COVID shuts down all the events, they haven’t relied entirely on that stream of income. It sounds like you’ve done that as well. You’ve got licensing income and you perform and you have Spotify. Other than your day job, what are your biggest 3 or 4 streams of income that relate to music?Separate your life from your art. Create what you want to create. Create whatever makes you happy. Click To Tweet
The pandemic was a big opener for a lot of people with that. You resent your day job up until the time that you’re no longer able to do your art and now you’re blessed and you’re grateful that you have this thing to rely on. I remember another part of gratitude when I was in my early twenties, I thought I was going to go on this world tour. That’s the way you think when you’re in your twenties. I bought my first house because I thought while I’m on the road making no money, at least I could build equity back home. I had roommates in there and they were paying all my expenses. I could do music essentially full-time without having to worry about living and eating.
The world tour never happened but now I had this house. Several years go by, equity builds in this house. I buy another house and now it’s a rental unit. Several years go by it, more equity. I built this fleet of income property. Now that I’m 40, I have this passive income coming in. I could, if I wanted to, do music full-time because I built that back in the day but that’s not how I’m creative. I’ve gone months and months of trying to write and be creative and then you hit this wall where you need to do something to shake things up a bit and again, back. I could pick up a contract, I need this day job to be out in the world and experiencing things and trying to fuel myself with this perceived adversity.
That’s interesting how you built up that asset that’s working in the background, that recurring income, which is awesome. In relation to music, what are your streams of income?
It depends on the year. If we got singles out, there’s revenue there. I haven’t locked down on Spotify yet. We do okay but it’s not the primary source. I find SiriusXM does well because I do a lot of the comedy stuff. The comedy songs I write get spins there. Some of the children’s music I write get spins there. They have a great show. Some of the licensing stuff is still creating residuals. When that gets played, you get your quarterly checks for that. Live is why I got into the music industry so performing live is my favorite thing.
I like to perform locally when I can because I tuck my kids in at night during the winter months when there’s not a global pandemic happening. We go to Florida. I play retirement communities down there. I play festivals to try to get into the sun. We’re up here in Canada. It’s a depressing time up here in the winter. I do try to book my tours around other people’s summers. In 2016, I did a tour of Australia during their summer because I had to get the hell out of Dodge. I always wanted to tour Australia. I visited it in general as a tourist. If I book a tour there then perfect. I could get paid to travel.
Do you go down to Florida for months at a time?
Do you have someone like a house sitting or something for you?
It depends on the situation. I only go down for the winters so you can’t rent it out for two months. People don’t want to rent it long-term. If I can create enough income doing the gigs in Florida, it’s a write-off. You’re paying for getting out of the snow.
I did the same thing in the summer because I had to get out of my house because I was sick of being in my house because of the pandemic. We drove all the way to Maine at our family cabin and we had someone house sitting, it was a college student, all they had to do was pay utilities. I was sure my house was looked after. I was able to go live in this other place that was free because it belonged to our family. It helps the mental state. It’s like what you said about shaking it up, giving yourself this new perspective when you go to your day job and then you suddenly become creative. You have to move your location sometimes to be able to shake that up as well.
I would burn down my house. I did it in the past but now with these two kids, they’re weirded out with strangers being in their room. I don’t know what it is. I don’t want to rent out my primary residence. I leave the renting out to the income properties.
Is there any advice you can give to musicians that have a family that are now in their middle-age and how they can balance? I know you said you always try to tuck your kids in at night and you try to stay local, is there any other advice you can give to them? Sometimes music can be all consuming.
Especially with the kid thing, they’re at an age where they’re still too young to do anything. I’ve shifted things around. If I want to play at bar gig, I used to do the bar gig thing, not for income but more for to get out and hang out and play with my friends and have a drink on the weekends. Now I’ve shifted that to doing day gigs on the weekends so that the kids can join. I spent many years of missing birthdays and anniversaries to a point where people stopped inviting me because they knew it was probably going to be a no on a Friday and Saturday night. It’s nice to be able to bring them along for the ride and make them part of the experience. A lot of people in their 30s and 40s, they’re in the trenches now with these young kids. I made it work with my creativity. I decided to write children’s music because it’s where my creativity took me. Do whatever you feel.
It was smart. It seems to be doing well especially the combination with your comedy, it seems to be a new zone for you that maybe you happened upon by accident because that was the situation you were in.
That survived a bit of the pandemic. It was shut down again now but while live music wasn’t happening, they would allow you to walk to the stage with a mask and then you’d be speaking behind plexiglass. It’s not an intimate feeling. All you can see is yourself and the reflection of this plexiglass, it was pain in the ass but at least I got to perform in front of an audience during the shutdown.
I’m surprised they even had that option. When you haven’t been out, it’s great to get out and do something.
I drive in a show too which was relieving. Over the summer, it felt good to be outside. It was playing to cars but at least you’re on a stage.
This has been great. I appreciate your different perspective on being a professional musician and how you can balance that with the other things in your life. Is there any parting advice that you would offer to musicians who are maybe in that stuck point like, “I don’t love my job. I want to do music but I don’t know. I’m stuck?”
On the Balanced Artist podcast, I get them to send in questions that I could try to give them as much value as possible. The ones that come in often are from two different sides. There’s the right side, which is like, “I’m doing music full-time, I’ve got to figure out how to make money. Can you give me a ride home because my bus transfer is about to expire?” The other side is these people with the jobs and the families and they’re frustrated because they want to do the art but they don’t know where to start. They have these self-limiting beliefs. They look at the people on the other side to think, “I’ll never be as good as them, how am I supposed to compete with that?” You don’t have to, just try to be different. There’s a market for everything. It’s like, “I’m a mom of 2 or 3 kids. No one wants to hear my perspective.” Everyone’s a mom of 2 or 3 kids. There’s many that people want to hear your perspective.
I spent a lot of my career speaking and singing for moms’ groups.
There’s clearly a demographic. When I do my stuff in the comedy clubs, I’ll go into a room full of twenty-year-olds, my parenting jokes land flat but put me in the same room with a bunch of 40-year-olds, they’ll piss themselves by the end of the night. There’s an audience for everything. Everybody wants to hear what you have to say from your own perspective. You don’t have to be better than the perceived full-time artists, just try to be different.
Thank you, Rory. I appreciate this different perspective. Can you let them know, first of all, how to find your podcast and then how to connect with you online?
- Balanced Artist – Spotify
- TED Talk – Finding the Funny when Disaster Strikes
- @RoryGardinerMusic – Instagram
- Facebook – Rory Gardiner
About Rory Gardiner
You’ve heard his music on Television starring actors like Kevin Nealon, or pro athletes like Chris Bosh & Arnold Palmer, airing daily throughout North America.
2018 CCMA nominated artist Rory Gardiner has appeared on multiple CMT(Country Music Television) nationally broadcasted reality shows, and shared the stage with a number of great countries acts like Keith Urban.
Fusing his music background with stand up comedy, he has made a number of television appearances for brands like Under Armor, or shows like The Handmaids Tale. Millions of views on TikTok, his comedy sketches have been featured on Funny or Die, Americans Funniest Videos, and you can catch his hilarious 2019 TEDx Talk, on using humor as a coping mechanism.