THE FREELANCER WORLD is in free-fall. The Guardian recently reported that £13.9 million of wages have been lost among musicians in the United Kingdom alone. The Metropolitan Opera has laid off its musicians and choristers. No job is safe, and feelings ranging from shell shock to despair are common.

We need solidarity. In Gig Diaries, a recurring series inspired by Refinery29’s “Money Diaries“, I look to answer questions like:

“What expenses are average musicians having to cover? What do those that are more prepared have in common? What undiscovered resources are being tapped? How do people stay sane with blown budgets?”

Not every musician has the same financial outlook. Some have prepared—almost fanatically—for catastrophe. Others have fallback salaries, with day jobs where they can still work from home. Others will have lost everything, but still have hope.

If you’d like to share your story, fill out the form here. This post will be the first of many.

Today, we look at a 30-something clarinetist in Pittsburgh with a day job at a bank whose gig cancellations added up to about $7000.

“I just got this finance job in December. If we didn’t have that, I’m not sure where we’d be right now.”

Music Occupation:
Freelance Clarinetist, with a day job as an entry level analyst at a bank.
Typical gigs: I have a chamber group that I run, but I also perform in a ton of local symphonies on a freelance basis.
Age bracket: Early 30’s
Location: Pittsburgh, PA

Mortgage: $500
Utilities: $300
Student Loan Payment: $850 ($30,000 to go…)
Health Insurance: $320. Covers dental, vision, and medical.
Total monthly expenses (before food): About $2000. These are after a split with my partner, who is also a freelancer and teaches. We live together.

How much money did you lose?

$3500 for me… my partner’s lost another $3500 from gigs, too, so I guess $7000 total. There are a few gigs in April that I’m pretty sure will be cancelled too. It’s… a surreal feeling.

What gigs were cancelled for you?

My chamber group does monthly concerts, but when the NBA cancelled their season it was a snowball effect—all the freelance orchestras I perform in went on indefinite hiatus. Some in April haven’t cancelled yet, but it’s only a matter of time. One group was able to convince the board to pay a % of the service fees, so I got $87 from one gig. That was nice.

I asked about one concert and they said they’re postponing the concert instead of cancelling it, so that’s good for the people that are tenured members in the orchestra, but for freelancers… What if you’re not available on the new date? Then, you know, then you kind of have lost the gig.

What relationship does music have in your life?

Ultimately, when I ask myself where I’d be the happiest going to work every day, the answer hasn’t changed in a long time. If I could make my living in a full time Symphony Orchestra, I would. Even now, with a super stable job for the first time in a long time, I look at my day job as a way to keep the lights on. But until I win a job, I’ll keep music in my life as a freelancer—I guess you could say I’m not willing to go totally broke and destitute to pursue only music.

What purchase decisions have changed for you?

I had a goal to buy more instruments, possibly this year, and also make a bigger dent in my student loans. Definitely not happening now.

What are you doing with your free time?

You know, it’s funny. I think with quarantine I assumed that I was going to have this instant motivation to practice even more. It’s been a week now and I think that the cumulative effect of the larger impact of this virus… I haven’t wanted to spend more time doing much of anything right now. I do my job, but right now my extra time goes to watching Netflix and Hulu… It’s about all I can handle. I try to stay away from the news except for once a day.

What financial measures are you having to take now to survive?

We don’t have any savings, but I have an option to work overtime at my day job. I just got this job in December, too, which gives me health insurance—it’s easily the most stable job I’ve had in a long time. If I didn’t have this, we’d be in a totally different situation.

We definitely got screwed, but I feel like one of the lucky ones.

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