Make a sound choice

By Elisabeth Flett

Photography by @fart_lyfe

“Hard path ahead... work to be done... determination... courage... bravery will be needed...fight for our survival...”

As I sat in the imposing hall trying to ignore the grand portraits of long-dead white men staring down at me with chilly distain and the sudden, urgent desire to go to the bathroom, it occurred to me that the contents of this graduation speech would not be out of place at a SWAT team prep meeting. The message, although addressed in cheerful tones, was clear: good luck guys, you’re going to bloody well need it.

This was not, however, a briefing for a dangerous military mission; it was the ceremony for undergraduate students such as myself who had studied at the Guildhall School of Music and Drama and were now about to be released into the terrifying reality of being a young freelance artist in twenty-first century England. In this age of brutal funding cuts, limited opportunities and with an endless amount of other poor, creative millennials just waiting to jump for the same jobs you also have your eye on, I could understand the slightly nihilistic tone of our “uplifting” farewell speech. I did, however, feel like the speech needed an add-on, a final section; what, then, are your choices as a twenty-something, spat out of an arts conservatoire and into graduate life? I decided to write an addendum myself: Career Options for the Fledgling Freelance Musician.

  • Option One: Decide that a performing career isn’t for you and that you quite like the financial stability that a traditional school music teaching career gives you, thank you very much

This is a sensible option and quite popular among graduates, especially around the “Three years out of uni” stage of their career.

  • Option Two: Decide that you hate teaching but you’re going to give up your dreams and teach anyway because you’re so poor you don’t have a choice

Another popular option, although one to be avoided if at all possible. Go into teaching “just for a few years” even though you hate it and before you know it you’ll end up being Mr. Fitzwilliam, the grumpy mean 47 year old music teacher who mutters about his failed professional career whilst marking GCSE music papers.

  • Option Three: Try to juggle a performing career and a teaching career so you are artistically fulfilled but can buy milk

This Hannah Montana teacher-by-day, gigging-musician-by-night lifestyle is all fun and games until you’re so sleep deprived you accidentally fall asleep and start snoring whilst “listening” to your pupil’s Grade 3 violin scales.

                                                           "GOOD LUCK GUYS, YOU'RE GOING TO BLOODY WELL NEED IT"

                                                           "GOOD LUCK GUYS, YOU'RE GOING TO BLOODY WELL NEED IT"

  • Option Four: Branch out into a true artistic “portfolio career” and start doing literally everything creative : writing, drawing, composing, the works

An option that seems like the dream for artsy types: just do more of the things I love and I will have more money! Unfortunately, writing, drawing and composing work have just the same “I don’t have money to pay you but it’s good exposure and I’ll follow you on Twitter” pay-rates as performing does, if not worse. You’re creatively fulfilled up to your eyeballs in this option, but my GOD you are poor.

  • Option Five: Just focus on playing your instrument and nothing else because true talent will prevail

I would only recommend this option if you don’t care about eating. Or paying electricity bills.

  • Option Six: Give up and get a proper job

Your aunt Susan would be delighted with this option, as would probably be most parents.

What career option will I choose off this list, if any? Will I be able to afford milk in six months time? Will I manage to make it through this ceremony without having to do a mad dash for the bathroom because I drank too much complimentary mineral water earlier? Many questions circled around me as I sat there in my itchy graduation gown in that grand hall, with few answers.

All I know is this: for me, Career Option Six was, is and hopefully shall never be an option really worth considering.

So wish me luck as I forge ahead on the hard path, ignore the looming prospect of trying to figure out self-employed tax returns, and start to get this show on the road.