Trumpet Dynamics

Music: should it be your career or hobby? (Bob Wagner, Guest Author)

Bob Wagner is a professional trumpeter, blogger and speaker based in Philadelphia. You can find him on the web at
Do you play an instrument and love it?
Do you also have marketable skills and interests in traditional "career track" areas (Science, Math, Accounting, Business)
Are you trying to figure out what your career is going to look like?

Congratulations, you have options!

But - are you torn between choosing music or what your guidance counselor or parents might call a "real job"?
Starving artist or comfortable life?
Cubicle farm or the stage?
9 to 5 Drudgery or Passion?
However it's framed, I think you get the idea...
Choosing a career is a tough decision.
I can help...
Start here:
Say the following truths out loud:
1. A career in music is absolutely possible
2. There are very few steady paychecks in the music performance business these days.
3. Some people get into music and become so focused on how to make money (it's that difficult) that they lose sight of the music/artistic side of things and lose their passion.
Now ask yourself, what does your inner voice say when confronted with those truths?
Remember your answer. I'll come back to it.
Next, consider my story:
I'm currently a full-time freelance trumpeter (based in the Philly market) and I'm making enough to support my lifestyle AS WELL AS the artistic side of my passion.
But it was a long journey for me.
My degree is in Electrical Engineering and I spent the first 18 years of my career working in technology by day and gigging on the side on nights and weekends.
I originally chose music as a "hobby" instead of a career.
But, the final few years of my tech career were tumultuous. 
After a layoff in the middle of what turned out to be my last job search, I finally realized that, while I had the skills in the tech world, I could no longer endure the drudgery.
During that same period, I also ended up booking enough gigs to realize that a freelance career and a sustainable income were possible for me.
So, in 2010, I decided (with my wife's loving support) to leave the corporate world.
I'm not financially secure, I'm 48 now and I definitely need to earn a living. 
But my wife works a full-time job so I'm not doing it on my own.
Since becoming a full-time musician, Gail and I got the kids through college and have built a modest but comfortable "empty-nester" lifestyle that works for us.

We're debt-free and saving for retirement.

As for the work - as a freelancer - evenings and weekends are spent out of the house rehearsing or performing and weekdays are spent practicing as well as marketing myself for gigs.
It's a hustle. There are times when it feels like a 24/7/365 job.
But, I've had some great highlights.
Received a standing ovation at Carnegie Hall for my performance of Penny Lane (video:
Just released my debut solo recording of Claude Bolling's Toot Suite to high acclaim.
Those successes really do sustain me during the cold-winter days when, at age 48, I'm driving 90 miles between gigs and stopping to change outfits in a rest stop bathroom.

Ok, now you know my story, so here's my career advice:
* Don't worry too much - the decision you make at 17 or 21 is NOT the LAST decision you'll ever make about your career.
---> I made a decision at 17 that worked pretty well until I got to age 35 and then it didn't anymore.
* Don't abandon any of your skills or passions. Use and develop everything in your "toolbox" to carve out a life that works for you.
---> Despite a focus on a job in technology - I loved music too much to give up on it as a pursuit.
* Strive to do everything you do at the highest level you can - commit to excellence
---> For 15 of those 18 years - I had some great jobs in technology and I was respected and rewarded for my work.
---> Musically, I never stopped playing, practicing and improving. I didn't own a high G until I was 35.
* Never be ashamed to put yourself out there. Live boldly and be true to yourself.
---> Family's gonna worry, Haters gonna hate. It's YOUR life. Live it boldly knowing you'll make lots of mistakes, but try hard to have no regrets.

Lots more I could offer, but I'll end with a truth about your inner voice.
Your inner-voice is always, ALWAYS looking out for you.
Remember how it responded to the truths I mentioned above?
If it sounded negative or overly discouraging, you may not be ready for a career in music.
But keep listening...
I did.
Eventually, like me, you'll understand what it's really saying.
Want to learn more about Bob Wagner? You can find music, videos, articles, and more at his website:

1 Comment

  1. Denny Hardock on 04/05/2018 at 4:35 PM

    Well written… great job, Bob

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