by Harriet Schock
It’s almost a joke line, “Don’t give up your day job.” It usually means “Whatever you’re trying to do, you’re not good enough at it to make a living, so don’t give up your day job.” First of all, Charles Bukowski kept his day job at the post office even after he was making money as a poet and highly respected. I often tell my songwriting students, there is a case to be made for day jobs, like having money for demos, not having to give up your publishing, not having to make creative compromises, etc. And just because someone keeps his day job, that doesn’t mean he’s not good enough at a creative endeavor. He could just be smart. But this article isn’t about how keeping your day job could benefit your career. It’s about the converse of that.
I believe it’s important FOR your day job, as well as the rest of your life, not to give up your art and your dreams. I’ve had a number of students tell me that they wanted to write songs but their day job required so much time that between work and their families, they gave up the writing. Of course, that usually happened ten years ago—during which time they aged about twenty years. They then come dragging in knowing there’s something terribly wrong and wondering if it could be a good idea to start writing songs again. Not only is it a good idea, they should have never stopped in the first place. As I said in my article (now a chapter in my book), “Writing In Space,” songs are not written in time but in space, so you can’t use the old excuse that you have no time. That won’t fly.
Your art fuels your soul which is what’s running the show. Without your creative life, your day job will suffer, your family will suffer, all because your soul is not being fed. Of course, not everyone needs to write songs. Some people go through life perfectly happy with day jobs and families and they never write a song. But these people are not songwriters. Songwriters need to write songs. And if they don’t, they’ll have hell to pay. You know this if you’re an artist of any kind and have abandoned your art. It takes a toll on your soul, and thereafter, everything else. It’s like removing the generator from your car and still expecting the battery to work endlessly. Where are you going to get the energy to do all the work your day job requires if you have cut off your power supply? Of course, some people will make anything they do creative and that will fuel their lives. But I’ve seen so many songwriting students come in on their last leg and the minute they start creating again, they become enthusiastic (the Greek word for spirit is similar to the word for enthusiasm). Without enthusiasm, it’s all just drudgery. Your art can give you that enthusiasm, or in some cases, give you back your enthusiasm—for life, for getting out of bed in the morning, even for your day job. After all, you have to get from home to the workplace. And isn’t that drive more fun when you’re thinking about your new song on the way?
The good news is that it doesn’t really matter how long a time has elapsed for the writer, the flame never really goes out. The embers of creativity can be fanned into a full-fledged fire. Of course, the skills may need some work, but the desire will still be there. All that’s needed is some real hope, not even of success, but just hope that the process can continue. You can write a song and someone will listen. You may not realize how many other rooms in your life will be warmed by that fire and it’s not important that you know. But having seen so many writers get the fire back after so long a time away from writing, I can speak with certainty, that much good will come of it.
Nik Venet, the legendary record producer, used to tell his classes “If you drive a cab and write songs, then you’re a songwriter. Driving a cab is your hobby.” Whether you subscribe to that point of view or not, there is truth to be learned from it. If you respect songwriting as your chief endeavor, then you will see that it feeds the other areas of your life, like your day job.
I have a student who is a wonderful songwriter/singer. She’s also an excellent accountant. But I believe that if she were not also a songwriter, she’d have pulled her hair out long ago from looking at so many numbers. She’s a calm, cool, collected comptroller. Probably in the back of her mind at all times is a song. And that song keeps her smiling, keeps the engine running. Her boss is happy. She’s happy. The numbers add up. Everybody wins.
Harriet Schock wrote the words and music to the Grammy-nominated #1 hit, “Ain’t No Way To Treat A Lady” plus many songs for other artists, TV shows and films. She co-wrote the theme for “Jakers! The Adventures of Piggley Winks,” currently showing in 30 countries. She and her band were featured in Henry Jaglom’s film “Irene In Time” performing 4 of Harriet’s songs. She also scored three other Jaglom films and starred in “Just 45 Minutes from Broadway.“ Jaglom’s recent film, “The M Word,” features Harriet’s song “Bein’ a Girl,” performed on camera at the end of the film. Karen Black wrote the play, “Missouri Waltz,” around five of Harriet’s songs, which ran for 6 weeks at the Blank Theatre in Hollywood as well as in Macon, Georgia. In 2007, Los Angeles Women in Music honored Harriet with their Career Achievement and Industry Contribution award. Harriet teaches songwriting privately, in classes and a popular online course by private email.