People from my past expected that, because I was on the radio, I was waking up each day in my beachfront mansion and flying my private jet to the “Cool Party Where Famous People Go”. The real truth: I was already in debt from years of struggle while pursuing music. The real truth: Though my song was on the radio, it took well over a year to see any financial gain from that – royalties distribution is music industry is an extremely slow process. Moving into the songwriter phase of my career has been a roller coaster. I had a small deal early on, but about 2 years ago, it ended, leaving a six-month gap with no paycheck before I was able to get another deal. Many people struggle for way longer than that. This was a great stroke of luck for me. Meanwhile I had to figure out a way to pay the bills that could be accomplished at night, so I could keep my writing calendar full during the day. A 9 to 5 wasn’t an option if I wanted to keep writing every day-and oh, how I wanted to keep writing every day-so for the first time in my life, I took a job as a server.
I am a person who enjoys new experiences, so I started learning about marketing and public relations from morning to the evening to be able to generate some money and doing music from evening to the next morning to generate some “chances”. I was very grateful to have found a way to get by while I worked toward my next chapter. But one night I came home from an event that I was there as the marketing representor of one of the clients, and my feet were burning from 13 hours of standing, and my hair smelled like pizza for some reason. I was just exhausted and sad, thinking about what I wanted to do and what I am doing now. No offense to any marketers or PR people out there, but that was not my goal. I walked past the gold record framed on my wall and burst into tears. And, like most crying girls – I wanted my mommy (no joke), which happened to be in Iran while I am in Singapore. I called my mom to cry and complain, and in that conversation, she said something that has stuck with me ever since. I think she knew I felt humiliated on that night, to have been successful at music and then suddenly have to do something totally different and new. She said “Farhang (when your mother uses your birth name you know you’re about to get “The Business”) there is absolutely nothing wrong with doing honest work for an honest living. It might not be what you want, but it’s hard work and you’re making good money, and that has value. Don’t you ever be ashamed of doing what it takes honorably, to get where you want to be.”
She was absolutely right. I was doing honest work. Serving people requires a level of grace and humility that isn’t often encouraged in the entertainment business. It requires the kind of physical and emotional endurance it takes to be in a field where 100 doors slam in your face before 1 opens. It requires you to give of yourself to others. It requires you to meet lots of new people, get them to like you in a short amount of time, and oftentimes, hear their stories and share yours. In short, everything that job asked of me was great fuel for songwriting. In a few months, I was able to sign a deal with a wonderful publisher and quit that job. So, it truly was a stop on the road. For someone at my level, I have a great deal. Thus far, I haven’t generated my company enough profit for a staff lunch off the value menu at McDonald’s, but in spite of this, my publishers are very generous with me. Believe me when I say that being allowed to write songs for a living makes it onto my daily gratitude list all the time.
But now time for real talk – having a great deal, in today’s market-means what I make is similar to what I made years ago as an entry level social worker. So, I do all kinds of things to make ends meet. I’m not unique in that. Many of my friends, both with and without deals, pursue other interests to help with cash flow. Me? I sing demos, I make and sell jewelry at local boutiques, and I have a partnership with one of my friends selling rides and games at festivals. I do trade at stock market. I still am doing marketing. I do graphic designing. I do web designing and coding! I try to do things that are pursuits that allow me to do as little or as much extra work as I want, and still write full time. And do you know what all of that means? It means I am getting by and doing what I love. If music is your get-rich-quick scheme, then hello, I am the grim reaper, and the day has come for that plan to die. But if music is your soul food, then you’ll never go hungry. Well, spiritually, that is.
The lesson here is clear, that life is life. Bills need to be paid. Please don’t be discouraged if your dream is to be in a place to make your living doing music, but you’re not there yet. In the wise words of my mother, there’s nothing wrong with doing honest work for honest money. The second lesson, and the most important thing is that the thing that has fueled me and many other starving artists through hard times is this – music is a labor of love. We don’t do it to fill up our bank accounts. We do it to fill up our spirits. If, at the end of each time you spend being creative, you feel pride in the song you wrote, the joy that comes from expressing yourself, and the satisfaction of putting a new creation into the world, you are living the dream.