News — March 28, 2013 at 1:00 pm

The Flipside: “Get a real job” – Charles J Tan


“Get a real job” – Do musicians need something to fall back on? – Part 1 with Charles J Tan, Independent Artist

The career of a musician is a rocky one and there will always be moments of doubt. And in moments of doubt, there really can only be one answer to that disparaging question, “Why am I doing this?”, and that is, “Because I love what I do”. Of course it’s healthy to question your stance for reassurance in demanding situations – and you will get these, many of these. But when these moments happen all too often and begin to affect the world outside your music – relationships, financials, time, health – is it time to call it a day? Or do musicians need a fall back plan to supplement the ailing areas of their lives?

Musician Charles J Tan gives his elaborate opinion on whether musicians need to suffer for their art. 

Charles J Tan


Charles J Tan
Full-Time Independent Artist

I was in Nashville in 2010 and surrounded by songwriters. A song writing professor said to a class of budding song smiths that if we are serious about being a songwriter, we need to do this full time. It was mind boggling. It’s a tricky one and everyone deals with it differently. For me, I find that question has to be put into context. Getting a real job suggests doing something that makes you money and most often, it means doing something other than music. Work in a job to supplement music income. And for most musicians, it works well.

For the first few years when I started making music seriously, I held a part time job at a cafe and worked 10 hour shifts to supplement my income while I made and played music on the side. That worked for that season of my career. For some, it’s fine for a season but where I am now, I find, it takes my headspace away from the core of it all. The time spent doing something else that does not contribute to building my career is robbing me of my energy. We all have 24 hours a day and a finite number of years. How I spend that time is crucial. Making ends meet is just a band aid and it can jeopardise a career in my opinion. I really don’t entertain the idea of “having something to fall back on”.

You see there are many types of musicians and many different views on this topic. But for me, this is what I believe. You see, this is my job. I have no time for anything else. I work long hours and sometimes weekends. How busy does a musician like me get? I write, produce, perform, administer, plan, research and edit, amongst many things. I am my own CEO, CFO, COO, C-everything. I run my own label. I am my own designer for most things. Album art, merchandise, video production, media relations and the list goes on. Today, I am more than a musician. I am a record label owner. I am a video editor, story boarder, director and producer. I am the entire branding and marketing department. I am the web designer, the webmaster and the whole IT department. I am a multi-level machine sometimes referred to as an entrepreneur. I don’t even have the time to go look for a ‘real job’. I am not complaining about how pathetic and poor my life is. In fact, I am living a full and rich life. Yet, I know this isn’t for every musician. Not every musician takes on a full time, hands on role like I do for my own career. I am basically running my own record company. And what I described above of what I do is only a fraction. I mean I haven’t even included the actual touring, the travelling, learning how to dress properly, learning how to speak with media, how to pitch a press release for a new album, video, etc.

 Charles J Tan Album COVER Art (3) (628x640)

People seem to think making a sustainable music career is about getting a lucky break. While there is some truth in it, I’ve learnt it isn’t necessarily the case. I take a long term view for a career in music. It’s about finding people and a team of people who believe in you so that your efforts are multiplied. How serious you are about your own career determines how many hours you spend doing it. When you spend enough time on it, you get really good at it, you attract the right people into your life. One thing I have learnt is that, no one is going to take your music seriously, if you don’t take it seriously yourself. And that takes time to build. Some, like me, requires my entire life energy.

So if you are a musician, yes, go get a job. But if you are more than a musician like me your story will be very different. At the end of the day it’s a personal decision.



Artist Website





Charles J Tan’s entry is part of a two-part perspective on the topic. Want to know where the opinion of a Music Producer lies? View here.

Kevin Foo

Kevin Foo