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Surviving famine: 10 tips to help you stay sane & productive when you're not working

One of the hardest things to deal with in the artist's lifestyle is the inconsistency we must live with. Budgeting? Not so easy when you don't know exactly how much money you have coming in, month to month. 

Longterm plans? Well, go ahead and sign up for that expensive pottery class you've been dying to take, but you know as soon as you  make the nonrefundable deposit you're going to get a gig that will take you out of town for five of the seven meetings. 

Haven't had a gig in four months? Guess what --- you're about to get three offers for the same time period ... but not all at once so you can make the best choice at your leisure. PS - they'll overlap juuuuuuuusssst enough to make it impossible to take all three. 

It seems like the singer's life is always feast or famine, and it's so terribly frustrating. And while most of us have, or develop, strategies for dealing with the busy stretches, the down time is harder to manage. If you're a day jobber, it's easy to begin to feel consumed by your Muggle job and panic that you're losing your singing career. Freelancers have a similar concern, but without the money coming in.  So what do you do when you have a long gap between gigs? How do you stay in the game?

 1. Give yourself some time off. 

If you've been working a long string of gigs, you not only deserve some downtime, you need it. Take a little time off from singing and more importantly, from the business, to relax and recharge. Artists need unscheduled time; they need time to loaf, and sometimes they need more than other people think they should. But what looks to a civilian like lying on the couch bingewatching Scandal and Game of Thrones might actually be you letting your busy brain go so the subconcious can churn out some new ideas. You know, create. So take your time --- but don't take too much, lest a couple of weeks of well-earned sloth turns into a couple of months and a butt permanently tattooed with the pattern of your couch. The point is to let your batteries recharge, not to lose all energy and die. 

2. Make a plans and a schedule. 

If you've got another gig on the horizon, no matter how distant, then you know how much time you have to fill. Once the vacay is over, get out your calendar and make a plan. What NEEDS to get done? Give yourself deadlines. And give yourself a daily schedule, too. Give yourself a regular work day and regular time off. Then stick to it! You will feel better if you're productive and you'll have something to show for your "time off". It's win-win!

3. Spruce up.

You finally have the time, so take a good look at your portfolio and see what needs to be refreshed. Think of your resume, bio, headshot, website, etc. as your storefront --- these things represent you digitally and on paper to potential employers. Just as brick-and-mortar stores change window displays and rearrange their goods to keep consumers interested, we artists need to keep our offerings fresh. You may want to do a complete re-branding, or just change things up a bit. Add some new sound clips and videos. If you don't have a YouTube channel, maybe it's time to work one up. Put up those new production shots you've been neglecting, or maybe it's time for new headshots?   Re-do your website (it's easy with free or cheap services like Strikingly and Squarespace). 

Of course, all this stuff is just icing on the cake --- the real sprucing up should happen in your repertoire and vocal technique. Maybe it's time to learn some new audition arias, new ornaments for your older pieces, or new roles. Maybe it's time to revisit what's working for you and what's not -- get rid of that aria your college voice teacher always insisted you sing that no one, NO ONE ever asks for in auditions. There's a reason why they don't. Find something better. Coach your stuff dramatically as well as musically. You'll be glad you did when the next audition or gig rolls around. Plus, you'll be busy --- you know --- being an ARTIST.

4.  Create projects for yourself. 

Whether your time off is open-ended or there are gigs on the horizon, now is the perfect time to develop as an entrepreneurial artist and create some projects for yourself --- projects that could make you money, expand your network of professional relationships, or give you experience you need. Schedule that recital or recording project. Start that 501 (c)3. Research and write some grants. Turn that new role you're learning into a concert performance with piano and a bunch of your friends. Get in touch with your alma mater (college and high school) about coming back to give a master class. Put together that caroling group you've been meaning to start in your area. Be creative and be prepared to work. As freelancers, the a never-ending cycle of research and learning new material simply comes with the territory. But also plan to get good value for that work. Monetize it if you can ... and don't forget to make it fun, and to do it on your own terms.

5.  Focus on your health.

Life on the road can be very stressful and offer many temptations --- late night snacks and drinks with your colleagues, a few too many meals out, fancy parties. Once you've decompressed, it's a great time to get back to a healthy eating plan and regular workouts. Also, now is the time to take care of all the doctor appointments you probably missed while traveling! 

6 Keep in touch...

One of the worst things about being on a hiatus is the feeling that your career is passing you by, that other people are out there working and advancing and YOU AREN'T. Make sure you keep in touch with friends, colleagues, conductors, stage directors, agents, supporters, and any other people of influence ... in short, just about everybody. Work your connections, and don't forget to network with new people. Now is a great time to volunteer with arts organizations, attend all those local concerts you never get to go to, and generally make sure your name is staying out there. You don't need to do anything fancy. Drop people a little email, post on their timeline, or go old school and pick up the phone. And don't be afraid to let people know you're looking to pick up some gigs. 

7... But limit your social media time.

Social media has many advantages, but one of the big disadvantages is that it can give you a false picture of the world around you. It can be like the dreaded Christmas newsletter --- all year round. Photos of your friends enjoying fantastic vacations and posing with that conductor you'd give your eyeteeth to sing with, shares of their latest reviews and adventures while on gigs, posts from your agency celebrating the triumphs of singers on the roster who are not you ...  all of this can quickly get overwhelming and depressing. So limit your consumption of social media and remind yourself that  1. it's a tool and 2. what you see there is the pretty, shiny tip of a very large, complicated,  not-so-pretty iceberg. And if you find yourself getting sad over it ... SIGN OFF>

8.  Educate yourself.

Now would be a great time to finish that degree, brush up on your languages, or take that pottery class! Plus, classes get you out of the house and into a fresh social environment. New possibilities for friendship and networking, new ideas, and a break from the cloistered world of singing --- all while you're learning and maybe even adding to your value as an artist. What's not to love?

9. Clean house --- literally and figuratively.

The so-called public areas of my home are usually pretty neat and clean, a junk drawer here and there notwithstanding. But my office and the corner of my bedroom on my side of the bed both accumulate clutter which must be periodically excavated (and nine times out of ten, I can't remember what I was keeping it for. And let's not even talk about the bathroom closet). Problem is, I have to be in the mood to de-clutter.  And that mood never comes along when I'm busy or tired.  I need mental space to gear up for the daunting task of making so many minute decisions of what to DO with this thing and then actually doing it. So, long stretches at home are the PERFECT for launching an attack on my clutter corners.

De-cluttering can happen in small, bite-sized chunks. You can attack one area or part of an area several times a week, or declare one day the great date for Operation Office Excavation. The point is, get'er done. 

De-cluttering works for the digital areas of your life, too. Use this time to put some systems in place. Organize your receipts and check out some apps that help you save and invest. Get your social media accounts linked up so you can publicize your projects easily. Work out some filters for your email. When you head out on the road next, you'll not only have found your favorite t-shirt that you thought you left in a hotel room in Kansas  and have your finances in order for tax day, but you'll have a clean house and less headache to come home to. 

10. Keep the self-talk positive. 

 Look, this is going to be a challenging time, no way around it. There are going to be times when you feel down and forgotten, when the words "you're never going to work again!" will scroll across the marquee of your brain in many horrible variations.  But you don't have to buy into it. Remind yourself that you have worked in the past and you will work again. Remind yourself of all the things you're doing to keep yourself in the game. Remind yourself that this life is hard, this business is hard,  and times is hard for the business. You're doing well simply by persisting. Keep developing your artistry and your personal singing business, and you will work again. 

Singers gotta sing. It's a fact. It's also a fact that the professional lives of artists rarely follow a smooth and straight path. More than ever, these days, artists must be entrepreneurial. If you take the time to develop multiple income streams, it will help you financially, professionally, and mentally when the big gigs hit a dry season, especially if some of those streams scratch your artistic itch. It's a great idea to think ahead about those things, too. Plan for that dry season. Then spend it getting ready to make it rain again.