• Charles

Uncertainty can help you maintain an income

Everything, as you may have noticed, has gone slightly loopy. The economy has gone all wonky, arbitrary job losses are imminent, and a three-day working week is looking tempting to those who are able to weather the financial trade-off. It’s all very unfair and unfortunate. So, on the work front, you may be pleased to know that I have something of a solution. For everybody.

I am adamant that every mind has its calling in life. I am a musician, first and foremost. I was always told that music was a silly career because it is difficult and inconsistent. It may also seem concerningly specific and unwise in terms of transferable skills — especially now, when a performance to a room full of people is potentially going to make a lot of them very poorly.

The thing is, I spent the first twenty-odd years of my life preparing to be a musician. To disregard all this effort seemed rather disdainful, so eventually, after much dithering, I managed to whack up the ginger and get some business cards printed. Handily, I also had another small skill. You know that psychology experiment where you have to find as many uses as you can for a brick or a shoe or a marshmallow or a duck? It turns out that’s really practical in life, too.

I have a rather varied selection of different hats, all varying in personality, colour, fabric, fun and formality. Aside from my sartorial headgear options, I also have a handful of different jobs within the sphere of music. I have spent, as I say, a considerable number of years trying (with varying success rates) to be better than my competition at performing music — but, crucially, music of all different styles. Here, my curiosity at last began to open doors, windows, interesting cupboards and the occasional escape hatch.

Because of the way I learnt, I understand proper piano-playing well enough to teach it — and not just for the sake of points and grades. I also shadowed professionals in studios and asked them how they worked. I learnt how to arrange, record and mix music: more skills to use, and more knowledge to include as part of my tuition that, crucially, most other teachers don’t offer. You can spend time just working, getting better at that one job through experience, or you can invest your time and inquisitiveness in future returns. For years, I invested twice as much 'free' time in my work as I spent doing paid work.

The amazing thing is, and I sound like a Facebook advert saying this, that anybody can supplement their income from abilities they already have. You can make at least a little money from absolutely anything, as long as you have some determination and direction. This is where I have always wanted to help, and I think now may be the right time.

Anybody lucky enough not to have had commitments over the past four months has found time to exercise, time to play with their children, or to pursue pastimes, or just to sit down for long periods with refreshing beverages. Some people even resort to housework, or looking for new jobs. For me, though, not much has changed; not drastically. In my career it’s hard to delineate and categorise types of work and leisure but I try to keep my schedule light. For years of my life, I had been so constantly, spectacularly exhausted that I had to catch up to two or three hours of extra sleep during the day just to manage any work at all. I would finish a gig and then simply pass out on stage. This was inconvenient.

I still had to earn a living, even as my health got worse. Skills and investment in your abilities mean nothing without some research into the economics of the industry, so I worked with my wife to focus on increasing the value of my work, researching business strategies whilst learning to balance my time and my energy. And, in less than a year, I halved my working hours and actually increased my turnover.

I have always been fascinated by the bizarre economics intrinsic to a working life. If you have a job, you earn an income for a company who pays you an hourly rate based on what people expect to earn for that kind of work and how hard it is to find someone to do it. It’s bonkers, but at least this way you have a consistent income right up until you suddenly don’t have that job any more. It's a bit of an egg-and-basket situation.

But if you’re self-employed, you find all the work you can and, after a while, it hopefully starts to find you. What’s even more bonkers is that you can decide the nature of the work you want, and you can charge any amount you like.

Where do you even start with this? You can’t just pick a price and expect people to pay it. If you assess your market carefully and decide on a position and a price and a rate, you’re still doing it wrong. To do it right, you also need to consider matching the value of your skills to the clients you want to work for. My health necessitated working far more judiciously than I would have otherwise. It’s easy to be complacent about being in good health, working long hours to expect a sumptuous pension pot. But a small asteroid whoomped past Earth at distance of less than two thousand miles the other week — just skimmed past its right ear — and we didn’t even notice it until it had gone past.

Well, I eventually got a diagnosis for my exquisitely painful tiredness: coeliac disease. Honestly, five years working as a baker and I didn't know I had an immune system that thought I was being attacked by bread. One abrupt diet change later to scoop the gluten out of my recipes and I started to get better with alarming rapidity. Life was intense: full of colour and vigour and vibrancy and beans. Infuriatingly, I struggled to communicate the vast sense of freedom, suddenly having extraordinary numbers of hours of free time at my disposal. I felt like a moth who’d metamorphosed from a caterpillar while stuck in a shed, then one day escaped and suddenly discovered that the sky existed.

I try to preserve as much free time for myself as I can, simply because I can. It’s unfortunate that, for some people, free time may soon be enforced in rather excessive quantities. So what I really, desperately want to do is to at least show other people the options. Show them that they can make at least a little money from skills, hobbies and passions they already possess. In fact, I once conducted a similar exercise at a school, with a project along the lines of: “Write down your talents, pick one to work from and we’ll create a business plan”. They really did have talents, too: between us, we could have started a business empire. It’s a tragically archaic aspect of the education system that they don’t teach these options in life. To their credit, the organisation I ran the workshop through liked the idea, and wanted to do it again the following year — but with the small adaptation of replacing me with a self-employed chartered accountant. And they were so close to getting the point!

It can be done. Obviously, some skills are more valuable and more in demand than others. We're not looking for world domination or vast wealth, but I can tell you that adjusting your life to cover all your worldly expenses with just five hours' work a week really is quite the most liberating sensation.

Some services I offer:

  • Mentorship: how to start earning from your talents (£20 per half-hour consultation)

  • My Patreon: new music, performances, tutorial videos and special content every week. And you can get vast discounts on commissions! (Pledge as much as you like)

  • Bespoke recordings and live performances (Rates on request)

  • Piano and theory tuition (£25/half-hour)

  • Session player (rates on request)

  • Musical arrangement (MU rates)

  • Writing services: copywriting/articles and blog posts/website text (more at www.charlesormrod.com/writer)

Other invaluable skills I research and dabble in:

  • Learning new instruments

  • Photography

  • Videography (including shooting, editing and colour-grading)

  • Audio mixing and mastering

  • Business management

  • Writing (prose, journalism, advertising)

  • Drawing (usually badly), graphic design, typography, website design

  • Advertisement and media

I also subscribe to the Farnham Street newsletter, which is a free e-mail every Sunday morning.


16 views0 comments

Recent Posts

See All

The Most Important Thing I've Ever Written

I first began learning the keyboard by playing some random notes, and when two or three consecutive notes sounded like something I recognised, I tried to work out some more of the same song until I go


Musicians get in a bit of a pickle when performing live is not possible. For many of them, there isn't much of an alternative (and it's not as though music sales and streaming can help things out any