We’re often advised to choose one career path, specialise in one field or skill set, and stick to it until we become a master in it. But what if you’re a polymath with several diverse interests and want to pursue them all? In the audio world, it’s quite common for people to wear many hats – the audio engineer who is also a musician and composer is a common example. Or perhaps you’re a person who needs a lot of variety to focus and maintain passion for your work – whether it’s working in several audio fields, or in completely different fields. Or your life circumstances might mean you’re not able to work full-time, or you have hobbies or commitments that are important and central to your life and wellbeing. How can you combine several interests and skill sets to create a satisfying career that also pays the bills?
In many countries around the world, the norm is changing: in past decades, many people stayed in one job or company for several decades or even for their whole career; now it’s common for workers to change jobs every few years, or retrain later and work in a different field. The rise of remote working gives us more options for different working styles and freelance businesses, opens up more opportunities globally, and gives some people the opportunity to be location-independent. For those of us who want to combine audio work with our other skills and passions, this climate gives us more possibilities than ever to survive and hopefully thrive, with income from various streams. Here are some ideas and examples of possible work modes and methods:
Freelancing on a project basis allows you to take on different projects that interest you and have a fixed duration so you know you’ll have a lot of variation in your work. For example, you might mix an album for some weeks, record film sound on location for the next weeks, edit a podcast series for a couple of months and then take on a non-audio project. Challenges: you’ll always need to put time and energy into finding work and arranging your calendar to fit everything in, and there may be periods of abundant work and periods of not enough. Advantages: you are your own boss, you have more control over your work hours and time off, and the types of projects are only limited by your skills.
A Business that Combines All of Your Interests
Starting a business that enables you to wear several hats can be a satisfying way of combining all your skills. Perhaps you write and play music, engineer recordings, do graphic design and marketing, and could start an all-in-one music production studio that takes care of all elements of a client’s album release. Or find another way to combine your audio skills with a different field of knowledge. Challenges: you’ll need to have a solid business plan and know how to reach your target clients to bring in work. Advantages: bringing all your skills into one unique business, never having to feel that you’re putting one part of your identity or skill set on the backburner.
Several Part-Time Jobs
A solution for a more stable income could be to have multiple part-time roles. You might have an administrative job in the music field three days a week, teach instrument lessons one day and do live sound mixing in the evenings or on weekends. Or have one role in the mornings and another in the afternoons. Challenges: finding jobs that are part-time and juggling your schedule to fit everything in, being able to switch quickly between completely different mindsets/skill sets/workplaces in a short space of time. Advantages: an amount of financial stability, and possibly other benefits that come with fixed part-time roles.
Switch Jobs Every Few Years
Another approach is taking fixed-term full-time contracts (year-long for example) or having the intention to change jobs every few years. This could be more of a mindset rather than a fixed plan – just knowing that you won’t be “stuck” in a job forever and have the freedom to pursue another job or career if you desire is exciting. You might like to switch between diverse fields of audio over the years or change careers completely down the track. Challenges: not having as much variety in your work daily or weekly, not advancing further in a particular field. Advantages: the opportunity to develop deeper skills in one area, and the financial and other benefits that come with full-time roles.
A “Day Job” Plus Side Projects
Some people thrive on having a full-time job that allows them the financial freedom to pursue other projects, work, or hobbies in their free time. This option could be appropriate if the stress of trying to make money with your passion is overwhelming or causes burnout, and you start to lose your passion for it. Or perhaps you have one passion that will allow you to make a good living, and the other passion can be a side project. Challenges: finding enough time and energy to work on your other projects outside of your main job. Advantages: financial stability and money to spend on side projects or businesses.
The concept of a multi-skilled polymath, generalist, or Renaissance person – a well-rounded individual who has knowledge and skills in many areas – has been around for a long time, and in Renaissance Italy was seen as the height of accomplishment (Leonardo Da Vinci was revered for his incredible skills and achievements in the fields of a2rt, music, science, invention, and writing). Some more modern-day polymaths in the audio world who are hugely inspiring are Ethel Gabriel (record producer, A&R representative, company executive, trombonist), Kira Roessler (dialogue editor, bass player, singer, songwriter, former computer engineer), and Leslie Ann Jones (recording and mixing engineer, producer, publicity/artist relations, guitarist, board member).
A great website to check out is puttylike.com – while not specifically audio-related, it has useful career and productivity ideas and advice for people with multiple interests and skills.