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‘I’ve been sacked for asking for time off to tour’: the perils of being a musician with a second job

<span>Photograph: Ania Shrimpton</span>
Photograph: Ania Shrimpton

The first Musicians’ Census recently found that almost half of working UK musicians earn less than £14K a year from music. It’s fine for the lucky handful making millions, such as Ed Sheehan or Adele, but most are having to rely on a second job or similar side-hustle to support their income. We spoke to three visibly successful musicians about the difficulties and realities of balancing a career in music and a “parallel life”.

‘Fans are amazed when I say I’m back in the office tomorrow’
Matt Baty, singer with Newcastle stoner metallers Pigs Pigs Pigs Pigs Pigs Pigs Pigs and music publishing sync manager
After finishing university I moved to Manchester with the sole intention of forming a band. We signed to a record label, released an album and went out touring, but juggled it with day jobs. You think: “Are we doing something wrong?” before you realise that, unless you get a huge hit single and are opened up to a really big audience, this is the reality.

When I went for job interviews, as soon as I told them I was in a band it killed it. They think you’re going to be off. In some jobs when I asked for time off to go on tour they sacked me. I realised that most jobs are just not compatible with what you need to do to be in a successful band.

When I moved back to Newcastle and started Pigs … I realised the only way I could get it to work was by working in the music industry, with people who are sympathetic to my situation. I work for Wipe Out, a music publisher in the north-east. My job is to look for syncs [placing songs in TV, film and games] and other licensing opportunities for artists. Whenever we go on tour, I take a laptop and work in the van. The band’s success has actually helped; people I’ve been trying to reach for years have suddenly made contact. When we played in LA, I met people in the US industry I’d never have been able to get access to without the band.

For us it was never about making tons of money and the rest of the band have jobs as well. After four albums we are at a point now where the income from shows is pretty good, but there are only so many of those opportunities a year.

When I speak to younger musicians now, I try to manage their expectations. I grew up reading Kerrang! magazine and seeing all the bands I’d think: “I want to do that – and get paid for it.” Instead it’s become a parallel life, but whenever we play I’m taken back to my 18-year-old self, thinking, “If he was watching me now, he’d be delighted.”

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‘One of my students spotted me on Strictly with Simple Minds
Catherine Anne Davies records as 6Music favourite the Anchoress, and has played at Glastonbury and toured with Simple Minds. She also lectures in English literature and songwriting
Everyone I know in music does something else. There should be no shame in it because it’s become normal. Even when I was touring the world’s arenas in Simple Minds from 2014 to 2018, the musicians all had other jobs because we weren’t touring for 12 months a year, so you need something else to live on.

I’m sure we all wish we could just be artists in the way people were in previous eras when the economics of the music industry were very different. Nicky Wire from the Manic Street Preachers told me he’d never had a job other than a paper round. I wonder if Simple Minds would have written New Gold Dream if they’d all had jobs. Unfortunately now the industry is ever more dominated by people from financially advantageous backgrounds.

I’m not penniless but if I didn’t have a day job I couldn’t make music. I’m from a working-class background and went to a state school but got a scholarship to university and then was funded to stay and do a master’s. I made my first EP in my halls of residence, bought my first keyboard from Argos using my student loan and made 2016’s Confessions of a Romance Novelist at the same time as I was studying for a PhD and teaching English as a foreign language.

Now I teach one day a week on two different master’s programmes, in literature and songwriting. It’s a zero-hours contract, but that helps in terms of flexibility and availability. They’ve been pretty understanding and value things like me playing Glastonbury with Manic Street Preachers, where my makeup was leaking into my £30 suit from Asos! I do most of my teaching online now, but you don’t want to push it because just like in music there’s always someone younger who wants your job.

I’ve just self-released my new album, Versions, and made more money on pre-orders than I ever did making two albums for record labels, although now I’ve got a toddler at home, which is another financial pressure. I go home after gigs so I can spend time with her in the mornings. It can be tricky to switch from the adrenaline of live performance to parenting or working. I try to keep a bit of separation, although I did have one student who spied me on Strictly Come Dancing with Simple Minds. I said, “Oh yes, that’s my other life.”

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‘I was working in the supermarket when I found out we were supporting the Foo Fighters’
Joe Williams is the singer-guitarist with rising Welsh rockers Himalayas, has just been working with the singer from AC/DC … but hasn’t given up the supermarket day job
When we were at school together, the ambition was always to form a band and make it a full-time career, but we all started work at 16 and have been in various jobs throughout the six-year lifetime of the band. I’ve done service-industry stuff and now I’m working in a supermarket. Louis [Heaps, bass] has probably worked in every coffee shop in Cardiff. There’s always an interesting conversation the first time you ask for time off to go on tour, but then word spreads and people ask: “What’s the band called?” We’ve been lucky that people have been very supportive. We’re in jobs where we’re kind of expendable, but work gave me unpaid leave to record our second album, which was awesome. After four weeks on tour in Europe there’s a little bit of dread about having to go back to work on Monday, but having a job means I’m able to continue doing what I love.

Before Himalayas signed a worldwide record deal in 2022 we’d racked up more than 40m streams – it’s now 60m – which was worth about £300-£400 each a month over five years and meant we could buy a van and equipment, play South by Southwest in Texas and get to the next level. Our manager sent our album to AC/DC singer Brian Johnson, who he’s pretty close with. Brian said some lovely things about it and sent us some lyrics which we made into a song. So our next single VOV is co-written with the lead singer in AC/DC! It’s pinch yourself stuff but we couldn’t tell anyone apart from our families until it was announced.

I was at work in the supermarket when I found out that we’re supporting Foo Fighters at the Principality Stadium in Cardiff next June in front of 75,000 people, the biggest show we’ve ever played. We’re all still in second jobs, but have recently started to glimpse a future where we won’t be working at anything other than music. All our employers know that’s always been the ambition, but the jobs have kept the band going and now we’re starting to do some of the amazing things we used to dream about.

The Anchoress’s new album Versions, Pigs Pigs Pigs Pigs Pigs Pigs Pigs’s latest album Land of Sleeper and Himalayas’ debut From Hell to Here are all out now. Himalayas’ single VOV will be released in the new year.