Let’s face it, sometimes musicians need a day job. It could be a supplemental gig to pay some bills while you work on your music career, or maybe you’ve moved on from being a full-time musician to something more stable. Either way, at some point you are likely to need a resume and the question is: should you list “musician” in your work experience?

There are countless resources online for how to write a good resume; classes and seminars and courses that can make your head spin. Colleges may have mandatory job search tactics courses and resume building workshops. And while I will agree that there are some standard expectations for a resume, the most effective thing you can do is understand your audience: the person(s) who will be evaluating, interviewing, and hiring you.

So should you include your music career in your experience or skills inventory? The answer: it depends on two things. First, what kind of tasks did you perform as a musician? Many DIY artists must fulfill administrative roles, planning, budgeting, booking, accounting, etc. Perhaps you did your own promotion including digital media design, photography, video editing, social media marketing, etc. Don’t underestimate the value of these but don’t overstate them either. It is wise to be honest with a potential employer; don’t promise what you can’t deliver.

Once you’ve assessed your skills, the second question you need to ask is: how relevant are these skills to the potential employment opportunity? Again, be honest with yourself but feel free to have an open mind. Did you exclusively play rhythm guitar in a band and leave the admin/promo tasks to others? If so, that experience may not specifically qualify you for, say, a sales position so you may not want to include it on your resume. You don’t want an interviewer asking, “Why did you include rhythm guitarist on your application for a sales gig? How is that applicable?” Awkward. However, if you were in charge of merchandise sales in your band, maybe you’ve got something. Are you a vocalist or frontman/frontwoman? Perhaps you have experience in public speaking. Be creative, but be honest with yourself.

Sometimes your experience can directly transfer to another gig. Did you run lights for your band? Maybe you can find a job running lights at a venue. You don’t have to change careers to find work just because you aren’t paying bills with your music directly. Don’t sell yourself short on skills you have put time into developing.

Because of the plethora of online resume resources, we won’t get too deep into how to write one, but a couple of things you should know for any situation:

  • Leave out the fluff: only include relevant and accurate information
  • Be concise but not self-depricating: you don’t need to write a full page about your experience as a musician but also don’t present that experience as something that isn’t valuable; focus on the applicable skills
  • Spell-check: a spelling or grammar error in a resume is a one-way ticket to the recycle bin
  • Use a template: if you aren’t sure how to craft a visually-pleasing resume, use a template; there’s no shame in borrowing something proven to work, especially considering the thousands of free templates out there

As a final thought, remember that the old adage is often true: “It’s all about who you know.” Indie musicians often have a deep network of industry contacts so don’t be afraid to reach out to them or use them as resources. At the end of the day, we all have to pay bills. There’s no shame in working a side gig while you continue your music hustle and it doesn’t mean you’ve failed. Success takes time and the longer you grind, the better your odds are for achieving your goals.

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Educated but self-effacing, opinionated but reticent, and unabashedly eccentric; Alex aka Squatch is the lead writer for Squatchful.com. A life-long musician, he founded the blog in the interest of helping independent artists gain exposure and to provide insight into navigating the creative arts industry.

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