The amount of time musicians spend actually performing is quite small, if you were to take that as their working hours. I mean, even if you were in a West End pit band doing eight shows a week, that would only be 24 hours a week tops, which is a lot less than a full-time job. And most freelancers are doing a lot less than eight gigs a week.
Rehearsals and practice obviously make up a significant extra chunk of working time. But because rehearsals cost (renting a space to use; all too often (from the organiser’s point of view; from the musician’s, all too rarely) paying extra fees or at least travel expenses for the players), the cash-strapped music business is trying to do without more of them than can be helped; an afternoon’s rehearsal for an evening’s concert is not unusual in the orchestral sphere, as I’ve written before. As for personal practice, it’s certainly there but the amount of it relating directly to paid jobs is restricted by the cost of hiring and posting parts, so that they’re usually not sent out in advance to hired hands. That said, most classical things written before 1880-ish and well-known can be fairly readily downloaded off Petrucci – for the motivated and those hired sufficiently before the gig for it to be worthwhile.
And yet I mostly seem to be frantically busy. What takes up all that time?
Bluntly, marketing. Direct or social/indirect (like blogging to keep my website’s visibility up); proactive and reactive (like searching through wanted ads and replying to anything relevant). I reckon I spend more time, by a significant ratio, on trying to get music work than actually playing in any shape or form.
Partly, yes, this is the nature of freelance work in any sector, at least compared with salaried employment – that the amount of work-seeking that has to be done is a shock. And partly, yes, it’s still very early days, particularly in the aspect that I’m not really getting hired back by any previous employers yet. I flatter myself this is because they’re not repeating similar performances rather than because I’m universally so dire no-one wants me to play a second time.
But it’s also a consequence of a crowded market for musicians – maybe not quite so much so for classical violists or improvising violinists, but even those deals are made within as it were the same agora as everything else, full of hustling bar owners, guitarists, startup originals metal bands and function groups seeking a second vocalist. There are more people wanting to earn from money than, unfortunately, the money willingly made available to pay them will go round. Also, Web 2.0, social media and the general business setup of the twenty-teens West means a very high-maintenance marketing environment, with relatively a lot of work required to stand out. Everyone has a website, and a blog, and Facebook and Twitter accounts (except me – Twitter really does seem too much like hard work, sorry), and video and audio demo material, and professionally shot photos … and keeps them all up-to-date, and keeps repushing them into the specialised version of the public eye.
It’s probably not mostly the case that lack of concerts and rehearsals creates space for self-promotion. More likely, self-promotion has to take so much energy and time in order to actually get anything like the amount of work needed to pay the bills that practice time at least gets squeezed. It’s so competitive trying to get paid to be a musician these days, you don’t really have time to play music while you’re at it.