6 alternate careers in which actors and singers can thrive

Whether you are working to support your artistic career, or looking to change paths altogether, it can be daunting for a performer to find a job that can accommodate the schedule and skill set of screen and stage folk. 

Everyone is unique, with our own experiences, strengths and various educational backgrounds; so this article isn’t meant to be received as a cure-all for every individual in the arts-entertainment industry. Creative types aren’t necessarily a monolith. For our purposes I will be highlighting only careers that appeal to the strengths that are nurtured by working in the performing arts, and those that are the most least hassle for a later term career change.

That being said, there are two categories of job that people tend to go to when they’re in a pinch: work that doesn’t require a large, upfront reinvestment of money/new college education; and work that rewards based on your ability to network and communicate yourself effectively and intuit what others have to say. 

These are the gigs that fit the bill…

1. Servers/wait staff

Ah yes, you asked for it, and we reluctantly but dutifully gave it to you. The standard bastion for the starving artist is that of the server. 

Waiting tables might not have the glamour or prestige of some of the other jobs on this list, it makes up for it with how ubiquitous the need is for the position. Everywhere that seats a customer needs someone to wait on that customer.

The scheduling demands and adjustments of this industry can be quite generous, as well. If you build a good report with the restaurant, it’s quite common to shift and mold your schedule according to your needs (it helps to be friendly with colleagues for backup). Try calling in last minute for a corporate 9 to 5 job, and you may be met with some stiff disciplinary push-back.

The money, while not making millionaires, is serviceable to sustain a decent living. Living off of tips plays better on your bottom line when you are easy to train, don’t make people repeat themselves, diligently attend to customer needs, and finally (and perhaps most importantly) are not quick to anger. 

In my experience, if this doesn’t come naturally to your bright, sunny dispositions, then it can be prepared as a nightly show! After all, what is art if not an act of service?

Pros: uniform demand, flexibility, free or reduced price on meals, day/night shifts

Cons: relies of the generosity of patrons, base salary below minimum wage, constantly on your feet

2. Real estate agent

This is an especially popular choice among former artists looking to move into a new career space, because the return on the investment you make, relative to the time and experience you need to start, can be relatively favorable.

To become a licensed real estate salesperson generally only requires the candidate to complete a 75-hour pre-licensing course certification, and to pass a state mandated real estate salesperson’s test. After that, the only thing required is to find a broker to sponsor your license, and you can start selling real estate. This could be a weeks worth of work, for an especially motivated person.

Every brokerage has its own model, and the initial investment of your own money can range from a few hundred to a couple thousand dollars for certain necessities; like marketing, business cards and other incidental costs. But when you stack juxtapose all of the resources you will spend as an up-and-coming realtor against the potential costs of another degree, it pales in comparison.

The best thing about this industry is the entrepreneurial aspect that surrounds it. Most real estate salespeople are independent contractors, and work on commissions. Though the hours (read: weeks of work) can be long, the potential payoff are tied to a huge asset! Everyone needs somewhere to live. National average for commissions on house sales hover around 5 – 6 percent of the sales price of the property (split among the salesperson, and brokers involved in the sale). This means that if you are based in a large city, with a healthy luxury market, a single sale can make you whole for a few months. 

Another advantage that this job has for the enterprising artist is that you are almost wholly in control of how you spend your time. The downside, of course, is that you need to know how to self-motivate, and how to spend that time wisely. If you don’t, you aren’t going to make money.

Paying taxes as a contractor should be very familiar to a performing artist (particularly in the classical realm) because it is the same process. 1099 taxation give you the responsibility to independently withhold and report all of your income to the government…which can be a pitfall if you doing have some serious financial sense or outside guidance.

pros: lower cost barrier to entry, potential for respectable sole-income source, autonomous control of how you spend your time.

cons: can be long hours/weeks before a closing comes through, your success is linked to the performance of the market in your area, can be difficult to nail down a stable-consistent figure when applying for financing/credit (need two years income statements).

3. Copywriting/marketing

Copywriting taps into a creative niche for which almost every business needs representation. Put simply, it is the process of craft a convincing body of text within advertisements or for publicity. This means that instead of directly selling to people face to face, you are writing for sales (an idea which may appear to some of my fellow introverts).

Though most firms generally have people come in and do work in house, there is a large contingency of copywriters, and freelance copywriters, who work remotely; making it easier to draw inspiration, and relaxation, from your surroundings. Though copy does generally have a fixed deadline to be submitted and mounted, it tends to be edited and re-edited until the best foot is put forward to the customer. 

Because of that submission and editorial process, you have the satisfaction of avoiding the crushing feeling of being present for a floundering pitch or a disinterested client.

Barrier to entry in this industry can be kind of fuzzy, but you can wiggle your way in with enough persistence and diligent practice. Generally this means crafting a portfolio for yourself, over well known products and service industries.  From there, freelance work always helps build and pad a resume, and industry leaders love  people who take initiative.

Most companies advertise for graduates who hold degrees in marketing, but  the best thing about this job, is that you cannot argue with a convincing, attractive campaign. If it comes down to it, I’m not telling you to “exaggerate” your credential or qualifications…

pros: stable work, creative outlet, opportunities to work remotely/as a freelancer.

cons: set weekly schedule, office atmosphere could be stifling for someone used to daily expression, corporate work geared by data instead of intuition.

4. Gamut of trade/vocational industries

There is a dearth of unfilled positions across a number of American trade and vocational industries (think plumbers, mechanics, electricians, etc.).

The culprit of the unmet need is the, relatively recent, American bias against going into vocational schools after high school; opting, instead, to go into traditional universities and colleges. It is a mistake that these jobs are overlooks, because a myriad number of students in school today are racking up thousands of dollars in school debt to take part in an institutional environment for which they aren’t well suited.

For someone who is considering a career switch, you cannot go wrong here. They have all of the relatively low barriers to entry (concerning licensure, apprenticeship, time, and money spent) with the stability of a consistent paycheck. Working as a part of an already established company as an employee means that you can enjoy the foresight to plan your future finances well in advance. 

It isn’t uncommon, because there is such a need for these kinds of services, for employees in these fields to branch off and start their own companies; giving exceptional opportunities for upward mobile advancement.

pros: in-demand work; apprenticeship model as opposed to collegiate degree; stable, consistent income.

cons: more technical skill set, less flexible scheduling, can sometimes be dirty or physically taxing work

5. Computer programming or UX/UI development

This is a subject that catches many people off-guard when I mention it. But Cullen, I don’t know anything about computer programming languages, how can I break into that career with a degree in Music?

The answer? It’s probably more accessible to you that you realize. 

The market for capable computer programmers is the fastest growing field of this generation, and you don’t always need a degree in computer science to get started (although it probably doesn’t hurt). There are a number of independent schools for coding, such as the flatiron school here in New York, who offer deferred tuition to students; contingent on them being hired in the field. In layman’s terms: no job, no pay.

One independent school for would be coders.

It’s no joke to undertake this career path, however. Learning to effectively code and creatively/collaboratively finishing projects is tantamount to learning another language. Sometimes multiple languages. And they all interface with one another. This requires an exceptional amount of mental focus.

If you can pull through it, this work can pay really well. Entry level positions pay on much better terms than many of the other counterparts listed here.

pros: constantly growing/evolving field, well-paying job, opportunity to create in a new medium

cons: steep learning curve, completely foreign process to the tactile world of the stage, sedentary work, corporate atmosphere

6. Photography

Combining all of the clichés, you had to know that we were going to end up here.

The good thing is, in this field, there is a baked-in demand for good headshot photography with networks of people that you have already built. Actors, singers, instrumentalists, ventriloquists, mad poets…the whole entertainment industry is built upon the need for good self-promotion, and photography is at the heart of this.

One such success story of performer oriented photographers is that of Fay Fox’s homegrown “Faymous” media content agency. She took connections from the opera world, and a talent behind the camera, and turned it into a full-blown empire that has expanded beyond its initial charter.

The people got their start doing headshots in the opera industry.

Like many of these career choices, this path will take many hours of self directed study. If you aren’t the entrepreneurial type, and would rather wok as a part of a whole this probably won’t be for you.

The good thing about this industry is that the photographs, not the credentials, speak for you. Most stage-craft for the actor/singer exists in time, whereas a picture exists only in space. If something that you made is good, people will be able to observe it again and again, and share it afterward.

pros: exceptionally creative field, access to same network/colleagues, entrepreneurial

cons: high costs for equipment, various technical aspects need to be ironed out, income is dependent on your ability to generate demand

What are some ways that you or your friends have found to help supplement or replace an artistic career? Let me know by getting in touch at Don’t forget to subscribe to get more content!

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