Generosity and Time Management in the Modern Gig Economy
Last month, I went to see Alicia and the other members of APQ perform for Taste for Freedom at Parkview North’s Mirro Center. In addition to live music, the event featured an auction whose proceeds went to Destiny Rescue, an organization devoted to rescuing girls from trafficking and helping them find safe and fulfilling work. The night was by turns fun, heartbreaking, eye-opening, and inspiring.
Alicia contributes a portion of her earnings from each sale of APQ’s debut album Ground Level to Destiny Rescue, and she divvied up the earnings from the Mirro Center event among her three band members, taking no payment for herself.
Here’s what makes that remarkable.
I’ve been living with Alicia for over two months now, having moved in with her about a year after we started dating. One of the things that still both amazes and confounds me is that she’s nearly always working. She wakes up each morning and immediately starts going through her phone to see who’s answered her back about booking this or that gig, or who needs to reschedule a lesson. All afternoon, she’s emailing event coordinators or venue managers, or else she’s making calls to musicians to fill them in on the details of some upcoming performance. Then she teaches, dividing her sessions between Sweetwater Academy and her home studio.
(She’s told me her schedule is sometimes so tight at Sweetwater that she doesn’t make it to the bathroom for hours on end. When she does finally make a break for it, half the time she ends up getting caught chatting with someone in the hallway.)
We like to joke about people who lack any sense of urgency in their communications: “Must be a salaried worker.” It’s good for a laugh, but the reality is, in the gig economy, every minute squandered means one less minute to do what you enjoy—if you even remember what that is—one less minute to catch your breath, plan your next move, book your next gig.
I’ve recently entered the gig economy myself. I still remember the real comfort that comes from knowing exactly how much will be added to your bank account with every regularly scheduled paycheck. But I also remember the dread that comes with knowing exactly where you’ll be from 8 to 5 every day into the foreseeable future, and having a good sense of what you’ll be doing all those days. It’s both nice and awful to have the assurance that tomorrow will be much the same as today.
Alicia looks on amused as I face some of the frustrations of freelancing for the first time. In my mind, I’m on the clock whenever I’m scheduling, planning, meeting to discuss, writing early drafts, or doing any number of other necessary tasks behind the scenes. But, in everyone else’s mind, there’s only the finished product.
Likewise, I travel around with Alicia, loading and unloading gear, watching her do sound checks, finding replacements for sick musicians, meeting with venue owners for last-minute instructions, and innumerable other tasks. And that’s all before she even starts getting dressed (which also takes a little while sometimes).
“Yeah, everyone thinks you just show up in a pretty dress and sit down to play for a couple hours,” she explained to me early on. “But the performance itself is only about a third of what goes into doing an entire event.” The thing is, when she says stuff like this, she’s only rarely expressing her frustration; more often, she’s getting ready to segue into a discussion of her business operations, a topic she’s as passionate about as her music.
It does catch up with her occasionally.
This past October, she came down with a stomach flu for a few days. Even then, she worked right up until she had to rush to the bathroom. Her mom and I prevailed on her to put everything on hold until she’d fully recovered, because it was plain that the stress of bouncing from one thing to the next played a major role in her getting sick.
But here’s the truly amazing part of that incident: hearing her talk about all the projects and contracts and events she was preparing for back then, I can be reasonably sure it wasn’t all the work that pushed her over the edge. She would happily squeeze in more work and interactions if it were possible. What really stressed her out, what ended up making her sick, was having to say no to so many people so she could fit everything into her schedule.
Not long after I lost my last job, Alicia warned me that in the freelance world you have to watch out for people thinking they can get by paying you with “exposure.” “Yeah, of course getting your name out there is important,” she said, “but so’s paying your bills.” Her advice to avoid being taken advantage of: “Anytime you have a choice, go for the gig that pays.”
Makes a lot of sense—but then in the middle of November I find myself talking to someone at a local marketing agency about freelance opportunities, and when she finds out I’m dating Alicia she proceeds to tell me a story about how my girlfriend sat down during one of her notoriously rushed breaks at Sweetwater to answer a bunch of her daughter’s questions about the music industry. I'm guessing she didn’t get paid for that little bit of mentorship (and she probably had to pee the whole time).
The plain fact I’m always brought face-to-face with is that Alicia is incredibly generous with her time. The Taste for Freedom event at the Mirro Center this past November was just another example. In fact, she was also donating her time when she got sick back in October, this time for the release party for Covers for a Cause, a Led Zeppelin tribute album whose proceeds are going toward helping public school kids get the instruments they need for a musical education.
And now I have a confession. If Alicia has said no to a meeting or an event or any other request or offer you’ve made to her in the past several months, I probably had something to do with it. (Her mom may have had more to do with it than me, but you’ll have to take that up with her.)
Alicia obviously knows better than to spread herself too thin; she's ridiculously organized--she just can't stand not helping out when asked. As for me, I like to relax with her at the end of the day (which isn’t till around 10 o’clock at night), and I’m totally fine with being selfish enough for the both of us.
(Seriously, though, if it’s important, don’t hesitate… I mean, just give us plenty of advance… I mean… Well, apparently, she’s rubbing off on me.)