Leap of Faith

This guest post comes to us from friend of the blog Melissa Snoza with the Fifth House Ensemble in Chicago, IL.  Be sure to check out their official site at the bottom of this post.  They’re doing wonderful things with wonderful ideas and they deserve your attention and your clicks!


Growth is good, right?

We all understand that even in the best case scenarios, entrepreneurship in the arts requires some level of sacrifice and risk. But, we generally tend to associate these downsides with the hard times first, when work dries up, or opportunities don’t seem to be coming your way.

Consider instead what happens when everything goes right. You’ve put your heart and soul into a project, contributing cash, time, sleepless nights, sanity, personal relationships, fossil fuel, and and endless stack of printer cartridges, and it is all paying off. You’re finally able to start paying yourself something, however small, for your efforts, collaborators are starting to approach YOU to produce new work, and you have a cohesive plan with a team ready to move it forward.


Here’s the problem. As one of our best friends, an HR and project management expert, told us: “You can always get more money, but you can’t get more time.”

What you begin to find as you transition from the day job or the steady flow of freelancing and teaching is that as your entrepreneurial baby grows from toddlerhood to adolescence, it requires exponentially more time to nurture, and more guidance to be sure it stays “on mission.”

What then of your full teaching load, or that part-time orchestra job that you enjoy, and have relied on for years for security?

Members of our ensemble have found that this balance is one that changes much more quickly than expected as we take on new projects, and build more long-term relationships with presenters and organizations. In particular, members of our staff have needed to make hard decisions about turning down paying work in order to dedicate the time necessary to plan and execute new programs, in addition to the time they spend rehearsing and performing.

From my perspective, when my position as Executive Director became paid over a year ago I was at once overjoyed and terrified at the prospect of having to carve out space in my schedule to handle the new responsibilities before me. In the middle of a season, I found myself needing to take a leave from an orchestra position that I enjoyed, and having to leave two teaching posts that, while stable and fun, required more driving time than I could justify.

The kicker was that the time I had to make in my schedule to do the new job wasn’t counterbalanced fully by the compensation 5HE as an organization was able to offer at that point in its growth. Net result: I took a 40-50% pay cut in order to put my energy fully behind the ensemble, a decision that was not made with ease, and was exacerbated by mass layoffs at my husband’s company a few months later.

Fast forward a year, and the results become even more clear. In a tough economic time, 5HE more than doubled its annual budget, as a result of the added time provided by our staff in producing new projects, writing grants, fundraising, and planning educational work. Each of our artists has seen a large increase in their yearly income from the group, allowing them to feel more comfortable making room for it in their lives.

And my husband? After 85% of his company was let go last March, he was able to focus on his photography business full-time, generating more income in the first 3 months than 6 months’ salary at his old job. Granted, that was offset by the equipment and start-up costs he had to incur as things ramped up, but he’s developed a diverse client base and a body of work that he can really be proud of, and business has been growing exponentially since.

Sometimes we have to believe in ourselves enough to know that if we build it, they will come. When there’s too much to do and too little time, and the only thing in your way is the teddy bear that is the steady paycheck, close your eyes, pinch your nose, and leap.


Melissa is the flutist and Executive Director for Fifth House Ensemble. For more information, please visit www.fifth-house.com. Like what you read here? For more music entrepreneurship tidbits, visit www.playingclosetothebridge.wordpress.com, brought to you by members of 5HE.

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