When it comes to careers in the arts, success comes in many forms. Sure, we've all heard of jobs like "producer," "movie star," "punk rocker," and whatever "being a Kardashian" is. But when it comes down to it, there are almost infinite ways for creative-types to shine in today's world.
To get some deeper insight on what it's like to be a full-time artist, we recently met with Freelance Musician Zac DelMonte. Based in Columbus, Ohio, Zac juggles a diverse portfolio of roles that he describes as "all things music."
Name: Zac DelMonte
Role/Job: "Freelance Musician," including roles as independent voice coach, Conductor, and Director
Company/Organization: Ohio State University Music, Director, The Statesmen (a select acapella ensemble); Self, private voice teacher, clinician for various local ensembles and programs around Central Ohio.
Acceptd: Thanks so much for meeting with us today. So, as a Freelance Musician, is that year-round?
Zac: Happy to be here. Yes, I make sure that it's year-round. For my role with The Statesmen, it's throughout the school year when OSU is in session. I fill the summers with my self-employment and also spend time arranging the songs that The Statesmen will use throughout their school year.
Acceptd: And do you set your own rates?
Zac: I do. There tends to be a going rate, based on asking friends in the field and keeping a pulse on the community. I try to make myself competitive. Then, for OSU, my rate is based on what funding is available beyond the actual (sheet) music itself for the program.
Acceptd: That makes sense. Do the students in The Statesmen typically cross over into the musical theatre and acting world at all?
Zac: Sometimes. I'd say we do more with acting because of the performance aspect; it's not just singing pretty music. We've got to entertain a bit as well.
Acceptd: So, when you're meeting someone for the first time, how do you explain what it is that you do?
Zac: Honestly: anything music! My primary gigs are with music directing, that's what takes most of my time. Mostly with professional companies, and I do work with a few schools as well.
Acceptd: How does that work exactly?
Zac: Well, I'm very much an independent contractor, or freelance employee. So that means I can work with anyone, really, that I'm interested in, or that is interested in me. Sometimes they're doing a show I'm interested in or have experience in. So you know, it depends.
Acceptd: And how do you get the jobs? Do you find the opportunities yourself and apply? Or do they say, "Oh, we've heard of Zac, let's reach out to him."
Zac: It's mostly the latter. So far at least. I've been lucky that I haven't really had to apply to anything, it's mostly been word of mouth.
Acceptd: So would you say relationships are important then?
Zac: Absolutely. It's one of the most important things, if not the most important.
One of the directors I work with in town says, "It's not about getting hired in this business, it's about getting hired again."
For me, an opportunity fell in my lap when I was a Junior at OSU. The student-run musical theatre group needed a conductor for their show, and I just sort of volunteered. From there, more opportunities came my way and that's the biggest thing. Getting to know people, and not being afraid to say, "I wouldn't mind doing that," no matter what it is. Kind of putting yourself out there.
My advice is: don't be afraid to try new things with your abilities. Don't limit yourself, because you never know where your abilities will take you.
Acceptd: So true. Really wise advice, Zac. And did you ever expect that this would be your job?
Zac: Oh, no, absolutely not. My degree at OSU was focused in choral music education, in other words, I thought I was going to be a high school music teacher. And I got all the way through student teaching, did my student teaching, and decided that at least teaching in the public schools was not where I wanted to be. As I mentioned, the conducting thing really just fell into my lap, so I took it and ran with it.
In high school I was heavily involved in music too, and in my senior year I was involved in eight ensembles. I sort of helped teach a couple, knowing that that's where I was heading. So I guess I always thought I wanted to be a teacher.
Acceptd: Is that related to a teacher, or a few teachers, who were really impactful on your career?
Zac: Oh absolutely. Definitely. I had two high school choir teachers who inspired me to follow music. They also warned me about how difficult it can be.
Acceptd: How do you mean, they warned you?
Zac: Well they kept it realistic I guess. It can be difficult as a freelancer, as an actor, or an educator, really. I have so much respect for music educators because of the challenges they face while setting the foundation for so many people to flourish in the field. I wouldn't have professionals to work with, without solid music education programs. They work eighteen-hour-days, and even during the summer, they're planning and doing so much above and beyond to plan for the school year.
Actually, my high school choir teacher said to me when I left for college, "I haven't dissuaded you enough from wanting to be a choral music educator?" (laughing)
Acceptd: Sometimes you just have to figure it out yourself. And, it seems like you work close to eighteen-hours-a-day now too! Is that accurate?
Zac: Pretty much! I'm working constantly. Whatever I can get my hands on. But I love it. I really do.
Acceptd: Of everything you've done, do you have a proudest achievement?
Zac: Honestly, I think it's just being able to do this for a living. That itself is challenging, and at times I can be managing upwards of eight projects at once. It works because rehearsals go late at night for The Statesmen, and I can schedule voice lessons or private work in the daytime. If I ever do have scheduling conflicts, most people are pretty understanding since all of us in the theatre/music/performance world all work eight to ten jobs. We all get it! And we all work together to make it work.
Acceptd: That's great. And even though you briefly touched on this, what advice do you have for young artists?
Zac: Don't be afraid to think outside the box. A lot of the actors I work with, they're doing voice-over work, they're doing artist education in schools, they're taking their expertise and applying it in creative ways. That's honestly what you have to do to make it work. Because you won't be on stage all the time, and you won't be a professional singer all the time.
Acceptd: That's really great advice. And do you have a favorite quote?
Zac: I do, it's by Leonard Bernstein: “This will be our reply to violence: to make music more intensely, more beautifully, more devotedly than ever before.”
That's why we do it.
Acceptd: That's really special. Has making music helped get you through this tumultuous political time we're apart of right now?
Zac: Definitely. There's speeches and quotes about this throughout history, even. Recall when Winston Churchill was asked to cut the arts budget in World War II, he replied, "what are we fighting for?" I really believe that even if you can't change people's minds, you can change their hearts.
Acceptd: So beautiful. Can you speak to risk versus reward when it comes to pursuing a career in the arts?
Zac: Oh, yea. I think with most things its high risk, high reward. But the hard work is everything; if you put the work into it...it can happen. Also, if you're not making a living the way you thought you would, like I find myself now, I think it's a matter of just doing it. Being in the arts, making art, sharing art, is a success. And it's worth it.
If you have the inkling to make art, no matter what level it is, just do it.
Think this sounds like something you could do? Want to get involved? You can follow along with all things Statesmen and The Ohio State Men's Glee Club this 2017 season, right here.
Feeling inspired? Download the Acceptd Career Guide here to learn more about why artists have skills in high demand, tips for the job search, and information on lots of artsy opportunities to get in where you fit in.