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Behind The Music: How D.C. Musicians Balance Day Jobs With Their Creative Pursuits

Danielle_Vu (1)

As the cost of living continues to rise, it seems tougher by the day to make ends meet in D.C. Despite this, many musicians are finding unique ways to juggle their day jobs with their passion for music, a balancing act that’s not always easy to accomplish. In the first part of this series, we spoke with a few D.C. artists about what they’re doing during the day and how they’re keeping the music scene alive and thriving.

Chris Moore, drummer of Coke Bust and organizer for Damaged City Fest

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DC Music Download: What is your day job? What does the role entail?

Moore: I run my own dog walking and pet care business. It’s called Peticular Charm Pet Care. On top of walking dogs and taking care of other animals I take care of all the “managerial” and backend stuff that goes into running a small business. I have a few people that work for me as well. They are all awesome. I also work part-time doing sound at the Black Cat.

DCMD: How does your job influence your music (if at all), and vice versa?

Moore: I wouldn’t say that it affects the music itself but it definitely dictates the amount of time spent practicing, playing shows and going on tour. It’s a lot harder to take time off for shows and tour when running your own business. I definitely appreciate the time I’m able to play a lot more now. [And] if I’ve had a rough day at work I definitely take it out on my drums.

DCMD: How did you come into this field? Was it always planned, or did you just happen to fall into it?

Moore: I had lost my job after a three-month stint of touring and a friend of mine was moving away and needed someone to cover his dog walking route…so I did. I actually loved the work, the animals and the company I worked for so much [that] I stuck with them for over five years. Eventually I got the itch to go off on my own, so I started my own business. Seriously, it was probably inevitable, most punks in this city end up dog walking at some point.

DCMD: Is your day job just as much a passion as your music, or do you hope to eventually make music your full-time job?

Moore: I am passionate about my job and I love taking care of animals, but it’s different. Playing is fun, cathartic and therapeutic, not to mention the bond you get from playing music with other people. I really can’t imagine my life without either of them.

DCMD: Any memorable stories from your day job?

Moore: I used to take care of this Bernese Mountain Dog. It could hear my keys jingling from a mile away, so it would start barking the second it heard them. One day, I came up to the house and I didn’t hear any barking. I got really worried. I went upstairs to where it was crated and it looked really guilty and sad. It had really bad diarrhea inside of its crate. It also looked like it had rolled around in it. If you know those dogs, you know they have a lot of fur. I contacted the owners and they said clean her off as best as you can. I ended up taking her outside and hosing her off but the second that the water hit her she shook and splattered the diarrhea all over me. At the time, I was pretty bummed, but in retrospect it was kind of funny. Honestly, most of my funny/not funny or memorable stories have to do with dog shit!


Ryan McLaughlin, vocalist/guitarist of Polyon with head baker Michelle Capuno
Photo Credit: Megan Rains

(Ryan McLaughlin and Dangerously Delicious Pies head baker Michelle Capuno. Photography by Megan Rains)

DCMD: What is your day job? What does the role entail?

McLaughlin: I’ve been running the Dangerously Delicious Pie Truck for almost five years now. Basically, I just sling pie out the window all day. [I] love the company and people I work with. It’s a good time.

DCMD: How does your job influence your music (if at all), and vice versa?

McLaughlin: The hours are great so that influences my productivity pretty significantly. Most days I’m off around 3:30 or 4 p.m., so I have the rest of my day to make noise, of which I make plenty. I used to even bring a guitar with me for when business was slow. I’ve actually written quite a bit that way, but it’s never really that slow anymore, thankfully. Plus, I get time off for touring and recording (provided I communicate adequately), and there are practice spots in the back of the restaurant where I do most of my rehearsing. Like I said, the pie shop rules.

DCMD: How did you come into this field? Was it always planned, or did you just happen to fall into it?

McLaughlin: I’ve been working in restaurants for years because that’s one of the most accommodating jobs for musicians, but it basically just fell in my lap. One of my then-bosses invited me to help run the new pie truck and then it just stuck, turns out I’m pretty good at it. And the hours are perfect for maintaining my creative life, as I mentioned before.

DCMD: Is your day job just as much a passion as your music, or do you hope to eventually make music your full-time job?

McLaughlin: I mean, I wouldn’t call running the pie truck a passion, necessarily. But I do like it a lot. I have a lot of freedom and I feel valued and respected at the company. That alone makes it easy to be loyal and dedicated enough to keep everyone happy. But, of course, the idea of making music my full-time job is the dream, you know? That’s what I’m chasing, for sure. But I’m happy and lucky to have finally struck a balance between the two, so I’m good either way.

DCMD: Any memorable stories from your day job?

McLaughlin: Man, my days feel like they go by so quickly on the truck because I’m generally the only one working. So it’s hard to remember everything I find interesting throughout the day, you know? I remember being on the truck during that earthquake we had a few years ago. That was wild. And there’s a guy who always pays for his pies with crisp $2 bills. I usually keep them so I have a big stack at home. Feels like Monopoly money to me. But every day is both the same, but different. Same purpose, different environment so it can always be interesting.


Danielle Vu, bassist of Shark Week

(Danielle Vu at SoundExchange)

DCMD: What is your day job? What does the role entail?

Vu: I work at SoundExchange, an independent non-profit collective management organization representing the entire U.S. recorded music industry. SoundExchange collects and distributes statutory royalties for more than 100,000 recording artists and rights owners for the use of their content on non-interactive digital streaming services such as satellite radio, Internet radio and cable T.V. music channels. Specifically, I am a manager in the international claims department, which means my team is responsible for collecting foreign royalties for registered recording artists and rights owners from similar counterpart organizations all over the world.

DCMD: How does your job influence your music (if at all), and vice versa?

Vu: My job doesn’t really influence my music, but being a musician has helped my job in many ways. Shark Week has played with some great bands that had no idea this revenue stream existed. I am always happy to discuss what my organization does and help get them registered to collect royalties that are rightfully theirs.

DCMD: How did you come into this field? Was it always planned, or did you just happen to fall into it?

Vu: It was kind of a roundabout way. I’ve always loved music and started undergrad wanting to work in the industry, so going to college in Southern California allowed me to intern at Interscope Records. After I graduated, I took a career detour and went to grad school for policy and worked in the field for a couple years, but I realized I really wanted to get back into music. I applied to a bunch of jobs in the industry and luckily SoundExchange worked out, and I’ve been here for over four years now.

DCMD: Is your day job just as much a passion as your music, or do you hope to eventually make music your full-time job?

Vu: I’m fortunate that my day job intertwines with my music career, so I’m pretty happy where I’m at. But of course, if Shark Week ever gets to the point where we could sustain the same standard of living..well…haha.

DCMD: Any memorable stories from your day job?

Vu: We get a lot of great artists to come into the office for private shows or interviews. Some of my favorite guests so far have been Common and George Clinton.