“Money, it’s a gas.” “Money, money, money, must be funny, in the rich man’s world.” “Money, money changes everything.”
As a music journalist for over two decades, these are the words that I automatically hear in my head when I think about the subject of money. It’s always been a bit of a quizzical thing for me — my choice of career means that I don’t make enough of it, even if I’m privileged enough to be able to have a career like the one I do.
I remember looking at that ikigai Venn diagram — you know, the one that shows you the intersection of what you love, what you are good at, what the world needs and what you can be paid for — and thinking somewhat smugly: I figured this out a while ago. ‘Do what you love and you’ll never work a day in your life’ is something I took to heart at the onset of my career. Like all cliches, it’s neither entirely true nor absolutely false. Occasionally, when I’m writing about an album that charms me, I do feel incredibly lucky to be able to literally listen to music for a living.
But journalism is a tough place to be for the mid-career professional, especially one who hasn’t been entrenched in a full-time position for a while. All my contemporaries from ten years or so ago have switched to other fields. You can find them heading media houses, teaching journalism courses or in editorial roles at music streaming platforms.
Unlike them, I’m single with a five-figure monthly income and no kids. I don’t lead a modest lifestyle but it’s not exactly extravagant. I track expenses but I don’t necessarily curtail them. I’ll probably never buy a house or a car but I will regularly buy overpriced flight tickets for a much-needed break. For me, a salary that comes at the cost of your mental health is a loss-making proposition.
That said, a consequence of freelancing is that my savings aren’t exactly the best, and spontaneous, indulgent purchases are out of the question. A few years ago, I decided that even though I don’t make enough to pay tax, my minimum investment target would be the maximum amount one can claim as deductions every year.
I also took the call to stop writing for Indian publications that don’t pay me a certain word rate. Now, I work mainly for international publications. The assignments are fewer — there are only so many stories about the Indian music business that editors believe work for a global audience — but considering that one doesn’t increase or decrease the amount of effort one puts into researching, interviewing and writing according to the word rate, I’d rather do fewer stories for more money.
Still, being in my forties, there are definitely days when I seriously wonder whether I made the right career choice. I make enough to take care of household expenses but not enough for big-ticket buys. For those, I’m privileged to have a parent whose conventional career choices have stood them well in their retirement. We don’t lack anything we really need, even if we can’t always have whatever we want. In some ways, I’m also lucky to have a brother who has a well-paying job and lives abroad. Yearly breaks are automatically subsidised and there’s comfort in knowing that there’s a back-up in case of family emergencies.
Looking at the distant future, I do wonder about my old age. I’m relatively healthy but have a family history of almost all major lifestyle diseases. I spend on good health insurance, and the other big investment I made after entering my fourth decade was joining a gym. It’s definitely helped save me some doctor’s bills.
I’m grateful I’ve managed alright, but I don’t know if I’d recommend being a music journalist, in that it’s not too different from being an independent musician. If you aspire to a certain lifestyle, it’s more viable to get a day job and balance it with your passion. On some days when I need a sense of validation to know that my work has made a mark, I need only turn to my email and Instagram DMs for messages of gratitude from Indian independent musicians and music professionals — knowing that the insights they get from my work have helped their careers is incredibly reassuring.
Amit Gurbaxani is a Mumbai-based journalist who specialises in writing about business trends in the Indian music industry. His work can be read in international publications such as Billboard, Music Ally and Music Business Worldwide.