How Music Entrepreneurs Make Decisions: Play the Pain/Gain Game


fact-based-decision-makingWhat happens when you are faced with two appealing alternatives and you do not know which one to chose?

Now that festival offerings, graduate school acceptances and other training opportunities are rolling in, our students are often faced with making choices that affect their future. How does one decide, say, between going to New York to embark on a freelance career or moving to a new city to join a training orchestra?

Or between competing graduate schools or other career opportunities?

You can even use it for personal decisions like getting married, moving, changing jobs.

While there are no “perfect” decisions and certainly no guarantees about the future, it helps to play the Pain/Gain game.

What’s the Pain/Gain game?

The pain/gain approach is a way to evaluate the different factors involved in choosing between two alternatives and considering not just the practical elements of, say, a move to a new city but also the underlying emotional considerations. It also provides a visual way to spotlight the costs and benefits of each situation.

Here is the template that you can use whenever you are stuck between competing alternatives.

Let’s use the example of a student who is deciding between a freelance music career in New York versus going to graduate school for an Artist Diploma degree. This particular student has already done a fair amount of freelancing in New York with reputable orchestras and she has a few good prospects for part-time administrative work. She also has an offer from an excellent school program which is largely funded and includes an on-campus job, although she will still have to pay for a portion of her education.

Take out a piece of paper and draw one vertical line and one horizontal line. On the top left, write “Pain”; on the top right, write “Gain”. Label the top of the left-hand column New York Freelancer and the bottom of the left-hand column Pursue an Artist Diploma. This will give you 4 quadrants which are numbered “1” for top left, “2” for top right, “3 for bottom right and “4” for bottom left.

Blog Pain Gain Chart

Quadrant 1: Pain of Freelance Career
Start with Quadrant 1, the pain of the New York freelance music career. For our student, this would be the pain of having a life as a freelance musician with the prospect of having a number of administrative jobs to help her meet her budget.

  1. Uncertain schedule
  2. Stress in having to come up with performance opportunities
  3. Stress from keeping track of a lot of different appointments
  4. Not sure how much I can count on expanding my opportunities
  5. Need to work at a lot of different jobs to afford living in NY
  6. No longer will have a teacher
  7. Taking auditions is very stressful and uncertain and expensive

Quadrant 3: Gain of Another Graduate Degree
Now our student will list the benefits of getting another graduate degree:

  1. Opportunity to study with a new teacher
  2. Gain performance opportunities through the new university
  3. Create a new network of colleagues
  4. More administrative experience through the part-time on-campus jobs

Quadrant 2: Evaluate Gain of Freelance Career

Let’s go back to Quadrant 2 to list the gain from the NYC freelance career:

  1. Love performing and already have a lot of contacts in reputable NYC orchestras*
  2. Between performing and the part-time jobs, I can afford to live in NYC
  3. Get to build on my network
  4. A lot of my friends will be in NY next year*
  5. Am considering a career in arts administration so the administrative jobs help to build that resume
  6. Love New York and the rich music scene*

Finish with Pain of AD

Finally, the pain of pursuing the AD Diploma:

  1. Move to a new and unfamiliar city
  2. Have to make new friends
  3. Give up my NYC contacts
  4. Need to take out loans to fund the balance
  5. Not sure how an AD will enhance my performance profile

Now, go back and star the factors that particularly resonate:

Notice how there are a lot of stars in Quadrant 2:

  1. Love performing and already have a lot of contacts in reputable NYC orchestras*
  2. A lot of my friends will be in NY next year*
  3. Love New York and the rich music scene*

Here is what the completed chart looks like:

Blog Pain Gain Chart 2

Moreover, as the student reviewed her chart, she realized that she already has a performance career underway so that having an AD would not advance her career materially. While she is excited about studying with this particular tacher, she feels ready to embark on a performance career.  She is also not sure that it is worth the money to take out additional loans to fund the degree.

Moreover, it takes her a while to make friends and she has a wonderful group of friends and colleagues who will be in New York next year. Further, she is reluctant to give up her NYC contacts and have to start all over in her new city.

Finally, in evaluating the factors, it is important to consider what you can do about some of the “pain factors”. Our student is leaning towards the NYC freelance career but is concerned about the stress and uncertainty of a freelance lifestyle, together with the expense of living in NY. She considers how she can relieve some of the stress by moving in with roommates to reduce her expenses, committing to her yoga practice. As for managing the uncertainties of the freelance career, she is willing to take the risk that she can build on her existing network. She also realizes that she has a fallback in her administrative experience. In addition, she has already done pretty well with learning how to prioritize and can work on additional time management strategies to relieve the stress of managing multiple activities. Finally, she realized that she applied for the AD just to have some options and that while studying with the teacher is an attractive prospect, she knows of a few teachers in NY with whom she can have lessons if she needs them.

As she sits with the situation for a few days, she becomes more comfortable with striking out on her freelance career in NYC.

So the next time you are faced with a major decision, play the Pain/Gain game and see how it might help you to come to a sound decision about your future!