Editorials — December 2, 2014 11:15 — 0 Comments

Joshua McNichols’ Day Job Podcast

I first found out about the Day Job podcast through the show’s episode with Spekulation. They went behind the counter with Spek, the rapper/producer, focusing on his job as a barista. The show was SO WELL DONE CLEAR AND CRISP that I had to find out more information about it. So, I reached out to founder Joshua McNichols and asked him a few questions about the series! 


Jake Uitti: Explain the moment when you know this podcast was a good idea – where were you, what were you doing, what did you hope to happen from the work?

Joshua McNichols: Day Job is a podcast about how musicians pay the rent. I first experimented with the idea in 2007 for Seattle Weekly. Having held a series of unrewarding dayjobs on the way to being a public radio journalist, I found I couldn’t shake the idea. I launched the all-new Day Job podcast in spring of 2014.

I grew up in a musical family. As a child, I practiced piano, sang in church, then lay on the floor beneath the baby grand in our house when my father practiced Rachmaninoff.  Later, I rejected religion and quit practicing piano. But the longing for music – and a musical community – stayed with me.

Later in life, that hole in my soul was filled with public radio, which became my form of music. But my journey to radio had many lean years, including a decade working at a career I hated (architecture), where moments of inspiration were separated by days of tedious, isolated drafting work.

Later, having burned bridges in that profession to jump to public radio, the recession knocked me back to square one. I remember trying to get a loan modification from my bank and looking down at my fingernails which were black from working as a landscaper all day. I remember feeling like I’d won the lottery when I landed a 12 dollar an hour in at Seattle Stained Glass. And I remember leaning against my broom after closing up the shop, listening to a great story on KUOW and being overcome by this ache in my chest, wanting so badly to be doing what I loved, to be part of a group of creative peers.

That’s when Day Job, an idea I’d explored previously in audio form for Seattle Weekly, became part of my soul. I had already explored the idea as an audio project for the Seattle Weekly a few years before (that experiment ran 10 episodes in 2007-2008, based on my love of a tiny “intern column” that appeared occasionally in the back pages of the tabloid). In that moment while sweeping up the shop, I realized why the Day Job idea had seemed to hold so much potential: The leaning-on-of-brooms-while-daydreaming-of-art is an essential part of the creative experience. In our minds, the art we dream of is the perfect expression of our ideal selves. But even as we dream, our hands work, forging neural pathways in our brains we never intended. Those ways of thinking color our art.

Musicians know this broom-leaning feeling intimately. There is no reliable fulfilling career for most musicians, and most musicians must take non-musical day jobs. Yet so many of the musicians I talk to have come to peace with, or even drawn inspiration from, their non-musical jobs. I’ve come to believe those musicians have something to teach me about compromise and inspiration, and how the two may in fact not be in opposition, but may be essential to each other. The conflict or peace between these psychological poles is what makes people different and interesting. Forget the bright young thing who ascends immediately to stardom. Give me the musician with scars.

JU: What two or three things have you learned through the course of doing the show that has surprised you? 

JM: In order: 1. Most musicians actually enjoy their day jobs. 2. Mindless work and work that requires concentration both offer something for musicians. Mindless work is good for practicing music in your head. More mindful work sometimes inspires interesting lyrics, composed during later periods of rest. 3. You can make a decent living as a window washer.

JU: Where would you like the show to be in 10 years – who, in the mean time, would be dream gets for the show – and how do you see it progressing? 

JM: In ten years, I’ll probably still be thinking about the tension between who we are and who we want to be, though where and how I explore that idea may have changed by then. As a writer, I find the larger themes stick with me over the years, evolving only slowly as I mature as a person.

In contrast, the technology and the means of distributing stuff changes rapidly. Will podcasting even be around? I have a lot of faith that audio will still be around in some format, despite the ubiquity of video on the web, because audio is so much more engaging and intimate than video.

In the next few years, I see a couple options before me. I’ve had some Day Job episodes play on KUOW, and that suggests maybe at some point this passion project and my radio career could fold together in some way. Another option that looks more feasible every year would be turning Day Job into a national podcast, with regular contributors in cities with healthy music scenes.

For now, I’m limited by my work schedule reporting hard news stories for KUOW. To expand Day Job rapidly, I’d need to move to a biweekly format, whereas my work schedule allows me to put out episodes once a month at most. And I don’t have time to chase money to pay contributors. So I’ve limited myself to musicians I can drive to (around Seattle) because recording in person and incorporating “found sounds” from the musician’s day job has been an important part of the show’s aesthetic.

Once, when I was really hungry for work, I felt this need to make this podcast explode, to see subscribers shoot through the roof. More recently, when I’ve been able to consistently get work as a reporter, I’ve found a little of the peace I sense in many of the musicians I interview – the peace that comes with having found a precarious balance between work and art.

JU: Dream episode: what happens? 

JM: Although Day Job podcast focuses specifically on musicians who are not rock stars and must find non-musical ways to pay the bills, I’d love to do occasional episodes featuring former rock stars who’ve returned to the working world. My dream episode would feature Doug Yule (of The Velvet Underground), who currently builds violins in Seattle’s Fremont neighborhood. He also plays some really compelling folk music with a small band called Red Dog.

I’ve emailed him a couple of times, but he hasn’t responded. I think there may be some reticence there, a fear of being asked to look backward, rather than forward. But to me, a guy like that – who has seen success, but then pulled back to focus on working with his hands – that guy could offer some valuable perspective.

Day Job is about redefining our idea of what it means to be successful. Playing music is a kind of triumph over the disorder and compromise of daily life. It doesn’t matter how and where you play it, and what you have to go through to give yourself that opportunity only enriches the final product. That I can improvise on the beat-up piano in my home and have my six year old daughter sit beside me, making up lyrics on the spot – that’s a success as meaningful to me as getting up on stage before thousands of people.


Jake Uitti is a founding editor of The Monarch Review.

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The answer isn't poetry, but rather language

- Richard Kenney