Meet J. Aaron Brooks-Roberts. A few weeks ago, I featured him and his wife Monique Brooks-Roberts on my nightly Quarantine Concert Series. He is a phenomenal pianist, composer, arranger, producer, and music director. During the show, he spoke about how he balances his musical career with his day job, which naturally piqued my interest. I am mesmerized by how he deftly navigates his multiple professions.
- Software engineer
- Music director, pianist – for churches, bands, and his wife and violinist Monique Brooks-Roberts
- Previously, he worked in finance for banks. He has also been a loan officer who sold mortgages.
On his motivations for having multiple careers
“I grew up in a very musical family and was able to see both sides of things at an early age. You could either dedicate your all to entertainment or you could hold a ‘normal’ career while pursuing your love as well. Writing, producing, and performing are very hard roads to travel. Some can push through it without even seeing the light at the end of the tunnel. I believed that I had to work the typical 9 to 5 job in order to create or fund the opportunity for my talent, even though playing piano has and continues to open numerous doors for me. As I’ve grown older, my interests have expanded and I have a family now, so security is the main reason for my many pursuits.”
On how long he’s had multiple careers
“I changed my career to software engineering a little over a year now which has opened me up to multiple possibilities — being creative in music and building on ideas from scratch. I’ve been a musician for 27 years starting with drums and trumpet, and then over to keyboards and piano for the last 22 years. Most of this has been performance-based, but I moved into co-writing and producing a full album with a phenomenal Jazz/Soul artist named Rajdulari in 2013. This broadened my scope even more. I’m working with my wife scoring a short film to be released in the next year or so.”
Advice for those aspiring to have multiple careers
“I think it’s important to have as many experiences, professional and personal, as you can. Put yourself in uncomfortable situations sometimes (say yes to the gig you think you’re unqualified for) and be ready to tell people how to treat you. Practice your craft outside of the job and always check your attitude as people want to work with positive, professional, and talented colleagues.”
On Overcoming Obstacles
“I’ve talked myself out of a couple of opportunities earlier in my music career most likely due to lack of experience. I had played in churches and in studio sessions but had never really seen, practiced, or been exposed to big shows for major artists. After turning down great opportunities in the past, I vowed to stay current with different genres of music and practice uncomfortable material as often as my schedule allows.”
On how multiple careers are mutually beneficial
“Working in software engineering has exposed me to different types of interesting people. It’s funny but this industry is home to a lot of musicians, artists, DJs, etc. I’ve learned more about new technologies in recording and performing that I didn’t know existed just by having simple conversations with my peers. This has created opportunities to create and perform with musicians and talent outside of my musical bubble.”
On Managing Personal Time
“Thankfully my family is very talented in the arts so we get to share our experiences with each other most of the time. My son and daughter dance, sing, and play the piano, so my wife and I get to enjoy their creativity during weeknights. When the weekends come, our children get to experience our music first hand (especially now that concerts and rehearsals are all on Zoom — LOL). This quarantine has brought us closer together now that I’m working remotely and don’t have to commute to and from work. My wife and I try our best to schedule our other obligations after their bedtime.”
On something he wished he had learned earlier
“I wish that I had known how not to mix negative experiences and issues between careers. I hear one of my elders saying ‘Leave work at work and home at home.’ In my case, we can add another work, at the other work… I’m a positive and easy going guy but when I would have a valid issue with a circumstance or a person, it could easily sometimes affect the other. Don’t sweat the small stuff. You can’t start the next chapter of life if you keep re-reading the last one.”
On what to read to learn more about multi-careerism
“I’ve read Getting Things Done by David Allen which has helped me to focus my tasks on paper versus trying to manage them all in my head. I also find it good to create a time and space to meditate more one clearing my mind of outside distractions. I find it helpful to take a Pomodoro every 35 minutes or so and re-center my thoughts and look back at your task with different eyes than before.”
On what to share about your “outside” career with day job colleagues
“In past positions, it has been very difficult to deal with a corporate job where you’re nothing but a number to your bosses. I’d have just shaken hands with an idol of mine, and took a picture my boss couldn’t even dream of — and [they] want to take their bad day out on the team. The corporate world can have its challenges but I like to make it a point to greet my colleagues and find out what interests them when possible. Most times I’m able to find things that connect us and music seems to be a continuous link in this regard.”
A Day In the Life
7 am – Wake up. Workout until about 8 am. Shower & eat breakfast while starting work (now that I’m working from home)
9 am – Get on my morning call and work through until about 4:30ish (with breaks)
Spend time with the kids for an hour while maybe cooking dinner.
7:30 pm – Last practice of song list before rehearsal
9 pm – Come back home and eat dinner. Do a review of material from rehearsal.
Spend time with wife.
Where to find Aaron on social media
Kabir Sehgal is a Multi Grammy & Latin Grammy Award winner, as well as New York Times bestselling author of fifteen books. His latest work is Close the Loop: The Life of an American Dream CEO and His Five Lessons for Success (Hachette, 2020) with his father Raghbir Sehgal which is a Los Angeles Times & San Francisco Chronicle bestseller. Follow him on LinkedIn, Instagram, Facebook, Twitter, Spotify, YouTube.