Musician Erica von Kleist got a corporate job because of the pandemic — and she’s still grooving

by | Oct 19, 2020

Meet Erica von Kleist. She’s an incredible musician, who I’ve known for years. I first learned about her when our high schools participated in the Essentially Ellington high school big band competition organized by Jazz at Lincoln Center. She wowed all of us with her virtuosity and brilliance. We’ve kept up over the years, and she continues to inspire with her sparkling musical performance and magnanimous heart. A few years ago, she moved from New York to Montana where she continued her career in the arts.

The pandemic has been deleterious to the creative community. Concerts, gigs, film festivals have been canceled or postponed. As a result, Erica got a job in sales working at a local company. Her story reflects her entrepreneurial spirit and uplifting optimism.

Erica’s careers

  • Musician (woodwinds)
  • Teacher, clinician, author
  • Sales, at a company in Montana that specializes in essential hops oil as well as brokering hops pellets for brewers

On her motivations for multiple careers

“The current state of the music industry requires performers/educators to be well-versed in financial management, marketing, branding, promotion, contracting, and pretty much every other aspect of business. For most working musicians, gone are the days of hiring a manager, working with a record label, or even having a booking agent. Unless you’re a top-tier artist you’re mainly on your own with regards to pushing your career forward. I’m fascinated by the inner workings of the industry, because this is where I believe many solutions lie. Having run companies has helped me become more versatile as a member of the arts community. Due to COVID, now that I have a ‘day’ job in an office, I’m learning more and more about how a basic business functions. This is informing my skills as a businesswoman, and is enhancing my credibility in my field. I’m always seeking an education, which is one of the reasons having multiple careers is exciting for me.”

On how long she’s been a multi-careerist

“I’ve been a musician since I was a teenager and have always been self-motivated. In high school I began my own home teaching studio, which launched my career extension as an educator. For me everything has branched out from there in my music life. COVID was the catalyst for me to start my job at Glacier Hops Ranch, just a few months ago.”

Advice for aspiring multi-careerists

“Musicians are in a precarious position due to the COVID tragedy in the music industry. Venues and concerts halls will be closed for a long time, and many will not recover from this, which is heartbreaking and unfortunate. Arts nonprofits are folding and taking with them streams of income for performers and teaching artists. Right now musicians need to think of this time as a point of growth — there is so much to learn from the non-music world, and I think musicians stand to benefit from exposure to new ideas, environments and practices. There’s absolutely no shame in having a ‘day gig.’ It doesn’t mean you failed as a musician. Sometimes you just need to go the long way up the mountain and have new unanticipated adventures, but keep going – you’ll get to the top if you’re persistent. ”

On overcoming obstacles

“Self-doubt is the biggest setback for me. It’s important that you understand that you really have nothing to lose. COVID stole three projects from me that I had poised and ready to launch in 2020. Starting this new job has shown me that I really have nothing holding me back in this new world. Worst case scenario is I don’t do well and lose the job. What I have to fall back on is my music career and teaching, which is still very much active despite COVID.”

On how multiple careers can be mutually beneficial

“Understanding business is crucial for musicians to comprehend in order to be successful. You must wear many hats to make headway in the industry. This new job as taught me how an office functions, how billing/accounting works, and how to be a confident, magnetic salesperson. I aim to take all of this new information to my music career once things are up and running again.”

On making time for personal life

“It’s tough to have personal time amidst living multiple lives. The most important solution to this is saying ‘no.’ The boss at my job wants me to work more hours, but I have to teach private music lessons in the afternoon. I told him that I am limiting my in-office time, but will be available remotely so that I can go home to prepare to teach. He understands this, and I believe I am an asset to his company, which is giving me confidence to draw boundaries. It’s easy to keep saying ‘yes’ to people out of fear that they won’t need/like you anymore if you say ‘no.’ But drawing boundaries keeps you sane and actually makes you a better worker in the long run.”

On something she wish she knew earlier

“I wish I had known that there is a great big world out there. Musicians tend to get stuck in their ‘bubble,’ and even sometimes poo-poo day jobs. But being a professional musician should never lead to martyrdom. If there’s a better way to make a living out there, one that creates regularity in your finances and schedule, then by all means go for it. It doesn’t make you any less of an artist, and you’re not letting anyone down by exploring new things.”

On the stigma of having multiple careers

“I do believe there is a stigma in the music industry, especially if you went to a conservatory, and especially in the jazz world. There’s this accusation of ‘selling out’ when you dive into new things, particularly if those new things have income potential. My big decision to move from NYC to Montana was a huge catalyst for this change in mindset for me. There are so many places you can live, and so many things you can do in your life. Don’t let a culture of one-track-mindedness discourage you from exploring what life has to offer, especially your own potential.”

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A Day in the Life

  • 7:30 – Wake up. Hit snooze at least 2 times.
  • 7:45 – Dress, feed cat, make my iced coffee
  • 8:15 – On a nice day, bike to work
  • 8:30 – 1:30 – Work at Glacier Hops Ranch
  • 1:30 – Go home, eat lunch
  • 2:00 – 6:00 – Errands, music-related business/emails, work on music projects
  • 6:00 – Make dinner, or eat with a friend
  • 8:00 – Work on more music projects, or read/watch TV
  • 10:30 – Bed

Where to find Erica


Kabir Sehgal is a Multi Grammy & Latin Grammy Award winner, as well as New York Times bestselling author of fifteen books. His debut feature film production Fandango at the Wall is streaming on HBO Max. Follow: LinkedInInstagramFacebookTwitterSpotifyYouTube.