Gig Economy: Liza Colby

Liza Colby has put in a lot of work, but she's still clocking in her 10,000 hours.

Gig Economy is a Talkhouse series in which artists tell us about their work histories, from part-time pasts to the present tense, in order to demystify the many different paths that can lead to a career as a working musician. Here, Liza Colby (The Liza Colby Sound) talks the seemingly endless list of odd jobs that somehow, thankfully, led her to a career in music.
—Annie Fell, Associate Editor, Talkhouse

I have heard that you choose your parents. I don’t know whether or not that is true, but I like to believe that I chose mine. My name is Liza Colby, I am a professional musician. I have turned that dream into a career over a 15 year span of living in NYC. I was born to Beverly Rohlehr and John Colby, both working musicians.  My birth certificate actually says:

Occupation of Father: Musical Director
Occupation of Mother: Musician/Singer

(I love that.)

They both bleed talent and creativity. However, from watching them I realized that it was how grounded they were that made it possible for them to survive and thrive as freelance musicians and parents. They are extremely hard workers, never lived beyond their means, make an exceptional team, and are brutally honest with my brother and me. Their artistic reality is something we can see and touch. My brother Gabriel is also an accomplished working musician. Needless to say, this being my baseline made the journey easier to navigate.

Even with all that, I didn’t decide to pursue music seriously until I was 18. My husband, Geoffrey, is an actor/writer. We have been together for 11 years. We met each other when we had no money and no real credentials, just a vague idea of what it could be. And similar to my parents we agreed that we are are in on it together. We are in service and in relentless pursuit of this insane dream to be a working as artist for the long haul.

I am currently sitting in the kitchen, typing in the dark of a black out, because we (my husband and I) tried to use more than one appliance at a time. Apparently it’s 1931 in our apartment building. After a 10 and a half year run in our last digs, we got spit out by a system that is making it harder and harder for working artists to live in NYC. I blindsided him into moving into slumlord owned, fixer-up rental (that, by the way, we can’t actually fix up). Because? It “had character” and “is charming.” Our landlord might as well be an Andy Kaufman character. Luckily, my computer is charged.

I have never had a paid vacation, a 401K, or health insurance from an employer. I have missed best friends’ weddings, birthdays, family gatherings, at least a decade’s worth of the hours between 5AM and 12PM. I have booked a gig only to lose a better gig that came along after, because I already had a gig. I have given up the chance to have a kid young—if I do want a kid, but I don’t know if I do, so… whatever. It took years to carefully navigate my way through a lot of jobs to figure out how to make money solely from music.

Let the odd jobs commence:

waitress, cocktail waitress, bartender, bottle service, caterer, telemarketer (which I hated so much that I would bring in a travel coffee mug filled with Bacardi Hurricane, get rip-roaring drunk, and talk though hiccups in various accents until quality control would scold me about being intoxicated, which I would always indignantly deny), vocal coach, actor, model, dancer at bar and bat mitzvahs, pot dealer, AirBnB host, receptionist, medical cosmetic spa manager, babysitter, and personal assistant. I also sold salon packages on the side of the street, braided hair, organized people’s homes and apartments, cut hair, and shaped people’s eyebrows.

My dad said: “If you want to be successful, you only have to do three things.”

  1. Be good at what you do. Most people are only OK, so if you are GOOD, you are ahead of the rest.
  2. Be a good hang. Be someone people want to be around.
  3. Be on time. Get to the gig on time, get your work in on time.

I apply this to all jobs. Breaking it down like that makes it a realistic way to look at work. I knew I could do at least two of those things at all times, and if I put some time and effort in, I could do all three.

This is how you turn water to wine, or whatever your skill is into cold hard cash—if the gig doesn’t check one of these three boxes, then it’s off the table:

Passion: You love the project or who you are working with and are willing to do it for the love of it without getting paid.

Political: You will take less money than you want or work for free because it will help advance you in some way.

Paid: The above do not apply, and you set your rate and get it.

The WORK cannot be avoided. Talent is not the number one factor. You have to have talent, a little bit of luck, and then you have to be prepared for luck. I frequently evaluate what I want and what will be the sacrificial lamb. Sometimes those sacrifices are no brainers, some are heartbreaking. Somehow along the way, I started to get work, and it’s spanned but isn’t limited to: singing back-up; being a hired singer for sessions; singing jingles; doing holiday spots, kid songs, and TV shows; singing at a burlesque supper club; writing songs for movies; having my band; and many other opportunities and projects.

I know I have bombed and killed. I have walked out to standing ovations. I have also painfully fucked up songs on stage, coming in the wrong key, forgetting lyrics, fallen. Left auditions embarrassed and defeated. I know and feel my shortcomings. I am still working on my 10,000 hours.

Please note: I am writing this in a good place because if I was doing this on a spiral day. I would be blindly typing through tears of self doubt and my computer would short out from water damage. The struggle is, once you know what good is, it’s hard to deal with not being able to do it.

There are a ton of different paths you can take, and I am not sure if any are a sure thing. I do know when it comes to the arts, the power of attrition is real. The longer you stay in the game, the better chance you have. I’ll leave you with what my mom told me after I dropped out of school: “This is a crazy career to pursue, and it’s really hard, BUT if you can’t live without, it then you have to do it.”

You can catch The Liza Colby Sound on tour in Europe this spring:

3/21:Halmstad, Sweden – Cafe Vinyl
3/23: Norway, Classic Rock Cruise
3/28: Erfurt, Germany – Muzeumkeller
3/29: Lichtenfels, Germany – Paunchy Cats
3/31: Weert, Netherlands – Bosuil
4/4: Donostia, Spain – Gastropote
4/5: Vitoria-Gasteiz, Spain – Jimmy Jazz
4/6: Barcelona, Spain – Razzmatazz 3
4/7: Madrid, Spain – El Sol
4/8: Leon, Spain – Babylon
4/9: A Coruña, Spain – Mardi Gras
4/10: Santander, Spain – Rock Beer The New
4/11: Orléans, France – Blue Devils
4/12: Paris, France – Supersonic
4/13: Krefeld, France – Kulturrampe

The Liza Colby Sound, out of NYC, is known for an aesthetic that harnesses the grit of garage rock, the anthemic power of classic arena rock, the sweat-soaked salvation of a soul revue, and the sneering defiance of punk rock. Part shaman, part seductress, Liza Colby was born to earn the Queen Of Rock N’ Roll mantle. Her music is for sinful Saturday nights, and redemptive Sunday mornings. It’s heartbreak music; it’s music of sexual liberation; it’s music for when it matters most. Liza’s vocals are boldly vulnerable, surrounded and supported by a freight train of power: Charly Roth (drums), Alec Morton (bass), and Jay Shepard (guitar), shaking the rafters and rattling your soul.

2018 saw the band taking its incendiary live show throughout the U.S., Japan, and Europe. The Liza Colby Sound’s opening salvo to 2019 will be its single “Thunder Rolling followed by the debut full-length record Object To Impossible Destination, to be released spring 2019.

Imagine Led Zeppelin at Madison Square Garden meets James Brown at the Apollo. Picture Tina Turner prowling the stage like Iggy Pop with vocals that conjure Aretha Franklin and Humble Pie’s Steve Marriott. Hyperbolic? Nah, come to a show!