The road to a music career isn’t always a straight line, as Seattle Music Commissioner Joan Sandler will tell you right away. “I did major in music in college, and wasn’t sure how I would make my way,” she explains. She intended on going to graduate school with the eventual goal of teaching music, when she got an offer to learn computer programing. “I thought, ‘Oh, well, that’d be interesting for a year, I’ll go do that and then go back to school.'” She laughs. “And then never got back to school.”
While she spent 32 years working in tech, Sandler has been a musician all her life, having picked up the violin when she was eight years old. She played with friends and in community orchestras on the side throughout her decades working in the corporate world.
After a layoff in the ’90s, Sandler took the chance to pursue a new career. “I looked around and thought, ‘Well, you know, I always wanted to be a musician. Now’s the time.’ So I opened a teaching studio and joined the musicians’ union, and formed a trio, and played a lot of weddings and parties and corporate events, and had a good time.” She adds, “Much nicer and more fun than corporate life, I’ll tell you.”
Sandler stayed with the Musicians’ Association of Seattle, Local 76-493 AFM, serving as Vice President and on the Board of Directors until her retirement last year. She joined the Seattle Music Commission in 2012, “because it sounded like a good opportunity to try and contribute to the city and the area and try to improve things for musicians, and make sure people were recognizing the value of music and musicians.”
Ensuring that musicians are valued is at the top of Sandler’s priorities, as housing costs in Seattle continue to rise and low-income residents are pushed out. “I don’t know how young musicians are going to stick in the area,” she says. As the Seattle Times reports, artists are having to choose between music and making ends meet.
Sandler sees the task of helping artists make ends meet as a shared responsibility: government needs to find solutions to the housing crisis, and consumers who value local music should reflect it in their spending. “So much music is available free that people don’t realize it has to be paid for somewhere,” she says. “If they’re not willing to pay a cover charge, then they’re not going to hear decent music in a club, because a tip jar just doesn’t pay the rent.”
While affordability continues to be the biggest issue on Commissioners’ minds, Sandler is proud of the Commission’s other work to ensure that Seattle continues to be a music city. Education is an important part of this effort, and the Commission supports The Creative Advantage, a public-private partnership to ensure that all children in Seattle Public Schools have music and art programming in their curriculum. “I know that when I was a kid, every school had a music program, and that gradually died away in most places. And trying to bring it back I think is extremely important. Because if people are exposed to that at a young age, then there’s a chance that they may either continue performing, or at the very least, they’ll be a consumer of [music].”
As Sandler prepares to retire from the Music Commission this year, she has one main piece of advice for young people who may want to work in music: be versatile. “Explore different facets of the industry, because it is an industry, it’s not just standing on a stage. And the more you know about different parts of the industry, the more you know where you fit, and if you can do more than one job, you’ll be better off.”
Do you have questions for the Music Commission, or issues you’d like their help on? Reach out them at firstname.lastname@example.org.