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Saved by a second job, luck, and further education

Johanne Lyngøy Tilrem graduated from the Norwegian Academy of Music and faced an uncertain future in the corona year of 2020. Photo: Tore Myrstad

“This year’s newly qualified musicians are entering a market that isn’t functioning, and there is no solution in place for them,” says Hans Ole Rian, general secretary of Creo.

Recently a conference of music students was arranged at the Norwegian Academy of Music on the theme “The Future and the Corona Crisis”. Focus was placed on the future labour market, and how graduates can use their music education. The lectures were marked by an indecisive tone that alternated between uncertainty and belief in the future. The journal Klassiskmusikk (Classical Music) talked with three of the musicians who had recently graduated when the coronavirus struck, to hear their experiences of beginning their working life under these circumstances.

“I was prepared for the possibility that it might be difficult, but not like this,” says Johanne Lyngøy Tilrem. She completed her master’s studies as a flautist at the NMH in the spring of 2020, and planned to live in Oslo for a few years to see what freelance life was like. When the coronavirus arrived, all the projects that had been planned were cancelled.

“I was aware that life after finishing my music studies would be challenging at the start, but not to this degree. Everything around me is so unpredictable. Suddenly it’s closed, then it’s open, then it’s closed again,” says Tilrem, who is self-employed as a flute teacher. The week when Norway closed down, teaching activities were also halted. She was informed by the marching band that her contract was being terminated due to force majeure, and that they could not continue to pay her. They advised her to call Creo and find out whether they could help.

“Then I thought, damn – one thing is that concerts are cancelled, but my teaching, too!”

The solution was to organise a second job outside of the music world, but with a municipal contract. “That gives me security. I have some income, at least.”

Tilrem points out that it helps to talk with other musicians who are in the same situation, and with people who have been in the business for a long time. “Then you feel a little less alone. It’s difficult for a lot of people.”

Ola Øverby. Photo: Simen Felix Omland

Amazing luck!

Ola Øverby earned his bachelor’s degree as a jazz drummer from the NMH in the spring of 2019. He had an exciting start to his working life with freelance jobs during the summer and autumn, and had great plans for the spring. Then it all ended with a crash.

“I went from having a normal work schedule to thinking that one streaming gig a month was a lot.”

He was one of the people who worked and earned money as a freelance musician even while studying. This was a decisive factor in ensuring that he was now covered under the compensation scheme. Earning money on gigs while still a student is not necessarily the usual situation for jazz musicians.

“Often you are only paid for the trip to and from the venue, and you’re just happy to be playing. Wow, imagine if I hadn’t had an income while I was studying!”

When the Fund for Performing Artists organised their crisis scheme, Øverby was among those who received an adequate package. He refers to this as “amazing luck”. The support scheme has made it possible for him to live in about the same way as when he was studying.

“I’m not supporting anyone, and in that respect I’m lucky right now. I don’t have many expenses. Only for living and practising. It’s not an expensive life.”

Øverby has talked to friends from his student days about how their former classmates have been taken into consideration. He himself thinks that it is purely coincidental that his situation is as good as it is.

“If it hadn’t been for the tours I went on before lockdown, support from the Fund for Performing Artists and the fact that I worked enough during my student years to be able to apply for the compensation scheme, I would have had to find another job. Or asked my parents and grandparents for financial help.”

Brage Jørgensen Blix t.h. Photo: Milad Gholami/Norwegian Academy of Music

Accelerated plans for additional education

Brage Jørgensen Blix earned his master’s degree as a classical violinist from the Norwegian Academy of Music and Barratt Due Institute of Music in December 2019. Now he is studying economics and administration at BI Norwegian Business School.

“I have had a long-term plan to work within administration in the music industry. When everything came to a halt I accelerated my plans, even though I had originally intended to work as a freelance musician for a few years first.”

Blix had already got a foothold in life as a freelance musician in the last year of his studies, and had plenty of plans for the future. February was meant to be a quiet month, while March and April were going to be very busy. When everything was cancelled he accepted the situation. Everyone was in the same boat, from the newest artists to the greatest of them.

“There was a strange feeling of fellowship,” says Blix, who hopes to eventually combine a career as a violinist with administrative work in the branch. He has stopped making specific plans, but is trying to adapt himself so everything will work as well as possible.

“For me it felt right to do something, and to continue to develop. The way the music industry is now, it’s difficult to do that just by performing.”

“There should definitely be something to offer newly qualified musicians.”


A compensation scheme for lost income has been established for freelancers who have been in the industry and earned money for several years. Recent graduates, who have not managed to earn an income yet, fall outside the scope of this scheme.

“There should definitely be something to offer newly qualified musicians,” in the opinion of Hans Ole Rian, general secretary of Creo.

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