Local musicians juggle work and playing

by Andy Mulkerin

Singer and pianist Nina Sainato left a full-time job to make her own hours. Sainato, who has music and multimedia degrees from Duquesne, spent some time in a desk job with WDVE, but realized it didn’t fit with her plan for herself.”I woke up one morning and said, ‘Oh, my God, what am I doing?’ I saw myself in a job that was really enjoyable, but I thought, ‘What I am doing with my life?'”

A new job with the Pittsburgh Symphony Orchestra (she refers to her job at both the PSO and WDVE as “web guy”) proved to only be a stopgap. “I hate that rigid daily routine. I felt like I was wasting my life.”

So she started building websites from scratch — one for herself, and for other artists. Last spring she officially went into business as Minor Keys Media. Working for herself has worked out a bit better.

“I don’t always have the urge to write, and sing, and play,” Sainato, who largely works from home, says. “No one does — you can’t force it. So when I do have that urge, I can stop what I’m doing and work on it.”

Stephen Patchan, who plays guitar in The Ceiling Stares, works in a rather precarious spot for a rocker: local government. Patchan has been the Pittsburgh’s Bicycle/Pedestrian Coordinator since 2008. It’s a city-planning position concentrating on taking the needs of cyclists and pedestrians into account.

At first, he says, he was a bit reluctant to let his life as a rock guitarist interfere with his day job. “When I first started, I was more sensitive about it. It is a political position, and there are certain elements of rock ‘n’ roll that don’t jibe with that. But of course, it’s not like I’m G.G. Allin or anything like that.”

One of the challenges many part-time musicians face is finding the time and energy to pursue their music on top of the work they’re doing all day.

“When I was in a 9-to-5 job, it was almost impossible to make music,” Sainato says. “You get into a routine — you go to work, you go home, eat dinner, turn on the TV.”

“Sometimes when I get home I just want to veg out and read or surf the Internet,” says Spynda (who, like Canavan, has the added project of being a dad). “I know I should be playing bass and writing music.”

Patchan, though, generally looks at music as a way to release energy — not something he takes overly seriously. While he notes that The Ceiling Stares play music that can be challenging, he says, “I work my brain harder at work than when I’m working on music.”

Patchan notes that, while he doesn’t necessarily bank on planning-office coworkers coming out to Gooski’s on a Saturday night, he does see crossover between his day job and night gig. “The bike community is a pretty social demographic,” he says. “The same people who come to community meetings come to rock shows.”

Sainato notes that she’s ended up networking professionally at her shows. “You play a gig and mention ‘I make websites for a living,’ and someone’s bound to say ‘Oh, my God, I need a website!'”

For his part, Canavan says it’s almost preferable — at least for him — to be in a position where his day job pays the bills, and music can follow. And while he values his job, he also notes what plenty of musicians would say about their day jobs: “I think you have to do what you don’t wanna do in order to do what you do wanna do.”

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