The Handpan as a Career With Dan Mulqueen

What does it take to make the handpan your career? Over the last few years, Dan Mulqueen has turned his hobby into work and he is now happily doing music full-time. An inspiring conversation to take the next step, wherever you find yourself on that spectrum.

Pre-order Dan Mulqueen's new album Indiegogo or on his website.

Podcast Transcription:

Sylvain: Hey! It's Sylvain and this is the handpan podcast. Your handpan: what's it for and who's it for? Today, I sit down with my good friend Dan Mulqueen to talk about playing handpan as a career. It's a story you don't hear often on this podcast. And while you absolutely don't need to turn a hobby into work, it is a path that some choose to pursue and that literally all of us experience in some way. Playing handpan for someone is very different from playing for the sake of self-expression or for therapeutic purposes, for instance. It introduces a whole new set of challenges and rewards, and we get to learn from Dan who's walked that path. And actually, this conversation, as you'll hear, is very timely. So, here we go.

Sylvain: Well Dan, it's been awhile. How are you?

Dan: It's been a long time, man. I'm good. How are you?

Sylvain: I'm great. I'm really excited to chat with you today cause I feel like it comes at a very interesting time in your life and I've got a lot of questions to ask you. So, um, yeah, I'm excited for our chat.

Dan: Yeah me too, man. It was funny when you like when you asked me to be on, I was like, man, this is like, like if ever there was time to talk about what I'm doing, I think now it's probably it. So...

Sylvain: Yeah. Yeah. So I mean, tell me what's going on in your world lately.

Dan: Yeah, man. Well we were talking online. I mean it's, um, like the, the short of it I guess is like I used to, so I was always doing music. Um, I guess for people who don't know, like usually when you're a musician, especially here in the States, um, you really have to keep like a day job or you know, something to sustain yourself. Um, so yeah, I had a, I had a day job for like six years, seven years, um, in the radio industry. I was a video and audio producer there, and, uh, yeah, like lost my job, uh, in like early November. Uh, so since then, I mean, it kinda just, I was like waiting to be upset about it and never really came. And I was like, you know, this is kind of like kind of a blessing in disguise, I think. You know, I, I'm like, I've never been more happy than I am now, but, uh, yeah. So I lost the job and then just kinda took all the momentum and kind of just, you know, kept it going. Uh, you know, instead of doing music, when I come home every night for four hours, I get to do it all day for, you know, 10 or 12 or whatever, whatever it is. So, yeah, it's good man. Uh, but yeah, that's kind of the short of it.

Sylvain: Were you planning on going full time anyways?

Dan: Yeah, so that's, that was my, that was my plan. Um, eventually, but, you know, it's kinda like you could plan and plan, especially with like a big, you know, life change like that. Like there's never going to be like an opportune time to do it, you know, it's kind of like you always have, like, there's always going to be kind of like a leap that needs to be made. So this kind of happening was, um, you know, it was kind like a forced my hand a bit. Yeah. Um, so yeah, and it was, it was strictly for budget reasons why I got let go. So it's not like there's any like blips on my, you know, Hey, this guy was a jerk or he punched the HR lady. There's nothing like that. It's like, it was strictly a strictly budgets. So, um, so yeah, it's kinda kind of looking at it as like a little, um, yeah, like, uh, like a forced hand type situation I guess.

Sylvain: Well, it's surely a significant event and there's something that you wrote to me as we were planning this conversation that, um, I kind of want to go back to and touch on. You said, I'm really going at this music stuff like my career and there's a lot to unpack. Um, and maybe the question would be like, when did that shift happen from a hobby to a career? It sounds like it happened before you were let go. What are some of the events that kind of put you on this trajectory?

Dan: Yeah. Um, and you know, we've, we've known each other for a long time and you have kind of an idea of how kind of crazy I get sometimes with like, you know, things being a certain way and like to a standard that I set for myself. But, you know, with the professionalism part of it, it's like I was kind of forced to do it because, you know, keeping, you know, a regular 40 to 50 hour week, whatever, sometimes more. Um, you know, time is not exactly like free, you know, like, so if I work at let's say a 10 hour day, like when I come home and say, okay, well you have to eat, so plan, you know, 45 minutes to eat, you know, let's plan 30 minutes for technical practice, let's plan, you know, two hours for composition, practice an hour for, you know, producing whatever music you're working on. Um, so in that sense, like the scheduling and kind of keeping myself to it, uh, I've been kind of doing it that way since I can remember. Um, you know, kind of like setting time and sticking to it, uh, just out of necessity, but kinda, yeah. What I, what I meant like when we were talking was kind of like, you know, when you're at a, you know, career or any sort of job or whatever, there's a certain, you know, you show up every day at, you know, at the, at the time you're supposed to, you have a list of goals for that day or the week or whatever. Um, and so there's, there's a lot of stuff that I'm working on, so kind of putting timelines on things and going at them, you know, real professionally, um, but also still like a lot, a lot of fun, but just kind of having a sense of, you know, I'm not just winging it, you know, it's not just like, Oh, this will come out whenever it does or, you know, I hope such and such happens. Like, no. And like you kind of have to make that stuff happen and, and really have a plan for it to happen for some of it anyway, so.

Sylvain: Right. Yeah. And when you have a job, you, you show up at 8:00 AM every weekday, whether you feel like it or not. And, and if we only play music when we feel like it, um, we don't necessarily build the habit that, uh, produces the results that we're looking for.

Dan: Exactly. Yeah.

Sylvain: And that's what you're talking about, to sort of plan ahead and set deadlines and set up goals.

Dan: Yeah. And it's, I was, you know, the thing that I tell, like when, you know, some people have reached out me and how's it going and blah blah. And it's like, it's at one point, it's like, really, it's kinda cool, um, to be like, you know, any like it's, it's a little scary cause it's like, well, you know, bad things could happen, you know, and you could fall on your face. Sure. That's with anything. But, um, you know, kind of like when you're self employed or just you, whatever it might be. Like now anything good that happens or anything bad that happens, kind of all falls on me. So it's like, there's no, like, you know, so-and-so was so hard to work with or such and such as a horrible thing to do at work or blah, blah. It's like, well, if I don't like something that I'm doing, then let's change it because that's not good. You know? Like, it's kind of all falls on me now. So it's, um, there's no like, safety net, you know, it's like, if it, if it goes bad, it's, it's my fault, you know?

Sylvain: Yeah, that's true. And on the upside you get to make executive decisions. Um, yeah. And, and I think we under the model of, of, you know, a corporate job, we're so detached from what it looks like to make decisions. Yeah. Um, that it's, um, it's a huge transition. It can be totally liberating. Uh, a little bit confusing too, cause you, I remember it took me some time to really take ownership of that. Yeah. Um, and stop looking at others approval or, uh, stop comparing myself because now I had the freedom to create my own recipe. Right.

Dan: Yeah. Yeah, yeah. That makes a lot of sense, man. Like kind of to go back on it too, it's like, it's all in the mindset of it too. I guess. It's just like, you know, Hey, listen, this is gonna this is happening and it's, you know, it's your responsibility to now. And um, I think that was, that was a big hurdle to get over. And I think for me, I kind of started to get over that hurdle of it. Like, I would say probably two years ago when I started to get invited, invited to do the festivals and shows and whatever, because, you know, I had a, you know, I was like, I was kind of mentally prepared to lose my job before it actually happened. Just because, you know, you take off so much time and you know, like I'd be lying if I said, you know, when I, when I was there, I, you know, it was, my head was never really there. I was always like, man, you know, last night at 3:00 AM I really hit a stride and then I was up at seven to go to work. And it's like, you know, my, my head was still at the studio back home and you know, it's not like I was a bad employee, but I was certainly ready for them to be like, Hey, listen man, something's... You can't take two months off anymore. You can't, you know, you can't, you know, be daydreaming or whatever. Like, um, I got the work done for sure, but it was just like, you know, I was certainly not like as engaged as I was, you know, three years ago or you know, before that. So.

Sylvain: Yeah. And I think what I like about that statement, uh, you know about making this music stuff your career is that you are more committed to your craft, to your music, uh, than you were to your day job. Like you were more experienced at it, you've done more networking in, in that space. Like if we looked at it purely from a human resources perspective, I feel like someone would tell you, dude, you, you, you've set up your life to be a full time musician. This is what you've invested the most of your life in. This is what will return on investment as opposed to kind of coasting on this a compromise.

Dan: Yeah. Yeah it was, it was kind of cool cause like in the beginning like when I was, you know, cause I got hired my, my job kind of right out of college. So it was kind of my loose plan to not be, you know, obviously when you're 18, you have no idea what you want to do. But I was like, you know, I didn't want to make music my full time thing because I was really worried about, you know, if it's my job, you know, it'd be stressful and you kind of grow to hate it. And I just loved it so much that I didn't want to really want to put that strain on there. Um, so my idea, I was like, all right, well I don't want to be playing all the time, but how can I be really close to the action and kind of, you know, kind of build these tools that are gonna help me in the music industry. So that's kind of where I came into like the video production, audio production. Um, and then when the radio element came in, it was like, well, now you still get to do all this production stuff. Um, but you also get to interact with people from the labels and you know, booking managers and touring managers and all this, these people, you get to see how it's done at a very, very high level. So, you know, there's experiences and conversations that I've heard. I'm like, man, you know, this is like a college course, you know, for, you know, they're talking because we're coworkers. But I'm hearing it as somebody who's, you know, like in class, you know, I'm like, man, if they're doing it this way, then here's, this is the standard. This is how everyone's doing it. This is how I need to do it. Even if I'm, if I'm not signed, if I'm not, you know, touring the world or whatever this is, this is how I want to compose myself and, and get stuff done. So I took a lot away from that. You know, I liked the industry, uh, just for right now, I think, uh, you know, I, I couldn't like when, when the news came to like, you know, Hey, you're no longer hired here. It's like taking another interview to go to a different company. It was just like the most unattractive thing at the moment, you know, it was just not right.

Sylvain: You know, I've used the illustration before, everyone's got a story, but not everyone gives a Ted talk. Everyone's got a story, but not everyone does public speaking. Yeah. And within the context of the handpan, um, in this community, everyone plays the handpan, but not everyone does shows. Right. What's been your motivation to perform to put your music ou