Monday, October 22, 2012

So you want to be a pro musician, eh?

I think if you have hopes of making a career in music, you'd best make that your plan. If you get a big fat record deal and get famous, then awesome. If not, you're still following the course you've planned for - to be a professional musician.

First: You have no pretenses of being a rock star. That's fine. Do you know what it's like to be a full-time musician? I mean... *really* know?

There can be really decent money in playing gigs. It's a tough road, though, full of balancing business with pleasure. Weddings and corporate gigs pay really well. You'll walk out of there with a few hundred in your pocket for only a few hours work. Problem is.... how many hours do you work in a week? Solution = hustle, hustle, hustle.... you've got to be out there pounding away to get those gigs.

Of course, weddings are generally only on weekends. If you're really, really, really lucky you can round out your week with corporate events. Problem#2 is..... you want to play Disturbed, not Neil Diamond. Solution = suck it up. Don't bite the hand that feeds. You know what side your bread is buttered on. Some people call it selling out. Professional musicians call it making a living. Smile and sing along.... "Sweeee-eeet Car-o-liiiine.... ba DA-ba-ba...." Sure, don't laugh all the way to the bank, but at least all the way to the grocery store. Geez.... that's still only a few gigs a week. Sounds sweet as a teenager, but eventually you have to take on the real world. "When you're an adult, it's no cliche.... it's the truth..." (go ahead... identify that quote... )

So how do you round it out?  Well.... if you go to school for music and get a classical background, you can open yourself up for solo/duo gigs outside of your wedding band for other functions, corporate events, etc. People will hire a classical guitarist for whatever. Since there's nobody to share the money with, you do okay. Of course.... still no Disturbed. You're still sucking it up playing some version of Hotel California 'by request' (or even not....) right along side your Sor, Tarrega, Dowland, etc. That gives you a couple more shows.... but you still need a 'real job' as an adult - that is, one that pays for rent/mortgage, food, car, etc.

The poverty line for a family of four in the USA (I'm not American either, but they provide a handy bench mark) is $21, 200. For an individual, it is $10 400. That's about a thousand a month... just to live above the poverty line. Another point of comparison... take an average city.... Cleveland Ohio. Rent for an average apartment seems to be about $600. Then food, phone, insurance, gas, hydro, internet, spending, etc. Yikes.

So wadda ya do? Well... you can rent yourself out to bands as a hired guy. Need a guitarist? I'm your guy! I'll do it for $XXX. Artistic freedom? Nope. Now you're totally selling your soul. More Sweet Caroline. Maybe some Shania Twain or Dwight Yokum. Maybe some Bob Seger and Tom Petty. Who knows, really? Of course, you have to be able to sit down and learn these tunes on very short notice, and know them well enough to gig on them with one rehearsal if you're lucky.

Of course, you can't always count on those. Take on a few students (remember that hustle thing?) to help round things out. So, now you're above the poverty line. You've got sporadic hours that seem to pretty reliably fill up your evenings and weekends, and see you working quite late. At least you get to sleep in. Or not. Because tomorrow you have to learn some Green Day and Blink 182 and U2 for a cover band on Friday, and you don't have all day because some kid is coming over at 4:30 for his lesson and another at 5:30, and then you have to eat and start getting ready to head out for your gigs. And then at some point, you have your OWN kids and family to work into that crazy schedule!! (of course, with the screwed up hours you keep, you may wind up being single for the rest of your natural life... "Wanna go on a date? How's Tuesday afternoon for you?"..... another career hazard!)

Still sound like fun? If it does, you have what it takes to be a professional musician. If it sounds pretty crappy, then..... keep music as a hobby. Or incorporate it into some other career path. (that's what I did....)

One thing I'll add here is that, here is what happens with pursuing a career "to fall back on" via the college route:

You meet tons of girls. You meet a girl that you like best out of all of them. (for me, it was a couple years after university, but whatevs) You finish school. Inevitably, you find yourself with a girl, a job ticket into a career, and a girl who wants to get married.... and so do you. And you have the means to make money and start enjoying things. So you take that job that you've worked hard to get.

Music really does become something that you do in your spare time. You still have to make it a priority, or else you will have no spare time in which to justify making music, and then it gets forgotten. If you make it a priority (and make sure your partner is supportive of your music), then you can make it work. Because you're not always going to have very much spare time - especially when kids come... unless you make time to do it.

I know all this seems light-years away for a young person, but it comes a heck of a lot faster than you think it will. Trust me.... I spent a few years laughing about someone who said, when I was 23, that "30 is just around the corner." And after what seemed like only a couple of years, it became eerily UNfunny.

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