Music as a living

Many people prescribe to the thoughts expressed in this song “money for nothing “by the Dire Straits. It’s interesting to note that that song was written, According to popular belief, because a guy shared his misconceptions about the music industry. The origin of the song may be subject to verification So many people who work in industries like music and sports are often told that they should be glad that they get to do something they love for a living and that it’s all easy. We love what we do but easy is not a good adjective.

First, let me share a story that my mom relayed to me about the sports industry. She told me the story after I told her some people were talking about how sports professionals only have to work on the days that they have a game. They live the easy life so to speak. My mom, having worked in the news industry back in the day painted a different picture for me.

I am not sure entirely where I stand when I hear people say that athletes are overpaid and spoiled. on the one hand, they get a lot of money. They get more money than I’ve ever seen in my entire lifetime but on the other hand the demands on their time and on their bodies are far greater than anything I’ve ever experienced. People live their lives working all week so that they can come home on Saturday afternoon and watch the baseball game on television just to forget their travels for a while. So many people rely upon this form of entertainment. It’s definitely worth it to somebody.

When you look at some of the older players who are either retired or close to retiring, you realize that they have put their bodies through the mill. Throughout their careers they have been injured and had to play anyway. They are constantly at practice or working out. When they are not doing this they are traveling to and from games. As I understand it the pressure is pretty incredible. They only have a comparatively short time that they can work before their bodies just won’t allow for it anymore. Sadly, the time that they spend actually out on the field playing the game they love is actually a lot less than the time they spend in preparation for the game. I am not saying that they did not choose their profession nor am I saying that they should be pitied but I do feel that a little due respect should be given when we don’t really know what the pitfalls are of a profession like that. It looks like fun and games on television but it’s an off a lot of hard work. That is what I’m really saying

As I think about the time spent in preparation for the big moment I think about my own experience is playing in a band. when the prospect came to me, I was initially very excited to think that I was actually going to finally play on stage or in a nightclub or something like that. The gig was for a Saturday night at a beer joint in a nearby town. We were to go on and play a three hour set. The first thing I realized is that we were going to have to spend quite a bit of time rehearsing to get our material together to make it fit for public consumption. Just like the athlete, we had to spend long hours in practice. Each of us had to go home and work on our materials separately and then get together and play it as a group. That was OK because we were still playing. That actually helps to build that sense of anticipation for the big night. I was inexperienced and my bandmates were glad to have the gig but obviously not as excited as I was. One was even saying “after you do this for a while it’s really no big deal “. I couldn’t believe that! I was getting ready to fulfill my dreams of playing rock ‘n’ roll music on a stage. This was a small stage but a stage nonetheless. As I watched throughout the day, my bandmates were grabbing a bite to eat, grabbing a shower and being more or less nonchalant about the upcoming evening. I chalked it after my own experience thinking perhaps they done this so many times that they weren’t even nervous

After a shower and a bite to eat the time had come to get ready to travel. I knew we had a lot of equipment and we all had to pitch in and load the vehicles. I never thought about how much stuff you could fit in one small room. We weren’t playing at a venue where Sound equipment, microphones and even a drum kit would be provided. That’s for the big boys. We were a small local band from a small town and we had to bring everything. Obviously our guitars keyboards microphones and drums but amplifiers, mixing board monitors cables microphone stands microphones and a whole lot of other stuff that was sitting in that band room. We had to quickly load it into the back of our pick up truck and then cram ourselves into the front for the drive which was going to be about an hour.

Upon arriving I was told to go and “work the door “ my responsibility was to try to convince patrons of that establishment to pay five dollars to come in and listen to the band. The club told us we could do this but offered no support nor did they offer any further compensation. Anything that we would make that night would be dependent on people willing to pay what we tried to call a cover charge. If they argued or refused there was nothing we could do. I think we collected something like $25 for the entire evening. There were anywhere from 35 to 40 people in the establishment drinking listening to the music and playing pool. If we had been able to collect five dollars apiece from each person that came in the doors it might’ve been worth our time. It was worth my time or so I thought because this was my night I was going to play in my first professional gig. I was helping out so my share was to be very small professional gig. I was helping out so my share was to be very small This in itself is a major problem when you play in a band. It is very hard to find good paying engagements and bookings. So many people want you to play for free or play for tips. That is another story altogether

Passing over the fact that so many musicians find themselves playing for tips or recognition we get back to the scene at hand. We arrive I start working the door and we are sitting around waiting. I am confused because I’m thinking shouldn’t we unload and get ready to set up and tune? my bandmates tell me no it’s not time yet. You might as well just sit down and relax. We don’t go on for another couple of hours. I’m beginning to figure this out. We got there early so we could start trying to get some door money and we had to wait for the other two bands that were scheduled to play their sets. There was one that started at 6 o’clock and then one at nine. We were to play the midnight to three set. By midnight what started as an enthusiastic crowd was drunk and unappreciative. Two women got into a fistfight over our drummer‘s drum stick. Other people were beginning to file outOther people were beginning to file out.

I didn’t mention the set up and tuning. About 1130 we started moving our stuff to a very small backstage area which was very crowded. We had to do thiss going to need time to tear down. There were two bands going in and out of a couple of narrow double doors very quickly hauling heavy band equipment. The band before us finished up their set and then we hurriedly set up our equipment. The next thing you know our set is starting. It was not like I imagined. Our lead singer called the tune for us to start with we just started playing. Since we really didn’t have time for a sound check or anything our audio was terrible and we were playing too wet really amounted to drunken dead fish. No bright lights no screaming crowd not even any very appreciative applause just pumping out one song after the other and trying to get the crowd going with the usual hype between songs. Before I knew it the shit was really over and it was time to tear down again

As we were dismantling our stuff and preparing to load it into our vehicle it started raining very heavily We were running in and out of the building with those amps, instruments, drums and all the other stuff we brought and had that stuff haphazardly thrown into the back of our vehicle in a matter of minutes. It seemed that we spent an awful lot of time in preparation for this big night I was expecting only to find we spent very little time playing in retrospect and for very little money or appreciation

Many times in my local area I have been asked to play for small parties and things like that. I am allowed to collect tips and things like that but rarely ever paid very well. in larger cities I have heard it said that street musicians are offered a few tips and a meal to play in larger establishments in place of hiring a full professional band because let’s face it, those street performers are often very very good and really need the money and often the free meal that they are offered. It’s much cheaper than supporting a hard-working local band. I heard it once said that Congress should have to get paid away musicians to, through Tips and recognition. If they had to do that they would work much harder to please their constituents. As I have worked in the music industry, I wholeheartedly agree

Don’t get me wrong, I love to play music and when I get a chance I left to play for others but one should not fool themselves. It takes a long time to establish yourself even in a small community to the point where you can make a living playing professionally. You have to put up with a lot of crap

The more lucrative options for me have been playing for churches. Being A Catholic Christian myself, that has its own reward but it does also put bread on the table. The other option is teaching private lessons wow that is also extremely rewarding it is not without its pitfalls and frustrations.

It takes a long time to establish yourself in a community as a credible private teacher. you have to prove that you can play and you also have to prove that you can teach. So many of my colleagues who play in bands have tried to offer private lessons. A lot of them play better than I do but there is a big difference in being able to play and being able to teach others to play. Watching some of these people, I realize that they would much rather be playing the music they like then teaching children to play simple guitar chords. In short, you have to love teaching as an entirely separate thing. For myself there is a great reward in watching a person begin to play their favorite song and realize it is them playing it.

Coming back to the big time professionals I would like to offer this perspective. it looks to the average person like these people are up on stage doing only what they love and living the good life. I don’t know of a single one that did not work extremely hard. These people paid their dues. They experienced the traveling and the lousy hours all for the chance to play or sing their songs for a couple of hours and then spend long amount of time in a car or truck or van traveling back home again only hoping to get to do it again the next weekend it doesn’t end when they “make it “. The hours get even longer. The frustrations and the work get even harder and the pressure is much greater. The next time you see your favorite singer in an airport staring at their laptop and just trying to relax maybe it would be cool if instead of bothering then you let them try to sleep between flights. They would really appreciate that

Any creative profession has its rewards and that’s why we get into them but there is work involved. As you ponder this I’d like you to listen to Karen Carpenter as she sings about this very thing

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3 thoughts on “Music as a living

    1. Thank you Patty! People don’t really realize this is how it is. I bet you writers experience something similar. There are probably people who have this stereotype of you guys with your IBM Selectric typewriter sitting out on your front porch on a Sunday morning while the sun is just coming up and sitting lost in thought while you’re writing. They probably don’t think of the days when you just can’t come up with anything or if you have come up with something and your computer crashes and you’ve lost six hours worth of riding work


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