[I started this a couple of weeks ago…and since then Steve has written a couple of blogs with his take on the same issues….Is he stealing from me?? I don’t know. But after watching Hedwig last night I think I’m going to have to keep a closer eye on him. ;)]
The musicians life is a hard one. Not only because most people regard creative fields as a hobby rather than a real life job, but also because of our willingness to do everything speculatively in hope that something will eventually come of it. Steve told me once that “we’re our own worst enemies because we love what we do” and that is so true. Now I can hear someone out there now saying…”stop complaining….you may not get paid much but at least you love your job!” Yes, and the age-old saying that you can’t live on love alone certainly applies here.
For many of us, there is no school that can teach what we do. Our work is a mixture of years of real world study, fleeting emotions, tragedy, and hope. Every note we write a piece of history saved from the ashes of charred memories. Every song a blanket woven from future hopes and past disappointments. Yet we are seen as children, refusing to grow up and get a career.
This is never so apparent as when you are managing your own career. You’re expected to have a middle-man of sorts in order to be taken seriously. If you don’t have a label, a manager, a publicist, and a booking agent…then you are obviously an amateur. I get so frustrated constantly explaining to people that I have no desire to be famous. I want to write, I want to perform, I want to connect. I also want to be paid fairly to do these things…but I don’t need a private plane and millions to be happy. I’m happy with train fare and a few thousand extra in the bank.
So as a singer/songwriter and multi-instrumentalist with 20+ years of experience, why is it that people still expect me to do my job for free? I’m not talking about recorded music here, I’m talking about playing shows and festivals that are patronised by thousands of people.
While I don’t think that anyone has a right to a living just because they are a talented musician…I also don’t think that people have the right to deprive me of a living just because we’ve created a culture that feels that we shouldn’t have to pay for music. The inequity that exists in the world of music is part of the problem here; the whole rock-star dream. Much like the American dream….it’ll just cause you to live aspirationally rather than practically and that can be a dangerous pitfall.
The problem comes when I voice this to others. Unless this person is a seasoned musician…these words will cause me to lose credibility. How can I say that I have no desire for fame and fortune? Isn’t that the reason that one becomes a musician in the first place? To avoid studying medicine, or the law? To avoid being part of the establishment?
Deciding to be a musician is not a quest of avoidance…but a labour of love. There are quite a few assumptions that we need to get over…
1. Wouldn’t it be great if everyone knew who you were?
No, this would suck. How would you ever live a normal life? Imagine having video chat open ALL THE TIME. Think you have lots of people in your life now who like to tell you how to live? Imagine having hundreds of thousands of those, even millions. Nice.
2. It’d be cool to be treated like a rock star all the time.
Again, your record label is happy to spend YOUR MONEY treating you like a rock star and other people will be willing to do the same because they think fame is some magical dust that will rub off on them. Once you’re out of money and hit songs it’s back to being NORMAL. Additionally, being treated like a star doesn’t make you a better musician…as a matter of fact I’d imagine it has the opposite effect.
3. Doing a huge tour across the world is fun.
No, it’s really not. Ask anyone who has done it. Grass roots tours with people you like are much more fun because you’re hanging with friends and leaving more time for exploration and doing it on your own terms. You don’t need to answer to anyone and your schedule is your own.
I don’t have answers for all the problems that exist in our lives as musicians. I do know that I’m beyond happy that I am able to do what I love for a living…but, until we change our thinking about what it means to be a musician I can’t see our lives getting any easier. But I suppose as Al Bernstein once said…“Easy doesn’t do it.”