Are You Serious Enough?
By David Himes |
Are You Serious Enough?
Of course, you want a career in music...but are you willing to pay the price?
by David Himes aka 'The Gig Kahuna'
There is quite a long list of what you’ll need to make a serious effort in the music scene. Of course, different tactics work for different artists, and one size does not fit all. But if you’re serious about pursuing a career as a musician, you will need to put in a lot of time, effort, and money. And you will need to ask yourself a lot of hard questions.
Before setting out to be a musician, whether as in a band or a solo artist, ask yourself why you want to do so. Honesty is very important here. Of course, different people want to get in the music scene for different reasons. Maybe you want to be a weekend warrior. Maybe you’d be happy being a big fish in a small pond. Maybe you want to go all the way to “superstardom.” Maybe you’d like to work as a “hired gun,” or session musician. Maybe you want to jump off a riser and bang every cocktail waitress on the circuit.
You will also need to ask yourself what style of music do you want to play, what audience do you want to reach, etc. Do you want to go for commercial appeal, artistic integrity, or some combination of both? Then you have to ask yourself how seriously you want to go for your dream. Are you willing, ready and able to make a serious go at it?
Another question to ask yourself is how you’re going to pay the bills while pursuing your dream. Unless you were born rich, you’re obviously going to need a job to support yourself. Ideally, the job should be one that not only makes you enough money to live on and hopefully something to put into your music, but also one that allows you to have nights off to play gigs and gives you time to put in the effort for your music. You don’t want to work a job that requires too much of your mental, physical, and emotional energy. A high-stress job with long hours will seriously put your dream out of reach. You need to be mentally and physically able to practice your instrument, write songs, and any other activities related to your music—not dead to the world and vegging out with the TV when you come home from work.
You will need to be willing to live a minimalist lifestyle. High car payments, home mortgages, designer clothing, and other expensive materialistic things are for normal conforming people. If you’re serious about your dream, you are not a normal conforming person. You are much better off driving a junk car and renting your dwelling. If possible, your vehicle should be something you can haul band equipment with and be fuel-efficient.
Many would-be musicians fall into the trap of “climbing the ladder.” They might get a promotion and a raise. But this, more often than not, leads to foolish spending habits and putting more of your life into the job than you should.
Of course, every musician dreams of the day when they can tell their boss what to do with their job. But if you think you’re going to get discovered and developed by a record label and no longer need your job, you are delusional. Those days are long gone. Get that farce out of your head right now.
In an effort to illustrate my point about materialism, I’ll share something from an interesting article I once read back when Van Halen was starting to “break out.” The author wrote about how stoked he was that Eddie Van Halen was coming to his house to do an interview. As he waited for the new hot (at the time) guitarist to show up, he looked out his window and saw an old, beat up junk car sitting in front of his house. He wrote that he surely couldn’t have that clunker in front of his house, because that wouldn’t look good when Van Halen showed up. So the author went outside to tell the owner he was going to have to move his car. He then wrote how shocked he was when Eddie Van Halen came out of the car. You should be able to guess the moral of the story.
As for eating out, not a good idea. The only time you should see the inside of a restaurant is if you work at one. I like pets as much as the next person, but having a pet is also not a good idea—especially when you consider the cost of feeding it and the vet bills, which are outrageous these days. And avoid buying useless junk like knick-knacks and such.
So the bottom line is asking yourself if you’re willing to live without the materialistic stuff that you see your friends, family, and co-workers with. And it can be hard when everyone thinks you’re nuts for choosing that path. It can be hard when your hot girlfriend desires a guy who can offer her a materialistic lifestyle. It might help to think of it like this: Most people with new cars, big-screen TVs, and who “own” their houses are drowning in debt. There are working long hours and going through a lot of stress to maintain their materialistic lifestyle. They are running in a hamster wheel. They do not own their home - it owns them. Furthermore, the mainstream media and pop culture make people think they have to have the newest car, the biggest house, the best smart phone, and live as a slave to debt. Resist those temptations and treat yourself to those amenities when you’re making enough money from music to do so.
Then again, if you just want to be the weekend warrior or play here and there locally while owning a house and raising a family, there’s nothing wrong with that. But if you’re really serious about a career in music, the normal conforming life isn’t going to cut it. Let’s face it: Musicians are simply not normal people.
All this can be trickier than you might think. There is nothing wrong with whatever reason you choose to play, but you need to give it some serious thought, if you haven’t already. Once you’ve established what direction you want to go and set some goals, you then need to find like-minded people to work with, which can be, and often is, very hard.
Ideally, a band should have each member doing something for the cause other than just showing up to play. But as we all know, the world is far from ideal. Seems like almost every band has at least one slacker who holds up the rest of the band, or a member who wants the aforementioned materialistic lifestyle. On the flip side, most bands have one or two members who do the majority of the planning, promoting, songwriting, etc.
If your band has one or more members who make the rest of the band carry his or her weight, you basically have an engine that’s not firing on all cylinders. If you’re serious about your band, you need that engine firing on all cylinders.
There’s a saying in the music scene: Sooner or later, you have to kick your brother out of the band. In other words, it can be very hard to give a good friend, relative, or whoever, the boot when that person is simply not cutting it. But if you’re not in the loop, you might just have to tolerate any slackers, or other problem members in the band to get in the game, get in the loop and replace them later once you’re in.
Another question that requires total honesty is how strong is your material. Honestly. Do people scream and cheer when you play, or do they head to the bar to order drinks? Do they bop their head, or do they scratch their head? Is the majority of the crowd standing outside during your set, waiting for the band they came to see to go on?
If a considerable amount of time has gone by and your turnouts are still weak, or responses to your songs are less than stellar, you might want to take a long, hard look at your material. If you were in the restaurant business and served crappy food, you would fail. The same holds true in the music industry. Without good, strong material, you will not be successful.
Predictable response from “Brotha Integrity” in three…two…one…“Why does it always have to be that same old verse-chorus thing? I’m gonna break the rules! This is my art and nobody tells me how to do my art!” While, of course there is nothing wrong with wanting to do something off the beaten path, you’ll more than likely fail with that. To reach people in general, you have to give them something they can grasp onto, like good structuring, solid hooks, choruses they can sing, etc. While a whole book could be written on this topic alone, the debate over commercial appeal vs. artistic integrity will probably rage on forever. But many will agree on some combination of both.
The main point here is you might end up having to face the fact that your material just plain sucks, which isn’t going to be easy. Chances are you’ll listen to your current material sometime down the road (way down the road) and wonder “what was I thinking?” But by then it will be too late.
How is the morale of your band? It’s very important that each member feels good about the band and the direction it’s going. If this isn’t the case with your band, you have another serious problem.
Never forget you are a business as much as a musician, and management incompetence is by far the biggest reason businesses fail. As with any business, but especially the music business, too many people think being in a band is nothing but a party. Too many people only want to do what is fun and easy, but not what is hard and necessary.
Finally, you will need to define your idea of success realistically, which is different for different people. If you think success is playing the halftime show at the Super Bowl, you are probably delusional. But even so, keep in mind most of the big-name artists had the same issues as you at one time early in their careers - and I’d be willing to wager they didn’t succumb to materialism early on.
David Himes is the author of the book Realities for Local Bands: Talent is not Enough. You can find it at Amazon. For a FREE sneak preview, click here. The book is also available in PDF format. Also, David published a local music scene paper for over 16 years and has held over 400 live shows, giving him a unique insight on the scene. Your feedback and comments are welcome.