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Earlier this afternoon, I was talking with my friend Mick Berry, co-author of The Drummer’s Bible: How to Play Every Drum Style from Afro-Cuban to Zydeco, and part of our discussion concerned the good and the bad aspects of being a musician. Here they are, in no particular order:
- Being a musician means you’re never done. There’s always something else you could be doing (such as putting in another hour of practice) that would be musically useful.
- It provides a constant source of guilt, often at not practicing enough.
- It provides a constant source of self-doubt. Have one bad rehearsal or practice session and you’ll find yourself asking questions such as, “Who do I think I’m kidding?” and “Why do I even bother?” If, god help you, you have a bad gig, you’ll also get a heaping helping of self-inflicted humiliation (even though the audience won’t notice unless you’re really stinko).
- Being a musician provides near-constant entertainment, usually in the form of near-constant conflict with other band members.
- Being a musician is a financial drain, a black hole of expenditure. You’ll never have enough gear, or good enough gear, and gear obsession can easily reach Spinal Tap-like levels of collection frenzy. My pal Abe, who has the disease bad and spends money accordingly, told me recently that his wife walked in on him while he had pictures of guitars on the screen, and she asked him, “Why can’t you just look at porn like other guys?”
- Being a musician means you’ll probably end up working for minimum wage, if that. In some major cities, there are so few places to perform, and so many musicians who want to perform, that some bars charge bands to play. It’s not that bad here in Tucson, but pay is still depressingly low. As the old joke goes, a musician is a guy who loads $5,000 worth of gear into a $1,000 car to drive 100 miles for a $50 gig.
- Being a musician provides you with a constant source of creative frustration if you perform original music. Audiences do not want to hear your originals, no matter how good they are. Rather, they want to hear tunes they already know, no matter how awful, no matter how moldy. This is why the highest paid bands, at least on a local level, are usually tribute bands — which are a tribute on the part of audiences to musical sloth and on the part of musicians to musical despair.
- Finally, being a musician means that you’ve discovered, and hold in your hot little hands, the only thing that makes life worth living.