I want to point you in the direction of an article at Metalsucks, “Being in a Band is for Losers [Scientific Proof].” It’s not only where I stole the image for this post, it’s also a amusing/terrifying indictment of a life in music.
I’m not gonna contradict anything in the piece, because it’s pretty dead-on in terms of the diminishing returns one experiences from “being in a band.” There’s also this less sarcastic — but still not exactly scientific — Hypebot post, “7 Ways Most Non-Famous Musicians Make a Living.”
I’ve been playing music, recording music and writing about music most of my life. And, I’m happy to say that for better than half of that time, it’s been how I’ve paid the bills. I still do all of those things, but I’ve augmented them by working in music and arts policy, which also finds me speaking in public and in the media about the structural issues around how creators make a living.
Obviously, I consider this stuff on a personal level, too. Many of my friends are musicians, and I know intimately their struggles and victories. While some still perform live (I’ve mostly retired), others do studio work, compose for film and TV or find other gigs — related and unrelated — to get by. This can be everything from nannying to bookkeeping to on-set work for the aforementioned film and TV productions. (It’s amusing to me that a few of these friends might think I’m talking exclusively about them, when in reality this applies to several folks.)
One of my friends recently filled me in on the unfortunate breakup of his last band on the verge of major success. That was a decade ago, but these wounds can take a while to heal. I understand this story all too well, having experienced my own version of it.
Still, we don’t stop. Well, some of us do, and that’s OK, too. Those of us who continue to pursue a life in music do so not because we’re chasing old glories, but because we still believe we can add value to the world. Whether it’s creating art, inspiring others to create it, or blabbing endlessly about the most appropriate conditions in which to do so, we are active participants in the overall experience. Whatever that ultimately means.
Is a life in music worth living? I say absolutely. There are times where I ponder what might have happened had I focused my intellect on more lucrative activities, but I have few regrets. Besides, in what other life would I have the opportunity to hang out with my heroes from the golden age of rock ‘n’ roll and even lead them in conversation? Plus I can give something back by helping to get some great new music into the world.
Sure beats working for a living.