Notes on career development for musicians

This is a post I made on the loopers-delight mailing list, in a discussion about whether it’s a good idea to play for free and related matters:

My wife is a schoolteacher. Talk about a profession that is undervalued in this society! (But she’s got a great health plan, which means we’re not on the streets as a result of her bout with lymphoma five years ago. She won, by the way.)

Every one of us in this bidness watches in horror as profoundly unworthy artists prosper while genius and innovation go begging. There is no justice, and it’s damn hard to get any. I don’t see much point in raging about it.

Just yesterday, I put myself into a funk after hearing I was turned down for a gig at a festival that I was sure I’d be perfect for. And the promoter is someone I thought was favorably inclined toward me and my music. I grumbled to my booking agent briefly (“…reminded that if you want a friend in the music business, get a dog. And hope he plays the banjo.’) and then went back to work.

I make music that doesn’t fall neatly into any category. I write songs that don’t all sound like this or that, and I intersperse them in performance with loop pieces, composed and improvised. I’m too weird for the singer-songwriter world and not weird enough for the avant-garde or whatever you call it. And on top of that, I’m too fucking old to go to folk/bluegrass festivals in remote locations on my own dime, sleep in the dirt, and work my way up from the campground jams to the mainstage. Plus: damn hard to schlep an Echoplex and pedal board from campfire to campfire.

You deal with it. You take the gig. You do the best you can and build your fan base the only way it’s done: one at a time. I figure if I sell one CD Im ahead of the game, and if I bring home a few email addresses for the spam list, that’s a win too.

One of the best pieces of advice I ever got came when I interviewed producer Ted Templeman for BAM Magazine. He described his first encounter with Van Halen, at a grubby club in Hollywood: a dozen people in the room, but they were belting it out like it was a sold-out show at the Forum.

I call it the “you-shoulda-been-there” approach: If there are four people in the audience, send ’em all out of there telling their friends they missed something great.

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2 Responses to “Notes on career development for musicians”

  1. Dusty says:

    Yeah “the should have been there” approach does work. Nothing like word of mouth to get people interested in music. The thing is as we age we tend to get better at what we do; wiser and more mature. Be it a vocation or a hobby, the music business is insanely geared towards teenagers doing top 40 stuff.. Ick!

    I do dig the bluegrass jams though.. Getting schooled my 80 year old guys that can’t walk.. True! But for a few moments they are young again.. Music truly is magic!

    It is easy to get into a funk over these things though. I consider my songs my little babies and want them to be appreciated, and sometimes they are which makes all right with the world for a moment, and then other times when it seems overly hard and forced and that is what puts me in a funk. You know, you lay there at night going “what the *** am I doing?”, we wonder if we waste our time writing this stuff, but in the end as long as it is enjoyable..

    As far as being successful maybe everyones idea of success is a little different? I mean if we just make something as good as we can and keep growing, we may never get famous but will leave behind a record of our growth, and hopefully one that shows improvement. So while I haven’t really done a good job of managing my own success as a songwriter/singer/whatever I have had some fun times and met some cool people along the way. I can’t really expect more, although I do dream of jamming with some people i probably will never meet. But that is okay too. In the end life is too short to get all worked up about this stuff.

    Well anyway, I like your blog, and your radio show. I dig your music. Call me a fan. :)


  2. Dusty says:

    Lest I be thought of as overly serious I was just saying that every time I play I learn something, and generally it is so much fun. :)

    Well anyway not trying to spam your blog up, I am just a big fan of this type stuff, and my wife is a teacher too! She teaches special education here in Tennessee, and yeah they sure don’t get much respect except from those of us that know what they have to go through.

    I was engaged to a girl from Petaluma back in the late 90’s, and right out of university she took an inner city job here in Tennessee, and got threatened by students etc.. Needless to say our engagement didn’t last over 2 years and she ran back to Napa-land and I stayed here, luckily and met my soul mate. I don’t know what this has to do with the post, so I think I will ramble on.

    Hey DGans, click my name and get that flac file. Maybe in a year or so, I will be a better player!

    Onwards and upwards!

    ~all the best~

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