But at the start, me and my best friends were happy playing Metallica all day. The band grew, but we didn’t get far, as we had no idea about what we were doing back then. Got tricked into a bullshit deal by a parasite-publisher, played 10 gigs a year and then it somehow just stopped. Tried other bands, loved it all, never got anywhere with it. 5 years ago, just as I was about to finish my M.A., I realized that I have to try and become a professional musician, because I enjoy music so much. At my peak I played in 7 bands, rehearsed or played almost every evening in cover bands, startups, solo-stuff, everything. Somehow along the way I managed to ‘establish’ myself as an instrumentalist, songwriter, musician and even a tiny little bit as a ‘producer’ in the sense of guiding and mixing some recordings for other bands. I did work as a stage hand for three years that taught me quite a lot about that crazy business, but also enough to leave it after three years.
Well. I guess that makes me a musician. But I have been a musician long before I did it to earn money, ever since Tom Waits enlightened my passion for music as a kid, thanks to the eclectic taste of my dad. If you take a look over at Wikipedia, a professional is a person who is paid to undertake a specialized set of tasks and to complete them for a fee.
I currently play in 4 bands, two of which are rare cover gigs just for the money. The other two are pop outfits, where I accompany a singer/songwriter on bass and vocals. These gigs generate an average of 100 bucks per gig, from promo shows that don’t pay shit to festival gigs that pay decently, just from playing music live. The point is, although that is a lot for a self-taught dude, it is not enough to make a decent living out of it, especially because up to now I had to invest a lot of the money back into the music in order to keep my gear up to a professional standard. Gigs are starting to pay a little better, which is great.
Thanks to the internet there is pretty close to zero money in royalties and cd sales (might amount to a small three-digit amount in a GOOD year, and that is for a band that has serious airplay and sold around 10.000 cds) so all I have to go on right now are live shows. Now the problem of this setup is that I can hardly play more shows without giving up my part-time office job, as my calendar is crammed in five dimensions to get those 120 gigs plus rehearsals going. It would take a serious leap of faith in this current situation to rely on the music business alone. I could hope for better shows, a hit single, a major break-through, whatever, but you cannot force that. All you can do is be patient and go on with all you have.
There is another option: I could leave the road and set up a business on the side of that road, writing and producing music for myself and other artists, step off the stage and into the background. There is brilliant article over at the trichordist that describes just that. It might be a little late for that, but the all-devouring internet opens some roads and closes others, we’ll see where that one goes. Right now I just keep throwing cakes against the wall in the hope that anything sticks, and that I don’t run out of breath.
In this setup I started yet another band, the one I will start recording tomorrow, and it feels great for many reasons. One of the biggest is that I gave myself a year for this just to build it up. Starting on the first day August I will record and release an EP every three months. There will be four or five of these. Once the final EP is released I will have to reassess where that got me. But until then I don’t have to worry about budget (there is none), or things like paying musicians, rental cars, hotels (there are none). All I have to do is focus on writing these songs and arraying them with decent soundscapes.
Enter Alexander Pope, coughing nervously:
Fools rush in where angels fear to tread
God make us foolish for our struggle.