It’s easy to be hardcore when you’re a young musician. I remember those days well. You’re willing to play any gig at any time, drive as far and in whatever weather as needed, compromise your own comfort and income, drive a beater, live on ramen noodles and cheap beer, and to do anything else required to live the life you love, because, deep in your heart, you just KNOW that it’s going to pay off. You are gonna write that song or create that sound that sets the world on fire and it’s all gonna be gravy after that. You just need a little more time.
So time passes. Some musicians do, in fact, set the world on fire. Not you, though. High school turns to college, twenties turn to thirties, and the same lifestyle grind continues. You’re not that old yet, right? You may have picked up a spouse and/or kids by now, which changes the game a little, but you will just pick up some cover gigs for cash and maybe teach some lessons and all, you think, will be good. But it isn’t. Your original music isn’t paying the bills, so you go full on cover band. At least you’re a working musician, right? Not so bad, you get paid, and more time passes, enough time to notice a crucial difference. Where before you played to get past local gigs to the next level, now you just play a circuit that keeps you busy, hopefully, but leads nowhere. Maybe you’re in your forties by now, day job and all, and, one night on stage as you bash out “Mustang Sally” or “When I Come Around” for the millionth time while an over-served girl pukes on the dance floor, you start thinking that being a live juke box for suburban drunks isn’t what you signed on for, and maybe it’s time to adult up and quit this nonsense for good. I mean, you tried, right?
You might have lived out a variation of this tale. I know I have. I ended up so far away from where and why I started out that I forgot, for a while, why I ever did this music stuff in the first place. I learned a whole lot about the game of music and about myself over thirty years in the rock and roll trenches and I today want to share a few tidbits of that knowledge with you, Gentle Reader, in hopes of improving your mental game and saving you a step or two. Here goes nothing!
TIDBIT #1 – THE REASONS WHY WE PLAY ARE IMPORTANT!
We all must be who we are, as musicians. We have to accept our deep, inner identity because that is the part of us that made us start playing. If you had a burning desire to write songs when you were sixteen, part of you probably still does at forty. You have to honor that or it will drive you crazy. That was the big mistake I made. I started as a songwriter but got seduced by cover band money in my thirties and gave up writing for over a decade. I only made music for money. Thing is, music is not only about money. If you need both money and creativity to be happy, a balance between is needed. Cognitive dissonance is your enemy and will breed resentment. Keep your reasons alive!
TIDBIT #2 – BAR BAND LIFE SUCKS AFTER A WHILE!
Let’s face it, playing in a four- set-a-night bar band is not for everybody. It has its moments, to be sure, and is great for your chops, but it gets old fast for some of us. It’s a world away from life in a one-set original music band. No one dreams of getting old playing hours and hours of overdone material to an often indifferent or even hostile crowd of drinkers. Combined with a day job and a family, this life can be a spirit killer. Some folks are fine with it but, if you’re not, admit it to yourself. A gig is most definitely not a gig. Play in projects and venues that inspire you to do it again, not to just get drunk.
TIDBIT #3 – NOT QUITTING IS ALL ABOUT MORALE!
People quit things that they have lost enthusiasm for. The more years you spend in the game, the more vital it is to nurture your enthusiasm and positive morale in order to keep playing it. If you lose those things, you’ll be phoning it in forever and people will know. No matter what gig you’re doing, you’ve got to want to be there and feel good about it. Dig out your inner teenager again and remember why you first joined a band. As long as you can feed that inner teen with what he or she needs, your outer adult will be able to get through the tough nights and low points that come with all levels of music. Your mental game really is everything. Play it well.
I’ve come through these lessons and many more and am happy to be a fifty-year-old original music artist. My cover band days are probably done. Writing and recording music is why I’m here and always has been. I’m still hardcore, and I’m totally ok with with what I now do. To hit that point is to truly master The Art of Not Quitting.