If you’re a working musician, then you know that you have to get used to uncertainty. It’s pretty much the job. You never quite know what kind of gig you’ll be offered or for how long, or even if you’ll be able to do it well since sometimes (if you’re smart) you just say yes when people ask you if you’re available and ever played the _______ (fill in the blank with anything but tuba).
Over the course of my life I’ve played and sung at wedding ceremonies, done recording sessions, produced and written music for film and television, played rock stages, cocktail gigs, festivals, and everything in between. But when Bill Evans, L2Pnet editor and gear guru extraordinaire, asked me whether I’d like to become a contributor to the L2Pnet community, it took me all of five minutes to accept his offer.
Of course, almost as quickly as I accepted, I got anxious. Because this meant I needed to write something of value to working musicians. Or even just musicians who want to be working. Or musicians who work doing something else and like doing music as a hobby. And truthfully, I had said yes before really thinking about it because that’s what I always do right after asking how much it pays and whether I would have to wear stilettos or take off my clothes to do it, in which case the answer is no unless by some unfortunate stroke of bad luck I happened to be smoking crack that day. Thankfully, I have only ever ended up on a gig in heels a couple of times and so far have never had to take my clothes off, so my mother will be particularly pleased that crack isn’t influencing my decisions. Because the reason she never wanted me to become a musician in the first place was that she thought I would end up on drugs. And I like proving my mother wrong just as much as the next guy. So that part is at least going well.
Lately most of my writing consists of snide one-liners in the status boxes of my Facebook “friends” and engaging in the occasional timewaster of a political debate online with people who (crazily, I don’t know what’s wrong with them) disagree with me about what’s going on in the world right now. Of course, when writing that kind of stuff, it pays to be funny, a little edgy, and hell, since it’s all online and you don’t have to face the people in the morning, even a tad bit insulting at times. These are all finely honed skills that I wasn’t sure would be useful in writing for L2P. Given that this is our first date and all, I don’t want to have spaghetti sauce all down my chin after dinner, but on the other hand, I’ve never quite jived with people who were so uptight that the sauce would make or break an evening.
At the very least, I hope not to bore you. Whenever possible, I will do my best not to be insulting, though I feel it fair to warn you that I’m a girl raised on satire and well…sometimes I just don’t quite know what will come out. I’m not really interested in getting hate mail. Or pissing people off. I expect there will already be enough people with opinions about my opinions. And of course, those with the opinion that female musicians can teach them nothing. (PS to these people: please don’t write in to tell me this. I know you’re out there already.)
Truly shocking to me when Bill offered me the job was the idea that I might be giving people advice about the music world. And they might be actually listening to it. Now there’s something that will make you feel old in a heartbeat, because, god knows, THAT’s never happened before. The people listening to me part. Not the me giving advice part, which happens all the time, and god help you if I have a glass of wine in my hand, because then you’re REALLY in for it.
Some of this advice I have learned from some really incredible musicians. Some of it I have learned from people who don’t even like music very much. I guess that’s the cool thing about life once you’ve been through enough of it – you realize that the way you live your life as both a musician and a person has been constructed by a whole lot of other people along the way.
In my case, I got really lucky. I was fortunate enough to go one of the best music colleges in the world, Berklee College of Music in Boston. We add that “in Boston” part because I can’t tell you how many people over the years have told me they went to Berklee too, only to find out that they thought I meant Berkeley, the University, and that we actually have absolutely nothing in common when it comes to education after they’ve gone on and on about it for ten minutes. When I tell them that it is a music college on the East Coast, I usually get that “And people pay for that?” look that says they just can’t imagine that anyone actually studies to be a musician. After all, we’re all just born with an instrument in our hands, magically make it sing with no practice at all, and don’t know a single thing about the system of music. You know…like them. Or their niece. Or their incredibly talented son, who is going on tour with U2 as soon as he graduates high school. (See…there’s that sarcasm thing, and I’m going to tell you, when I wrote that, it was just downright uncontrollable.)
I was at Berklee during a decade when going to an art or music college would not have been considered a massive waste of money and the majority of the country’s business sectors hadn’t crashed into the financial oblivion that we’re experiencing now. It was a time of hope for musicians. I think all of us there believed we would become working musicians, in varying degrees of success, fame and fortune. There was no reason to believe otherwise. We certainly didn’t see a financial apocalypse on the horizon. Or the internet. Or digital piracy. Or the mass proliferation of cut and paste music software. Or the demise of the record labels.
Fast forward twenty years and a lot of things have changed. But there is a lot of advice that I have received over the years – from folks at Berklee, lawyers, record label people, teachers, producers, engineers, film editors and fellow working musicians – that I can honestly say has made an enormous difference in my life, mostly as a musician, but also as a human being. I’m going to be happy to pass it along to others.
So we’ll start with the first and probably most important…
You can never have too many friends.
Friends will get you gigs. Friends will give you credit. Friends will loan you equipment, connect you to people, help you carry your gear, shoot your video, bring other friends to your gigs, pick up the tab for you when you’re dirt poor, and be there to listen when you have nothing better to do but bitch about how much it sucks to be a musician. Friends will ask you to write a blog for their kickass magazine when it was just the thing you probably needed to start doing with your life.
Friends are the most valuable resource you can have as a musician. More valuable than money. Or industry connections (who will fail you constantly). Or gear. Or the ever elusive record contract.
As a musician you have two primary tasks in your job description: 1) Master your instrument, and 2) Make friends.
Make as many as you possibly can in the course of your life. In whatever form they come – from best buddy to casual online pen pal. Keep them for as long as possible. Be a good one whenever you can. And don’t forget to thank them when they do something super cool for you.
Thanks, Bill and L2P. You guys rock!
Originally posted 2010-07-02 03:19:00.