You’ll never work a day in your life. We’ve all heard that one, and there’s a
lot of truth in it. However, it’s one of those feel-good generalizations that
sound great but aren’t entirely true, at least not for anyone I know. Don’t
tell me you’ve spent even as little as a year in music (or any artistic endeavor
for that matter) without some days that it was hard… that it was work. That
just wouldn’t be possible.
Let’s do a quick differentiation of doing music vs work. Easy. If it isn’t fun,
you’re probably working. If you’d rather be doing something else, somewhere
else, you’re probably working. And if you’re working, you’re probably not
playing. Keep in mind that sweating doesn’t necessarily mean one is
working. I’ve been in some warm rooms with hot bands, and we were all
sweating… and loving it!
As to sweating, however, it is work if you’re carrying in a Fender Rhodes
Suitcase, an amp and twin speakers, plus your seat and a cord bag. I did that
in Atlanta from time to time, and in 90 degree weather, with 80% humidity,
you will sweat. And it is work. Ever get sweaty in a tux? It sucks, doesn’t it?
Doing theory classes, melody-writing classes and theory classes in music
school? Wonderful. But homework assignments in all 12 keys, every time?
Sit up ’til 3:30 a.m. writing melody assignments in all 12 keys and tell me it
wasn’t work. And staying up writing an arrangement ’til 5 in the morning, then
having to copy the parts so it could be played that morning for a 10 a.m. session?
Sorry, I did it, several times, and it was work. Even throwing on a sport coat
and tie to drive downtown for a creative meeting in an ad agency was work,
for me. I hated it. But it was all part of getting to the meat and potatoes of
music, which I dearly loved, and that made it all possible.
Advertising deadlines could be brutal, and I can almost hear you say, “You
didn’t have to take the job.” True, but remember, we’re talking about the
music business here, and you know as well as I that you don’t say “no” to
any opportunity to make music for money. It only takes a couple of “no’s”
even in a large city to stop your phone from ringing.
I’ve backed a few vocalists in my day that felt a lot like work. I’ve written some
jingles exactly the way the client demanded, and it was definitely work. I’ve
had jingle clients stand right behind me at my keyboard and make me play
ideas for their jingle until they heard one they liked. I always hated that, and
It was work… on several levels.
But that’s how it is for any job, any activity in which one gets employed to
provide a service. None of them are perfect, and I would argue that being a
musician comes as close to perfection as any of them. Why? Because we
love what we do, and right there we’ve put ourselves in probably the top
15% (or less!) of all people who work for a living. How many times have you
heard someone say, “Damn, I wish I’d stuck with the piano when I was young!”
Or, “I would love to be able to play the guitar like you!” Or, “I’d give anything
to be able to play the drums the way…” well, maybe not that one. Heh heh.
But it’s true. For all the other BS we have to go through, at the end of it all,
we get to do our music! What a reward! And if you might, by chance, feel that
the check at the end of the gig is more of a reward than doing the music itself,
then we need to talk. I know, I know, you can’t “eat’ jazz, your can’t fill your
tank with a glorious sweep of sixteenth notes on an altered dominant 7th…
I’ve heard all that. I’ve also been told that there’s not much work to be had in
Montana, and “You can’t eat the scenery…” But if music weren’t the main thing
in your life, I mean really “the main thing,” then you probably wouldn’t be in
music full time… or shouldn’t be. And it might even be that you wouldn’t be that
good anyway, because making a living as a musician takes a lot of time, effort
and dedication, not to mention there is competition for musicians as there is for
any professional endeavor, and if you’re not at least a little better than average,
you probably won’t get much work.
There are countless diversions, god knows, for us all in this crazy life. Hell, I
did other things than music to make a buck from time to time. I was a location
sound recorder for a small film company. I was a production stills photographer
for an ad agency. I was the music contractor for the Burt Reynolds movie,
Sharkey’s Machine. I taught meditation seminars for Nurses in Georgia for
The Center For Nursing Leadership. That’s a whole ‘nother story. That went
off and on for several years. I gave talks at Emery U. in Atlanta and at REI
on wetlands conservation. So yes, I’ve strayed from my main love, for money. Responsibility is a strong motivator… aka a wife and kid!
My only defense is, if you want to be an self-employed composer and musician,
you best be ready to do anything that comes along, as there’s no security in
being self-employed. Remember, every time you finish a job, you’re basically
There are fine musicians who have forgone a potentially great music career
in exchange for the security of a steady job, insurance, enough money to
send their kids to college, etc. And they might love music every bit as much
as I do. Usually their priorities lie with their family. I acknowledge that and
respect the hell out of them. It has to be hard, because much music, and
especially jazz, can be powerfully addictive. Some guys I know had steady
jobs and played only on weekends… pretty smart, the best of both worlds,
in a way. I couldn’t have done that… my addictive personality wouldn’t have
allowed it. In any event, I now bid a fond farewell (and the tag of “bullshit”)
to the well-worn, and downright wrong phrase, “Love what you do and you’ll
never work a day in your life.” Simply not even remotely close to true. I loved
what I did all my life and worked my butt off in the process. ‘Nuff said.