The Shit List: Top 5 Reasons NOT To Be A Musician



Chances are that if you are a regular reader of The Shit, or you are a client at Knox Avenue or Superior St., then you are already more than likely a musician. My hunch is that when you first decided to be a musician, you had no idea how tough a gig it would be - or how rewarding it could be at times. Being a musician myself, and having shared experiences with literally hundreds of other musicians of all stripes, I never cease to be amazed by those who've actually attained some noteworthy level of success who freely admit that if they had it to do all over again, they might chose a different path. But, more times than not, comes that glimmer in their eye that says otherwise. Being a musician is not for the faint of heart, my friend. It is a life sentence.

While I would never think of trying to talk anyone out of being a musician who has a genuine love for their instrument and a tireless drive to create their own joyful noise, if I can merely shed a little light on a handful of motivating factors, maybe I can help those who find themselves at the crossroads to make the right choice. This is your life, after all. You only get to ride once.

So, without further adieu, I now present you with the Top 5 Worst Reasons To Become A Musician

1. Fame & Fortune

When you think about the literally tens of thousands of supremely talented musicians in this world, and then the hilariously small number of those who actually managed to find fame & fortune, then you should start to see that there is no singular path to fame and fortune. Nor is there any rhyme or reason to why some "make it" and some don't. Thing is, to get into this for the sole purpose of getting rich and famous is to set yourself up for a huge letdown. How many of us have seen a favorite, albeit not-so-famous artist, decide to make an obvious bid for commercial success only to have said effort fail to accomplish such goals. In most cases, not only did it not become the multi-platinum success that would make them a household name, it also disappointed their current fan base, leaving them worse off in the long run.

Of course, how many times have we seen a band enjoy an absolute fluke success - like when Urge Overkill's cover of Neil Diamond's "Girl You'll Be A Woman Soon" was hand-picked by Quentin Tarantino to be used in his film "Pulp Fiction" and ended up becoming a huge hit for the band? It ended up being an even bigger hit than anything off their major label debut, Saturation, which had been released just prior to the film's release. In the end, a song they'd recorded when they were just starting out ended up eclipsing their current material. That's something the band could have never planned.

Moral of this story: The more you try to make something happen, the less it will happen. On the other hand, just go about your own business making music that gets you off and you never know what'll happen.

2. Girls

Okay, so the girls never paid you any attention to you in school, but the minute you picked up a guitar they suddenly started lining up, right? Trust me, as a geeky kid who wasn't good at sports, and had crappy grades, I can tell you that that sort of attention is hard to resist. When my band played a Tom Petty song at a talent show in 8th grade and I went from being invisible to dating the cutest girl in the whole school, the proverbial light bulb above my head flickered on and my fate was forever cast.

Here's the thing, though...most beautiful women who date musicians are total psychos. Maybe they didn't start out that way, but, after dating a few musicians, believe me, they get there. See, we musicians are trouble. We don't rob banks or kill people just to watch 'em die, but we do seem to think the world revolves around us and that a new girlfriend is pretty much just another VISA card to max out at the local Guitar Center. Seriously, ever see a musician walk into a Guitar Center with his girlfriend? Guess which one ended up paying for his new gear?

So, as you can imagine, a beautiful woman (who might not be the smartest tool in a very foxy shed) who has been left high-and-dry by three or four prior musician boyfriends and who still sees nothing wrong with getting mixed up with yet another rocker might just be a time bomb waiting to go off. So when she tosses all your shit into the street because you "flirted with her landlady" or "forgot to thank her in the liner notes to your band's new CD', which, admittedly, she did pay for", just remind yourself that the reason you became a musician in the first place was to be able to date women like her.

3. See The World/Travel To Exotic Locales


Ah yes, if you wanna see the world, just be a musician. After all, musicians get to tour the globe, traveling from one exotic location to another, postcard views everywhere they turn. And if you believer that, I have a bungalow in Bangladesh I want to sell you. See, my first exposure to the rock & roll life came via The Beatles in "A Hard Day's Night" and "Help!". In the first movie, they go from gig to gig, and city to city, chased by hundreds of beautiful gals. They get to travel by plane, by train, and by automobile, all the while engaging in witty banter and unleashing a flurry of quotable quips. How awesome is that? In the second film, they literally hop, skip and jump from one exotic locale to another - this time in color - all the while engaging in witty banter and unleashing a flurry of quotable quips. So, as you can expect, I got into music thinking that I too would be jet-setting with the big boys. Needless to say, being stuck in Germany in the dead of winter with no luggage, no money, and no honey on the coldest day they'd seen in ages was not what The Beatles sold me. Neither were the months spent sleeping in a stinky band van, or getting to know the "friendly staff" at every fleabag motel and dive bar across this great land of ours. Of course, I have been fortunate enough to travel to Japan, Britain, and Australia, but the only parts of those countries that I saw were between the airports, train stations and the venues I was playing.

4. Artistic Fulfillment

When I formed my first professional band just out of high school, we decided that it was important to begin writing our own material from the outset if we were going to get anywhere in this business. Before long, we were headlining clubs and getting the attention of managers, booking agents, and record companies. The one thing we heard again and again from all of these "industry insiders" was that the best thing about us was the quality of our original material. Needless to say, that filled us with a huge sense of pride, as the one thing we'd always set out to do was write cool songs. So, when we signed our first recording contract after being told time and time again how great our songs were, the first thing the label decided to do was try to pair us up with one of those song doctors. All of a sudden, the original material that had been strong enough to get us signed to a major label was no longer good enough in their eyes. Now we had to take meetings with guys who'd written big hits for people like Bon Jovi, No Doubt and Aerosmith. Being naive, we went along with the suggestions of our label and ended up making an album that was full of songs co-written by big-time professional songwriters so that we stood the best possible chance of hitting the big time ourselves. Instead, our album ended up looking and sounding like the cookie-cutter, assembly-line monstrosity that it was. In sacrificing our artistic fulfillment for the sake of success, we lost our direction, our identity, and our self-respect.
Here's the thing, no matter how much you try to stick to your guns, if you spend enough time in the trenches, at some point someone will come along and dangle a carrot in front of your nose that can be yours for the small price of sacrificing your artistic fulfillment in the pursuit of fame and fortune. Trust me now, believe me later on this one, brothers and sisters.

5. Beats A Real Job


If you wanna be a musician so that you don't ever have to have a "real job", that's all fine and good, but I don't know that it's very realistic. I mean, if you're looking for shortcuts through life, I can tell you right now that there are none and that those looking for them tend to be, well, lazy.
Considering the number of musicians I know who are constantly, tirelessly working on their craft and holding down full-time jobs, you might wanna re-think that plan. More times than not, life as a musician is one of always wondering where the next dollar is coming from. Even when times are good - like when your band has a whole summer of well-paying street festivals lined up - it will not last forever. See, here in Chicago, for example, they have these things called "winters" that tend to stop those well-paying street festival gigs dead in their tracks.
Additionally, bands break up and, often times, the best-laid plans end up never getting laid. And neither do you. So if you're one of those people who thinks being a musician is a sure-fire way to avoid the cubicle jungle, I wish you all the best, but you might want to give that one some more thought.

If none of what I said above managed to scare you into selling all your gear on Craigslist, you're either sufficiently consumed by blind denial (a prerequisite for life in the rock & roll trenches) or one of those schmucks who thinks none of the bad stuff will ever happen to you. Whichever one you are, I wish you all the best in rock & roll.

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