When I was a little kid, my dad was a working musician playing most nights in smoky country Honky Tonks for line dancers. I saw firsthand how much hard work goes into music, with often very little return. Instead of seeking another avenue in life, I jumped right in as soon as I was old enough. Since then I’ve recorded and toured with several bands and am constantly seeking gratification through music. Where does this gratification come from, given the constant hardships encountered?

You are in your mid-twenties and you are on the road…
BUZZZ BUZZZZ! You poke your head out of the sleeping bag to discover your cell phone vibrating; it’s already 5:30am. Most of your three hour “sleep” was spent wrestling with your host’s Labrador on the living room’s shag carpet; apparently he isn’t into sharing his floor.

sleepingbag.jpgYou step outside into the icy autumn. Let’s make sure the van starts up. Today we’re expecting an 8-10 hour drive to Laramie. For some reason the club manager insists that the band arrives at 4:30pm despite the 8pm doors. You decide to take the first shift at the wheel. Very generous; the rest of the band is still sleepwalking.
Everyone is a little concerned that the band fund won’t cover the gas for this drive, but this gig has potential. Gary from Bitty Tone Records started following the band on Twitter two months ago and he lives in Laramie. A quick coffee and gas stop by the freeway and you are on your way.
You’ve made it.
Tonight, after driving over 500 miles you’ll load about 300 pounds of equipment up a spiral staircase and then spend about six hours killing time before playing.
The set was cut short and Gary was a no show. You were fortunate enough to meet a really sweet couple that was willing to put us up for the night. You’ll send them a postcard from Florida three weeks later.
You’ve just experienced a day on the road.
Despite the monotonous work and financial burdens, you may continue and repeat this same process over and over for years. What is it that motivates you to continue being a “musician” when it can seem that playing music is a small percentage of the work?
In this column I hope to gain some perspective on what drives musicians to do what they do. All musicians, on the road or not, put a lot of muscle, sweat, time, concentration and extremely repetitive work into their projects. I’d love to hear from a wide range of experiences on this topic.
By looking across genre, success levels, age and culture at the work that goes into music, maybe we can learn something that heightens our appreciation. What is it that keeps musicians making music? This answer is likely unique and very precious to each of us.

And the band plays on…
(Listener Advocate)


  1. jeff trueman
    November 27, 2009 at 6:11am
    Emotion drives everything we do. Working musicians want to be recognized, admired, and thought of as someone different from the crowd. Maybe you wanted (still want?) your father to recognize your talent. Sure music is a special language that pays rich, satisfying dividends in and of itself. But to answer your question after you accurately portrayed the real-deal, we hope for fame or just enough cash to avoid the day-job that we think guarantees obscurity and boredom and misery. The irony is that working musicians seek emotional connection through music, yet we get so little of it on the road. We keep going b/c the next gig has "potential" - for what? A contractual obligation that takes from what little money you have now AND your intellectual property and persona image? And yet when such a deal is offered, it's snapped up in a heartbeat. After all we are told it's an attractive life style: "Party everyday!" "Livin' the dream!" "I know I've got talent and it feels really good when someone else thinks so too." When those expectations are not fulfilled, it's no surprise that we hear about drug abuse and other self-destructive choices (suicide in some cases) among working musicians. Granted, not all working musicians are drug addicts, and not all of us are emotionally desperate, but an honest answer to your question must include the deep desire to stand out.
  2. Tabby
    November 27, 2009 at 12:40pm
    Yippie Kai Yaaa!
  3. David Morgan
    November 27, 2009 at 1:47pm
    Aaron, Great start, I'm intrigued. If you find the answer, let me know. I'd write more but I'm off to a local casino to drag my pedal steel, etc. to a central stage and play for 4 hours through an odd headphone arrangement of "ambient" stage sound to an assortment of gamblers and drinkers for $100 (good money) and a shot at the buffet. I don't really even need the money, so...what's up with this? Dad
  4. Chris
    November 27, 2009 at 8:52pm
    Ahhh life in the van definitely NOT glamorous!
  5. shanesh
    November 28, 2009 at 1:55am
    Nice blog!
  6. Baby beddings
    November 29, 2009 at 3:55pm
    i love the guitars! love the band setup! AND the sleeping stuff you got there.
  7. edittalty
    November 30, 2009 at 6:33am
    I really enjoyed reading this article, keep up writing such interesting stuff.
  8. Aaron
    November 30, 2009 at 10:27am
    @Jeff - Thanks for the great response! You've hit on some really important points here (seeking of emotional connection, recognition and individuality, avoidance of a 'day job' and loss of freedom that can come with actually 'making it'.) I hope my future blog entries can elaborate on some of these aspects of musicianship and also find some positivity in it all. @Dad (he really is my dad) - Gotta love those casino gigs! Thanks for sharing that scenario.
  9. Tony
    December 01, 2009 at 9:11am
    I've followed the blogs of a couple of bands I like as they toured the country. I thought their entries were very interesting and had me longing for such a road trip myself. I admire all musicians for dedicating themselves to learn their art and then to keep at it in spite of the difficulty of earning a living performing music. Many of you touch me deeply. So I hope we get more entries from musicians here, I'd love to hear from some others.
  10. SergeMaroz
    December 02, 2009 at 11:02am
    rly nice i enjoyed reading:)))
  11. travis
    December 02, 2009 at 4:08pm
    i enjoyed as well thanx
  12. Jim
    December 03, 2009 at 9:23am
    Aaron, I'm turning my son onto your blog as he is a young musician in the band "Revengeance" and is about to hit the road. Thanks again.
  13. Michael
    December 03, 2009 at 11:42pm
    The short and sweet on me is that I come from a musical family and have been playing in bands since I was 17. I have 2 wonderful, musically talented sons 16 and 20 pursuing their own music goals. Early in my music career I think I played mostly for myself but what I didn't really appreciate so much until later was the wonderful effect that creating music in front of others has on those people. I see now that the band is a family and that you really have to be there for the other members musically, emotionally and in the many ways that make up life on this earth. The sum is truly greater than the parts and magical things can happen between the players on any give night regardless of how many people are there in the room during the performance. One of the things that helps me is to keep the music fresh and create it newly each night for that space, for those people, on that night. If the band has fun and creates an aesthetic energy among themselves then others will join in and share in what is being created. Oh, and be true to your own goals... the rest will come around.
  14. David
    December 05, 2009 at 9:41am
    I just saw the Honky Tonk part... I never used to like country but my best friends like it and I've grown to love it...
  15. Dave
    December 05, 2009 at 6:38pm
    Hi Aaron- I love this! Theres been some many times I've wanted to be able to accurately describe to my family ( 2 kids,wife,mom,dad,cousins,friends,etc..) what its like when I go out on little 2 week-ers or 3 day-ers. Its seems like pure insanity to take off with barely enough dough to do anything with, much less travel and come back with less than what I left with. I think I do it for three main reasons in an effort to keep this condensed. 1) The pure unadulterated high of performing something we've created out of thin air and the resulting thunderous accolades from the 6 1/2 people there listening to us. 2) Its the only thing I truly "know" how to do inside and out. 3) The excitement of playing music to someone who has never even heard of us. The third reason is a double edged sword though because you never know who's going to enjoy the music and who will absolutely hate it. dave
  16. S. Alarcon
    December 05, 2009 at 8:49pm
    Great interesting article. It's surely a tough life traveling on a van. It's sheer determination to drive such long distances. I admire that sort of mindset. Thanks for sharing.
  17. Helen
    December 06, 2009 at 4:28pm
    Just wanted to step by and say that I love road trips like that. made a couple of them by my own to see some small bands and would do it ever and ever again. Junge Mode f�r Sie und Ihn Best wishes
  18. john f
    December 07, 2009 at 7:12pm
    this ROCKS!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!
  19. chris
    December 08, 2009 at 6:26pm
    allow me to give you guys a little different perspective: i often visit las vegas w my girlfriend to see her parents and to hit the music scene, be it the fremont experience, lounge acts or major headliners. as a non-musician but a big fan of music i see some very special people with immense talent playing their hearts out. what never fails to strike me is the sad fact that some of these great people will never "make it" and the wonderful notion that we are witnessing the "next big thing" before they become a major act. what they all have in common is that they are doing what they want and love to do. i would gladly trade my job as a fire captain in a major city to have the talent and guts to make music and touch people as only musicians can. keep up the good work, you just never know, the right combination of breaks, the right people in the audience and you are on your way to being an "overnight" sensation. you know, the one who has worked for years and years to get where you are. i admire and salute musicians with the guts to hit the road and put themselves out there for all to see. as a fan that is where the magic lies, in the talent of people. keep hitting the road, all who dare to play air-guitar, sing in the shower and play imaginary drum sets would love to be you, and may you get that big break and become the "next big thing".
  20. Gifts
    December 08, 2009 at 6:53pm
    Yeah ,i like it so much.
  21. maquiberryuk
    December 10, 2009 at 9:26pm
    Hi, You are true. Music is a sole world and entering into the world is something great. You and your dad is so lucky.
  22. Aaron
    December 15, 2009 at 10:42am
    My newest blog, complete with Christmas music ideas: (Look here for future posts on the topic I began here.)
  23. Appetite Suppressants
    December 15, 2009 at 10:42am
    Great read! It really remember me on my young days, we experienced similar stories..:)
  24. parrot pictures
    December 16, 2009 at 9:30am
    yeah...i think what makes musician keep making music is they LOVE music. But every musicians have different reasons (just like you have said). Monotonous routine absolutely able to give boring feel...i felt it too...
  25. Eric Marrs
    December 16, 2009 at 1:59pm
    In high school I started runnin with some older guys who happened to play guitars. We would hang out and there would often be several guitars/players around. The music they produced was beautiful, and I wanted to be a part of the chemistry that was clearly circulating amongst the musicians. I started playing religiously seven years ago. I sometimes question the price of being a musician, but when I'm on that stage and everything is grooving there is no better feeling. You are in, you are necessary, you are creating. Sometimes I'm surprised that the sounds coming from my amp are made by me. Music feels good, and when you see a stranger in the crowd that's totally emersed in your music you feel like a king. Besides, having worked in a cubicle, traveling around the country with your friends isn't all that bad.
  26. Deni
    January 07, 2010 at 7:16pm
    Really liked this piece- brought back memories of back in the sixties when I was on the road plenty with my "mates". Thanks for the great mood.
  27. Lil Winterling
    January 17, 2010 at 11:23pm
    I am a music lover from way back in the 50's and I had my chance by way of a talent show in my high school days. From there I went to Baily Hall at Cornell University. I was 17 yrs old. I got a call from Nashville,Tenn a week later. Needless to say my parents said NO. Broke my heart. To this day, I still wonder where I would have been if they had just taken me there for a day or so. All I can say is,take your music wherever you can. You never know who may be listening and watching. It will come to you with maybe one Song or even a good tape you make. Music is the most wonderful thing God has ever given us and your time will come be it here or there. It will come and I wish you the luck I could have had. Sheba
  28. amitycarol76
    January 20, 2010 at 6:49pm
    You are a very good descriptive writer. Think about it while you are wasting time before gigs. I know what you mean... I grew up with similar ideas stuck... So be wonderful and enjoy the trip(s).
  29. Kimberly Prescott
    January 21, 2010 at 6:53am
    Thanks so much for the post. Really brought back the peaceful memories from way back when. Post more stuff! I liked your writing as much as I liked the music. Definitely have a talent for this kind of thing :) My favorite Reference and Entertainment Site

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