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.
You 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…