Music & The American Dream re: [Harp-L] Death of Live Music

On Apr 2, 2007, at 11:54 AM, harp-l-request@xxxxxxxxxx wrote:

From: Michael Rubin <rubinmichael@xxxxxxxxxxxxx>
Subject: [Harp-L] Death of Live Music
My belief says you are the obstacle. Argue for your limitations and they are yours. If you want to make a living playing originals in an unusual genre while staying in your hometown, make it happen. I just cannot believe that a clear vision, determination and hard work cannot overcome any of these issues you guys are talking about.


That of course is true in theory. And how will we ever know if we don't try? What most of us discover is we want more out of life than what we can get from being a starving artist.

I know a good number of people who are working full time as musicians. They, for the most part, don't have families, don't own property, can't afford to turn down work or take vacations, don't have health insurance, etc... Most of them live with somebody and in spite of their hard work, are still subsidized in some way. Their plan for home ownership is waiting for their folks to die. They live from hand to mouth.

They're not complaining! They're following their dream. If they don't get self destructive, they can do O.K., especially if they have chops. They are predominantly rhythm section players, especially bass players. Everybody needs certain instruments to perform, even if you're paring down. Horn players, harmonica players and the likes are a luxury many can't afford nowadays. (Unfortunately for us, even if they can afford a harp player, they still do it themselves, to our chagrin!)

Believe me, I spent a lot of time meditating over this "myself as an obstacle" factor, which is huge. The bottom line that I came away with is this:

I spent almost 20 years of my life shedding, gigging, traveling, spending tens (maybe hundreds) of thousands of dollars of my & other people's money ALLOWING me to be the kind of musician I thought I needed to be. You may love Jason Ricci's playing, but he has to pay that band, has to pay for bills and hidden costs, support himself, and I guarantee you, that money is coming from somewhere. By the time I finished, I was $50k in the hole, had a garage full of CD's that no one knew about, and I wasn't enjoying playing music any more. Granted, I wanted to be a star, a bandleader, fame and fortune and the likes. If I had only chosen to be a good sideman at an earlier age, maybe things would be different. Live and learn. Ouch.

Today, I'm married, have a step daughter and a cool dog. We live in a beautiful house which we own. I can afford to take $50 gigs with people I like and turn down $300 gigs playing crap. I have faced my demons and vices and so far am on the winning end. Oddly enough, today I am closer to being the musician I always dreamed of, without the stress and pressure of outcome, when the "big break" will happen, or when the money will run out. I am very happy. I love music and practice constantly. Our family business pays the bills, not music. I'm very fortunate things turned out this way.

Many won't share this kind of info with people, because that "create an illusion of success" B.S. permeates through everything in this country, or they are still hanging on to their dream and don't want to give up. But I have poor boundaries and a weird ego, so there it is.

Maybe I wasn't smart, maybe I was undisciplined, maybe I failed at my dream of being a touring, self sustaining "live musician"... but when you peel away the romance and mysticism behind everything, it's a very hard life. Many of our idols lead tragic, unstable, broken lives, with multiple failed marriages and no pot to peepee in. They drink and drug themselves to death, they have no life skills. But we support them because we want to vicariously experience our fantasies of that life through them. They are mannequins for our dreams of what it would be like.

My advice: If you think "a clear vision, determination and hard work" are enough to make a decent living in the music business, especially the performance end of the business, in today's environment, then by all means, have at it. I still have my dreams, too, even if it hurts that my wife laughs at me when I tell her I'm going to make money playing music... But I'm not going to move to NYC and arm wrestle with Gregoire over the few harmonica gigs that Galison would do a much better job on. I think I smell dinner being prepared....

Keep practicing!


Damien Masterson or enter my name in any search engine 415 305 7138 dzm@xxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxx Damien Endorses Hohner Harmonicas and Audix Microphones

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