[Harp-L] Re: Reality Check
2 cents from Alex:
I'm thoroughly watching the threads in Harp-L and I find this topic quite interesting - thanks Iceman for triggering the discussion - and more than that, I think that all practical answers to the question raised are a must to learn/be aware of for the current musicians or for the soon-to-become or for the thinking-to-become musicians/artists. In addition to what Steve Baker said, I'd like to suggest ...
(1) reading the book by David Liebman "Self Portrait of the Jazz Artist", ISBN-10: 3892210136
(2) reading the message by Tom Ball that he sent some 1 and a half yr. ago - I hope Tom woudn't mind if I repost his revious message to the group, which is up to the point BTW. Here it is:
Well, I suppose I can plead guilty to that. For whatever reasons --
primarily a profound lack of ability to do anything else -- I've
played music for a living for nearly 40 years. At a workshop recently
I was asked how a working musician can make ends meet, which prompted
me to think of a key word: diversification.
Young players -- ie players in their late teens and twenties -- are
generally so happy to be actually playing music for a living --
touring, gigging, meeting people -- that money really isn't the main
consideration. Not yet, anyway. A player that age probably hasn't
bitten off a mortgage payment or begun a family, so crashing on
people's floors, a diet of Taco Bell and 7-nights-a-week in bars are
not only tolerable but actually rather exciting. But we DO all get
older and personally I found that a revenue stream 100% derived from
gigs can be dicey. What if you get the flu? What if a club goes
belly-up? What if you need insurance? There had to be a better
way.... So a few decades ago I looked around at other more successful
players in my genre and noticed something: they all had other
music-oriented sources of income, in addition to gigs. The key seemed
to be in diversity.
I feel somewhat pretentious offering unsolicited advice here --
nobody really asked me -- but if there's one thing I can suggest to a
young player it would be to diversify and create additional musical
revenue streams. How? Ahhhh... let me count the ways. <g>
1) CDs. Yes, to an extent the Record Business is dead. But CDs, even
with truncated sales compared to yesteryear, can still be a small
source of income. The more CDs you can get out there -- all of them
theoretically earning small royalties -- the better.
2) Write songs and keep your publishing. Start your own publishing
company and register it with BMI or ASCAP. Again, a small revenue
stream, whether they ever get covered or not. And if they get covered
by somebody big: ching, ching, ching. :)
3) Record as a sideman on other folk's records. Make yourself
available. Do every session offered. When you play a new studio,
discretely drop off a business card with the engineer -- it might
lead to another session down the road.
4) Commercials for radio and TV. These pay residuals every time the
commercial airs. Film music too, if you can get it.
5) Teach. Take on an occasional student.
6) Double. If you can find the time to learn another instrument in
addition to harp, your income will jump exponentially. And don't be
afraid to sing -- even the froggiest voice can be developed and/or
have charm (witness a couple of my heroes in John Prine and Dylan.)
7) Books. Sure there are already over 100 harmonica oriented titles
available, but so what? Ever notice how many different kinds of
peanut butter are on the Safeway shelf? Everyone has a different
point of view and your's might be the one that resonates with a lot
of folks. Books are like CDs -- the more you have in print -- all
earning small royalties -- the better.
8) Have no shame. If the gig pays, take it -- even if it's a wedding
or a Bar Mitzvah or something else you consider "beneath your
dignity." Take it anyway. Their money's green. No need to worry
that you're "embarrassing yourself" if another musician sees you --
hell, if they're a pro, they're playing gigs like that, too. :)
9) Assuming it's a cause you believe in, play the big benefit shows
even if they don't pay at all. Not only will you feel better about
yourself, but it's amazing how many good (ie good paying) gigs can
sprout from such exposure.
10) Keep your overhead low. If you truly want to be a working
musician, chances are you can't afford that boat, that trip to Tahiti
or that cocaine habit.
11) Take advantage of today's technology. These days, with ProTools,
it's possible to overdub a part on somebody's CD with a simple
exchange of Emails. With Skype you can give an hour lesson over the
phone for free. Set up a web site and don't be afraid to publicize it.
12) Never give up your dream -- you only live once (I think?) and you
don't want to be an old geezer in a nursing home looking back on your
life with a lot of "shouldda, wouldda, coulddas."
Now then. Apologies for the pedantic schoolmarm attitude of this
post. I honestly don't mean to sound like a lecturer but I thought
I'd pass along a few things that have enabled me to do what it is I
love all my life. Thanks for the opportunity.
Best wishes to all and keep harpin',
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