Is being a Pro a blessing and a curse?

Discussion in 'Fred's Barcalounge' started by MrWookiee, Jul 29, 2021.

  1. Synchro

    Synchro The artist formerly known as: Synchro Staff Member

    Jun 2, 2008
    Admin Post
    When music was my primary occupation, my chops were good and I could copy a song at a very detailed level, almost without effort. That was great.

    However, after a few years of music as a primary occupation, it had lost much of its charm. I saw the lives that many of the musicians I knew were leading and felt that I didn’t want to end up where many of them seemed t’ be stuck.

    AZBramha’s quote: "I like to have some kind of idea of when and for how much my next paycheck will be" rang true to what I was seeing. I had spent a day with Joe Pass, and realized that even as a Grammy winning artist, it had only been very recently that his wife didn’t have to work. I started to think about it, and I realized pre that even famous people were not making nearly as much money as I would have imagined.

    Chet Atkins was drawing a regular paycheck as a VP at RCA. Jim Hall was married to a shrink with a prosperous career of her own. Johnny Smith did pretty well, but he had written Walk, Don’t Run, and was making money off of the royalties, and even at that, he still worked full time in a music store that his wife actually owned.

    There are name-artists that make a bundle, but there are relatively few people in that strata. I knew that I wasn’t going to be in that strata, so I had to do some soul searching. I realized that some of the people I had thought of as successful, were in reality, living week-to-week. I had equated relative fame with wealth and, basically, had seen what I wanted to see. Being a working musician is a lot of work and for every hour you spend performing there are more hours of preparation, travel, load-in, load-out, amend boring hours while you wait for the gig to start. Generally speaking, the on-stage hours are the only hours which pay, so if you divide your fees by the total number of hours required to actually make the gig happen, the result might not be so impressive. Unless you are very, very fortunate, steady employment is all but impossible as a performer, but teaching can be better.

    When I did my years as a “Pro”, I didn’t have much else in the way of marketable skills. Over the years, I’ve learned to do any number of other things and currently have about as solid of a profession as exists. I’m fortunate, but there was a lot of hard work. When my workday is over, I have a nice assortment of guitars which my current occupation brought within financial reach, not to mention some great amps, effects, etc. I can sit down at the end of the day and play to my heart’s content and enjoy the fruits of the effort I put into learning guitar, which has been a lifelong process. I have a comfortable, if modest, home and an adequate vehicle. I have some retirement money and a job that should last the rest of my working years. Truly, I have little to complain about and the things that have gone wrong in my life have almost always been of my own making.

    The “Pro” years are part of what makes me who I am and may well have been essential to what has followed. That having been said, I have some nephews who are gifted musicians, and I have emphasized to them that ass good as they are (and they are very good), they should concentrate on finding an occupation that doesn’t put them at great risk for hand injuries, and keep music as a hobby. In my case, playing the occasional gig, the way I do now, is vastly preferable to gigging for a living.
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  2. G5422T

    G5422T Country Gent

    May 24, 2012
    Timing is key

    Pro players have "it."

    Timing is also key for a Pro player to be heard and seen by the right people, at the right time, and then it's the "Big Time."

    Two different levels of living. Either could be heaven, or it could be hell.

    That's up to the individual.
  3. dmunson

    dmunson Gretschie

    Dec 19, 2015
    Charlotte, NC
    when I was in my 20's I was always in a band, ofter playing 5 or 6 nights a week. My day job was in engineering, so all was good. But after I hit my 30's I was glad that I had engineering to fall back on.
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  4. Robbie

    Robbie Friend of Fred

    Jun 17, 2013
    Sarnia Ontario Canada
    Notoriety and financial security do not go hand in hand. I’ve played at what I call a Semi-Professional level and have been quite happy to do that.
    I turned down the one opportunity I ever had to record and tour full time for a year to see if the Product would sell and I could “make it”. There was no way I could ever put my Family through that level of insecurity.
    I recall half a dozen years ago opening for a very well known blues guitarist. Sitting in the Green Room with him after his set, it was just him and I, I told him I was envious and I’d love to play music full time. His comment was “you did the right thing”
    Last edited: Jul 30, 2021
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  5. stiv

    stiv Country Gent

    Sep 12, 2014
    Firenze, Italy
    I have some Pro friends. All of them are touring musicians that share a few variations of the same story: they play in many differents acts to put together a paycheck good enough to get along with the rest of the family (wife and kids). If you have some "financial security" (let's say that your family could support you in dark times like the last two years) there's a good chance you could make a living out of your music skills. Otherwise, there's no way you could keep on going if you're not prepared to face loneliness (you couldn't really have a family) and poverty (this line comes from "knowing from who and when you'll receive a paycheck" written before). There's not many people, musician or not, equipped to last throught that for long.
    new6659 likes this.
  6. Henry

    Henry I Bleed Orange

    Apr 9, 2014
    There are a lot of professions and a lot of people who work hard and barely scrape by, or rely on 2 incomes to keep a family going. There is no particular reason to believe the music profession should be different - other than that the population is usually most exposed to the most successful musicians (and other artists athletes etc). You have famous multi millionaire chefs and chefs working minimum wage. You have wealthy lawyers, and lawyers working for clinics or nonprofits barely making a living wage, especially in big cities due to cost of living.

    Having said all that, for those of us who care and have the means, it makes it all the more incumbent on us to go out and find new music and pay for it (instead of whining about how new music isn't as good as the old).

    I can imagine a future where technology and automation not only provides most or all of humanity with its needs, but also allows more humans to be professional creatives. People will spend most of their income on music, books and art, rather than home, fuel and food.
  7. Henry

    Henry I Bleed Orange

    Apr 9, 2014
    Imo financial security means you don't have to rely on others or charity.
  8. AZBrahma

    AZBrahma Gretschie

    Dec 18, 2020
    I like your optimism. But have you met humans? As life continues to become less challenging for survival and true struggle for the fundamental elements of daily life becomes more and more rare, I see the majority of people continuing to do what they have already been doing - descending into narcissistic, meaningless, myopic pursuits that reduce the value and necessity of human interaction, relationships, and respectful synergistic discourse. About the last thing I imagine is the masses becoming renaissance men and women who become well-read and appreciative of others left-brain pursuits and products. Past behavior is the best indicator of future behavior, so I'm probably onto something here. :cool: Then again, I guess I could be painted as a pessimistic curmudgeon and that wouldn't be an entirely inaccurate description.
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  9. Henry

    Henry I Bleed Orange

    Apr 9, 2014
    Not only have I met humans, but I have studied history and humans in context. And as crappy as humanity is now, it only gets worse as you go back in history. It's a little bit of optimism but I am also a skeptic and cynic at heart as well.

    Past behavior has indicated that humans have progressed over time, even with some stumbles and backward steps. Not that thr trajectory can't change but that has been the trajectory.

    I can assure that the life of a musician 1000 years ago was not any better than it is now.:p
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  10. Synchro

    Synchro The artist formerly known as: Synchro Staff Member

    Jun 2, 2008
    Admin Post
    I would agree. Basically, I came to the same conclusion as the Blues artist. Going back to the ‘70s, when I worked as a guitar teacher in a couple of music stores, I saw was that there was a group of guys that hung around the stores, remained half stoned much of the time and lived off of their parents or spouses while they waited for their ship to come in. This was actually a great deal of what moved me to leave music as a primary occupation. I just felt that there was more to life than hanging around the music store by day and maybe playing a gig or two on the weekend, and not being willing to go out on the road, chances were good that I would have ended up being one of these guys.

    One of the teachers I knew ended up spending his life teaching Rock licks to his students and literally lived with his parents until they passed away. He never was able to establish a life of his own. The last time I saw him, he appeared aged and worn by life, yet was living the same life he had lived as an adolescent. It gets worse; eventually he lost his teaching gig. Imagine being nearly sixty years old and trying to build a career with nothing on your resume except 40 years of teaching in a music store.

    With no intention or irony or humor, my sincere advice to anyone desiring a full time career in music would be to marry a medical professional. A number of the successful players I have known or observed from a distance, have had exactly that situation. Taking it out of the realm of music, I knew a fellow that was a successful commodities trader. He lived well and was obviously quite prosperous, but his wife held a position at an area hospital, which kept the lights on, while his income came down to large sums which came in when the opportunity for a highly profitable trade was at hand, but never was a source of steady income.

    A lot of these name guys had something else going on. There was a session/studio scene in New York, LA and Nashville, but almost anywhere else, it was either go on the road or have a secondary source of income.

    One of my heroes, is Tal Farlow. Tal played some great Jazz guitar and worked with top acts, such as Red Norvo, but he lived modestly in Seabright, NJ (almost within sight of Manhattan) and worked as a sign painter on his off time. Imagine that; a guy with his own Gibson signature model, several albums as a leader and recognized and respected in the Jazz world, but he worked as a skilled tradesman by day. When I say that Tal is a hero, I mean not only as a player, but also as an example of balancing his musicianship with the rest of his life.
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  11. Synchro

    Synchro The artist formerly known as: Synchro Staff Member

    Jun 2, 2008
    Admin Post
    It’s only relatively recently that being a musician was considered even a possible path to prosperity. There were minstrels and various itinerant musicians, but only in the era of mass markets and mass media was that even a possible path to riches. Playing in the Big Bands was a life of sleeping on trains and paltry wages. Jazz musicians of the ‘50s and ‘60s lived in cheap hotel rooms and Lola yes gigs in Jazz clubs that were frequently not all that great. The glamour of Show Biz is not all that easy to come by.

    The two best playing experiences of my life were not in large venues, but were both in very small clubs, playing Jazz in a trio situation with a double bass and drums. These sorts of gigs cannot possibly be high paying, the audience is too small.

    I would venture that a person trying to make their living as a musician, 1000 years ago, probably went to bed hungry most nights. It’s always been a tough way to make a living.

    Let’s look at one of the success stories of our time; the Country Music theaters in Branson, MO. This makes a lot of sense for a artist with name recognition, but no recent hits. No travel and a stable backup band. Fewer surprises, because the venue remains the same. No schlepping gear in and out, because if you own the venue, you can set aside a safe place to keep instruments, etc. I think that this is the best compromise I’ve seen, for a working entertainer.
  12. calebaaron666

    calebaaron666 Friend of Fred

    Aug 15, 2018
    Portland, Maine
    Hear that?

    It’s the worlds smallest violin playing for those unfortunate souls who make a living in the entertainment industry.:D
  13. SAguitar

    SAguitar Synchromatic

    Jan 17, 2020
    Jack Plate, Oregon
    I gave it a shot, after learning a trade in printing, some friends and I decided to try the road thing. We were doing well with the weekend band gigs so we thought it was worth a shot. We did survive out there for nearly a year before there were some "open" spots on the calendar, and what are you supposed to do 1,000 miles from home and no money coming in? I decided to hang it up and get a day job again. From there on, it was pretty easy to assemble a decent weekend band/gig and keep two incomes coming in. Eventually though, the gigs began to feel less like fun, and more like a second job that wasn't paying too well anymore so I gave up the weekend gigs. After that, I got bored not playing enough and drifted into being a church musician. And that's what I've been doing for nearly 30 years now. It's still challenging, and a lot of fun! Plus I have a pretty secure venue to store the gear I'm currently using, and people give me a lot of appreciation for what I do.

    I saw Joe Walsh one time when he prefaced a song with, "Here's a little song that if I had known I'd have to play it for 20 years, I probably wouldn't have wrote it!" Then he went into Rocky Mountain Way. I know he was mostly joking but I just hope he doesn't feel that way about Funk #49!
    Last edited: Jul 30, 2021
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  14. Tony65x55

    Tony65x55 Gretschified

    Sep 23, 2011
    The 'Shwa, Ontario, Canada
    His Maserati does 185!
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  15. Randy99CL

    Randy99CL Country Gent

    Feb 17, 2020
    Led Zep is famous for getting bored and morphing their songs over time. I saw a Jimmy Page interview after John Bonham died where he stated that their songs had changed so much there was no way a new drummer could catch up.
  16. Tony65x55

    Tony65x55 Gretschified

    Sep 23, 2011
    The 'Shwa, Ontario, Canada
    I did the professional musician thing for a living for almost three decades. I never got rich but I earned a decent living, paid off a house, had a wife that didn't have to take a job and was able to raise two good kids.

    I had a dream to be a professional musician and I achieved it.

    If I had half a brain I would have spent 30 years on the assembly line at General Motors, and I'd be retired with an awesome pension and a benefits package.

    That said, to the original post by @MrWookie, professional musicians have to have a different set of priorities if they want to earn a living. It's the business side of the music business. Pleasing your audience is, believe it or not, secondary to pleasing the people that pay your wages.

    Sometimes those are the same thing but most often, they aren't. For example, if you are working the lounge/bar/hotel circuits you probably think that your job is to play the best music you can, right? Nope. Your job is to sell alcohol. The manager doesn't give a rat's buttocks how good you are - he cares what the till ring-off is at the end of the night.

    Engineering your sets to build up several tunes to get the ladies dancing, slow down one so they can drag their guys onto a dance floor. Keep 'em there for a few tunes until they get thirsty then take your (timed) break so they can order booze. Rinse and repeat.

    Watch your volume. At the end of each set talk to the wait staff to make sure they can hear their orders. Most people don't know if your waitress screws up an order, she pays for that drink and nothing will tick off a waitress more than screwing up orders because they can't hear. And guess who the manager asks first, "what do you think of the band?"

    Be VERY PUNCTUAL. Be on time - ALWAYS. Work your set times and time your breaks.

    These are the things that people in the professional industry have to be cognizant of in order to succeed. There are many more similar things that separate the pros but you get the idea.

    Being a huge superstar success is like winning the lottery and very few are lucky enough to win. There are lots of super talented people in the business that are starving because they strive to be artists, not professional performers.

    Like the sign on my studio wall says, "Talent does what it can, genius does what it must. I do what I get paid for."
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  17. dlew919

    dlew919 Country Gent

    Jul 18, 2016
    Sydney, Australia
    Joe Elliot of def Leppard said something along the lines of ‘If you don’t want the responsibility of a hit, don’t write one'. Makes sense.
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  18. MrWookiee

    MrWookiee Synchromatic

    Jun 17, 2020
    SoCal, USA
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  19. MrClint

    MrClint Gretschie

    Nov 27, 2017
    Lake Balboa, CA
    I've done all kinds of different things to scratch out a living and raise a family before locking into high-tech. Gigging, which I've done here on the Sunset Strip even as a marginal player, like so many things in the spotlight is heady stuff -- get a taste of it at some point in your life if you can, but also get out when you can.
    Robbie likes this.
  20. Synchro

    Synchro The artist formerly known as: Synchro Staff Member

    Jun 2, 2008
    Admin Post
    That is so true. I couldn’t stand being famous. Imagine if you were famous and people recognized you everywhere you went. People would come up and talk to you like they know you, just because they saw your picture on an album cover or saw you on TV. Speaking for myself, that would be awful. I hate being interrupted when I’m in the middle of doing something and famous people are interrupted whenever they go out in public.

    I saw a very famous actor in a store, nearly 20 years ago. The look on his face when he realized that he had been recognized told the story. I nodded and both of us stepped back a bit. IMO, that was a simple matter of respect. Unfortunately, many people aren’t respectful of the privacy of famous people. Over the years I’ve met a handful of such people and most of them want to be treated just like anyone else.
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