One of the things that makes anyone who makes their living in the music industry grimace is when people say “You’re so lucky!” or “I wish I could be you!” I mean – it’s definitely an honor that people admire your work, but most folks don’t see the dark side of it. See – I may have a lot of glamorous moments, and sure, I may know a lot of famous people in bands, but there is a flip side to the coin, a flip side that many of my music industry friends also suffer from. Despite the glistening veneer my career might portray, I am functionally insane.
Not a lot of people are aware of this side of me, despite my attempts to be open about it. I’ve mentioned before how much hard work it takes to have any sort of success in the industry but I think it’s time I was absolutely frank. When I fully describe all that I’ve been through to get to where I am today many people genuinely worry – and it’s this way for almost everyone I know who scratches out a living in music. Navigating the music industry can be a nightmare of almost biblical proportions.
In the last two months alone I have covered more than twenty thousand kilometers, I have slept in strangers homes, I have hitchiked, I have snuck on board trains, I have gone nights without sleep, I have walked many a dusty mile carrying a massive pack, I have slept in the dirt, I have gone without food and water, I have run from the cops and I have wondered if I was going to die.
In that time period I also have been directly in contact with members of KISS, Def Leppard, Judas Priest, Pantera and Motorhead.
I’m not sure where that leaves me – but I certainly hope it gets you realizing that my life might not be as glamorous as some make it out to be.
It also should be noted that I have about two friends who aren’t deeply invested in the world of music.
What I’m trying to say is that this… thing… takes over your life. And while I love it – you need to be ready to ride the bronco. As Jocko Marcellino from Sha Na Na once told me “If you’ve got the bug… you don’t really have a choice!”The thing is – in this current climate (Though things certainly seem to be improving) it seems that if you want to make it you need to want it more than anyone else you know… and then some.
In 9th and 10th grade I had a half hour commute via public transport to get to school, so every day I would recite every diatonic scale in every key. When I finished that I would then recite every note on every fret of the guitar. If I got to school before I was done these exercises I wouldn’t talk to anyone until I was through. During classes I would obsessively draw out complex fretboard diagrams and do finger exercises until I was finally allowed to go home and play guitar. I was a lad possessed.
That may sound obsessive compulsive to you (And in many ways it was) Yet with what I’ve seen this behavior is often par for the course. In fact – I’ve found out I might actually be one of the more reasonable ones! I know people who have dropped out of high school because they wanted to learn a record from back to front, and I’ve known others who effectively ran away from home whilst severing connections from their families so that they could tour. My biggest sacrifice was dropping out of university – yet even this seems fairly meager compared to a girl I know who was actually kicked out of her country for singing metal. The worst part is – most of these people still don’t make their living off music!
I’m not saying that you should immediately drop everything for this, quite the opposite in fact. To paraphrase my friend Renee Robyn, a professional photographer and photoshop artist, if you want to make it in the arts just keep trying. This doesn’t mean you shouldn’t take a day job, but no matter what just keep generating content and pushing forward. This is not an easy path to take, and like I said – insanity is a plus, you just need to know how to handle it and take calculated risks.
Perhaps the biggest step forward I’ve made personally in the last few years (And probably the thing that made this career path feasible for me) has been learning to harness my own brand of insanity. For example: I know that my brain doesn’t handle down time well. As our mighty fallen friend Athon was fond of saying: “Idle hands are the devils plaything.” Realizing that and realizing how to make even your downtime productive is crucial. For example – every evening I relax by doing my daily guitar practice. Even this is productive, I’m getting better at guitar, but it gives me a chance to chill out. Maximizing efficiency whilst maintaining some level of calm in your life is crucial if you seek to really make inroads for yourself with this industry.
It’s one thing though to say “I want this and I will do anything for it” and quite another to actually get out there and fucking do it. The number of people I know who use Jack Kerouac’s beloved “manana” is stunning. As corny as Shia Laboeuf might sound, and as much as I might dislike him, his motivational video certainly hit some key points. The fact of the matter is if you’re not out there doing it, going without food, running from cops, and making your name as a trustworthy rock and roll badass then nobody is going to give two shits about how much you ‘want’ something. Don’t risk it all though throwing your life away on a poorly calculated gamble won’t get anyone seeking to hire you. You have to provide concrete evidence before anyone will seek you out and bless you with a job, it’s a hard truth that took me years to comprehend, but it’s one that I will keep beating out with these columns until changes take place.
I’m not trying to come off as a conservative asshole, and as much as it might seem like it, I really am not. It’s just that the music industry, especially on the independent side of things, is in my experience the most perfect example of free market capitalism in the west. Hard work pays off, and though there are millions who are doing stuff for free those who really seek to advance and make money off it tend to find a path sooner or later. Music may be the love of your life but until you show that you too are possibly insane you’re going to have an uphill battle getting anyone to give you any money.
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