When I was 15-16 and first started really hanging out with touring bands I wanted nothing more than to be one of those guys who steps out of the van at one of the countless truck stops in North America, beard scruffy, hair blowing in the wind, wearing cowboy boots and yells “Hey brother!” and walks into an embrace from a similar looking gentleman. As it happens I have become one of those people and while I definitely love it it has also made me analyze the romance of the industry. I mean there is a certain magic to it. Disappearing from home for a month to go make out with a bunch of random women and play shows all over the country has a certain mystique. So does flying to new and exciting cities, getting drinks with strangers you’d only previously had phone calls with and finding yourself in the hippest and most exclusive VIP parties. It’s all a good time and I get why people do it. I’m sitting here watching a Texas sunset as we blaze onto the next show and loving it. But you need to be aware that a lot of it, and I do mean a lot of it, is bullcrap.
I’m not just talking about the weird puffery of the industry either – although I do want to take a moment for that. It’s easy to forget that a plane flight to pretty much anywhere in the country is only a few hundred dollars, and in the grand scheme of things a few hundred dollars isn’t that much. If you see people popping around the country that’s not necessarily because they are doing well – maybe they just have a solid source of income and enjoy traveling. Odds are they are doing just as much for ego as they are for work. It’s the same with tons of red carpet events. What are they really other than bland corporate circle jerks that don’t actually help you out in the long run? While it’s certainly important to do things for appearances in this industry you also have to realize that a lot of it is the same sort of self masturbatory madness that has led to things like vanity labels, stroking egos but not getting any real work done.
The real crap I’m talking about is the punishing realizations this industry can force you into. It’s the nights of empty rooms after having played a sold out tour only a little while prior. It’s the crippling suffering brought on by having slept exclusively in a van for a month and the back pain that is such a well known symptom of that. It’s your buddy not showing up to a show even though you haven’t seen him in a year, put him on the list and you know he lives only a few minutes away. You wonder why things are this way when you did everything right, and why you’re having so much difficulty when you worked so hard to make it right, and that’s when you start to realize that this isn’t an industry of lies, but rather one that really forces you to work for your money. It’s stuff like this that teaches you one of the most important lessons in the entire music industry – no one gives a damn.
No matter how well you do on a given tour there is no guarantee that the next tour will be even half as good. I know that sounds brutal but unfortunately it’s just like that sometimes. While a lot of the time you do see bands with a solid upward trajectory, most hard touring bands will tell you of relentless ups and downs with killer tours and thousands of dollars in merch sales followed up by a big ol’ bowl of nothing. The music industry is a hard thing and you need to remind yourself of that, especially the days you’re on the road. The people you are out with are brothers and you are going to fight and yell but also laugh together and learn to love each other. It’s all part of the silliness and unique brand of despair that is tour life. Sometimes you just need to realize that the road decided not to be kind to you this particular time around and you should just embrace it, take in the sights and move on.
I guess that’s the best way to view it – the only romance there is in the music industry is that which you let yourself feel. Don’t become enamored with it because it will hurt you, but also be sure to use it to your advantage every now and then, use it so you can appreciate what you’ve been given, so that you can look out on to that Texas sunset and smile. You may not be one of those hard, booted men yet, and you may not be trying to be one of them, but you probably are trying to see America and that’s a hard thing. It’s the sort of thing that is easy to get swept up in if you’re not careful and the kind of thing that could hurt you more than it helps. That’s not your fault – it’s just how the music industry is, it’s how it really always has been, and people trying to tell you otherwise are probably just bullshitting. This isn’t an easy life for any of us, but if we can realize that it’s all an illusion, but a fun one, then it’s probably worth making the effort to fight your way forward and figure out exactly where you fit into it all.
I’m not sure what it is about these flat Texas deserts that make me want to write introspective articles like this but I hope that it allows you to glean some small measure of truth. The truth being that in this industry you can’t always win. In this industry a lot of the time you are basically a traveling t shirt salesman meets long haul trucker – but guess what, we love it just the same. If you’re not ready to be a traveling t shirt salesman meets long haul trucker then maybe you aren’t ready for this. Or maybe you should go get a cushy record label job with the knowledge that until you get a few DIY tours under your belt it will be hard for folks to take you seriously. Ah screw it, I think it’s time to stop at another truck stop.