Music As A Hobby

Sep 2nd, 2009
This post was originally written on the StevieSnacks.com blog.

Did you ever notice how there seems to be a tremendous amount of gravity attached to the idea of playing music for a living?  But is it because of the music, or because of the performing?  Some people experience great success, but many others work very hard, for very little payoff.  I think the saddest thing is when someone wants this career for the wrong reasons, and resents the things in their life that they should be thankful for, thinking that they missed their calling, or whatever you want to call it.

This Is Just Me

This post is entirely about my experience and my issues.  If it applies to anyone else, than great.  If not, so be it.

To summarize my main point: for years I took my job, my education, the town I live in, and  eventually my wife, all for granted, wishing that I could travel the world, performing in front of people.  I missed out on thousands of days that I could have been enjoying my blessings, longing for a career that I didn't really want.

So here's how it went...

In The Beginning

I began learning the guitar very quickly once I picked it up.  I didn't play for 10 hours a day, 3 or 4 at the most, usually 2 or less.  But for some reason, the guitar stylings of Jimi Hendrix and Stevie Ray Vaughan made sense to my ears and fingers in a way that seems too good to be true.

This rapid development caused me to re-evaluate my life plans, scant as they were, and by the end of my first year of playing, I had all but decided that I wanted to be the next Stevie Ray Vaughan.  There was no YouTube in those days, so without it, I didn't know that there were people just like me in every city around the country, and across the globe.

But the specifics of my playing style aside, the underlying desire was to be able to get on stage and get paid for playing music. It just made so much sense.  In the next 12 years, I never stopped to ask "is this really what I want to do?"

The Reasons

Looking back now, it's clear to me that my motivations were not what I thought at the time.  No one wants to admit that they had a secret agenda, ignorant to their own true motivations. But I did and I was.  There's no real classy way to dress up what I'm about to say.  It's personal, revealing, and a little embarrassing to admit. But here it is:

I wanted to be famous, respected, and admired for my musical abilities.

To put it in plain English: I wanted to be a rock star.

The reasons for that are a topic for a different kind of site, but I put it out there to establish the fact that at the tender age of 19, I was completely unaware of why I really wanted the career I thought I was destined for.

Walking It Out

With my true motivations tucked conveniently out of my own sight, I reluctantly started a job with a software company.  A job that paid pretty well, but one that I took with a bit of remorse, seeing it as kind of a temporary thing.  Until my ship came in.

For the next 9 years, I started a few bands, tried to book gigs, but with limited success.  Certainly a far cry from the life I thought I wanted.

My list of excuses was long.  This town sucks.  These people only like crappy cover bands.  Nobody has good taste in music anymore.  If only people would wake up and realize how awesome my music is..... 

When I say it like that, it sounds childish, but at the time, it was always someone else's fault.

The Real Story

Do you want to really know why my music career didn't materialize?  Where should I start?  Let's see.....

I never was a very good singer.  I knew nothing about booking shows.  I took rejection too personally.  I wasn't good at entertaining a crowd.

But the main reason is simply that I love playing music, but I hate having to work in order to do it.

This simple truth created a situation where I resented having to do the very things that were necessary to put me in a position to do what I thought I loved.  I thought I wanted to travel the world playing music on stages in front of thousands of people.  But I hated packing up all my gear to go play a show for 50 people.  And even more, I hated packing up all my stuff at odd hours of the morning, and taking it back home.  I simply wanted to get on stage and play, and that's it.

It's kind of sad, but as strong as my distaste for the work of playing gigs was, my need for the attention and respect was even greater.  So you had two opposing forces working against each other every time I went to play a show.  I pushed my way through the stuff I didn't like, just for the thrill of standing in front of people and hearing them clap.  And then when that was over, I did more stuff I hated.  How very fulfilling.

Do The Math

Until you make enough money to pay a roadie, you will probably spend as much time carrying/loading/unloading your gear as you do playing it.  It's easy to summon up the energy to do this once a month.  But I know now that music careers don't often materialize out of one appearance per month.  Try 3 or 4 times a week, every week, for a year, or two, or three, or ten.  Then there might be enough buzz to get someone's attention.

After about 10 years of thinking that my music career would simply materialize, I began to look around me.  I looked at other bands. I realized that they didn't play 4 gigs a week simply because they loved music.  They did it because they had to.  That was their job.  Sure, some guys were single and could live on pizza and basic cable.  But some of them had families, and real grown-up problems like health insurance costs.

What I Was Missing

During the years I spent waiting for my ship to come in, I continued to do very well at my job.  I learned many computer skills.  I loved my work.  Yet I still looked out the window and wondered if I was watching my future get away from me.

I got married to a wonderful woman.  During the first, most critical years of our marriage, I spent more evenings than I care to admit, in my studio, writing songs, building my website, creating press kits, still wondering when it was all going to happen for me.

What's the Point?

Despite what it may sound like, this is not meant to discourage anyone from pursuing a career in music.  Rather, this is a wake-up call to anyone who is taking for granted the things that they love, and the people that love them, looking out the window, waiting for a ship that's never coming.

I don't know if you have what it takes to 'make it'.  Most people don't.  But regardless of whether you pursue a career in music or not, make sure you know why you're really doing it.  If you crave the attention like I did, own up to it.  If you hate the work involved in performing, admit it.  Maybe you'll still love music enough to keep doing it, but maybe you won't.

Whatever you do, don't waste your life taking great things for granted while you chase something you don't really want.  If you love playing the guitar, than PLAY GUITAR.  Play it often, but love it.  Don't simply look at the guitar as a passport to a better life.  You can still love music, write songs, and even have a band without pursuing a career in music.  The real shame is to not enjoy the journey, wherever it ends up.

Music As A Hobby

All those years I spent ignoring the blessings I had, wishing for a career I wasn't really willing to pursue, I could have been doing all the same things, but for different reasons.  If I had been aware that I only really enjoyed performing once in a while, I wouldn't have worried about why I couldn't book more shows.  I would have spent more evenings with my wife, instead of trying to build the world's greatest press kit.  I would have enjoyed so much more about my job if I had seen it for the blessing it was, instead of looking at it as a prison.

Music as a hobby can be a great thing, when you know what's really important to you :-)