Courtesy of Elmo Karjalainen
“Don’t do it for the money, do it for the love of music”. That’s something I’ve heard said to me a couple of times, and I’ve heard people saying it to other people hundreds of times. It’s a pretty common thing to hear. In a way there’s nothing wrong with it. Most of us became musicians because we felt some kind of need to play. We love playing. It really is as simple as that. I would still play even if no one listened to my music. It’s more than something I do. It’s a part of me in a way that is different from other stuff I might do, especially stuff I do for a living. I’m a teacher, but it’s not nearly as big a part of me as being a musician. I could stop teaching and I’d be fine. I couldn’t stop playing and just be fine. I’d probably go nuts. So saying to someone to do it for the love of music is, in a way, fine. In a way it’s just stating the obvious. But in a way it also misses a very fundamental point.
Here’s a little something I started thinking about a few days ago after reading a discussion on a friend’s Facebook wall. It’s something I’ve thought about often before in relation to my career or lack thereof. The discussion on Facebook centered around the fact that my friend basically wants two things. Firstly, he wants to make a living playing his music. Secondly, he wants to move the world like Jimi Hendrix or Van Halen did. That’s the way I understood his post at least. He got quite a few responses, people wishing him well, hoping he’d keep at it, all that kind of thing. He also got a few responses saying he shouldn’t do it for the money, but that he should do it for the love of music. This is the response I’m going to talk about a bit today.
We need to eat. We need a home. We need all kinds of stuff to survive. Basically we need an income. We need an income while we also need to make music. The problem is that if we can’t make a living making music, we need to be doing something else. We need a job. I have a job. I’ve managed to cut down the hours to a minimum for survival, but it still takes a lot of time. This is all time that I could spend making music, practicing music, or doing something else relating to music. In my case I also do promotion and almost everything else on my own, which means I really don’t have many hours per week to spend on the actual music. On top of that many of us have families, and these families like seeing us musicians occasionally. Kids need to see their musician fathers/mothers every once in a while. It’s good for them. There isn’t much chance of that if the musician goes straight from work to practice, and from there maybe to a studio somewhere to record or mix something. Or maybe the musician needs to do something else (like promotion). On top of that you have gigs. All of this takes time. If you want to outsource some of this stuff, it takes money, which in turn means you have to make a bigger income from something. The equation becomes more difficult. So what happens as a result of all this? The answer probably varies, but for me it means I cut corners when I can. The quality of my playing suffers because I almost never practice unless I have to. I learn next to no new stuff. I even barely listen to music unless I have to. I think that’s true of many of us. If it isn’t then something else suffers. In my case I’ve made the choice that my kids shouldn’t suffer (by not seeing their father) because I need to play guitar, but I have a really hard time making money from playing (before you say it, yes I could make a living playing, but that would be playing something I don’t want to, and that’s a road I’ve already explored).
Personally I have an inner battle going on with myself that I somehow can’t help. Keeping all the above in mind I every once in a while sink into a really gloomy mood because I feel torn about what I should do. Should I just quit? Life would be so much simpler. Should I just quit my job? And just to clarify, I do really like my job, just not as much as music. How the f*ck do I make this music thing work, so that I can do it full time? It always ends with me mostly going on as before, and then I get nice comments from people, and I feel infinitely better, or maybe someone buys a few albums, or something else good happens. But the inner battle is something that lies under all this and surfaces every once in a while, and being told (or even thinking it) to do it for the love of music doesn’t help at all. That’s the stuff that got me in this mess in the first place. The comment, “do it for the love of music” misses this whole problem entirely, and that upsets me. It’s not because I want to get rich doing this. It’s because I want to have the time to make this stuff full time. And time is money. So I need to make a living doing this to be able to do it the way I want to do it.
Sorry if this was a bit of a rant. I didn’t mean to come off all negative about the whole thing. In general I view my own situation in a quite positive way. Not all the time though. That’s why I wrote this.
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