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Why Are You Really Playing Music?
by Mark E. Waterbury
I suppose most of you know when, where and how that music bug first bit you. It may have been listening to some records that your parents or older siblings were spinning. Maybe you had a brother who used to play guitar in a rock band or a sister who sang in a folk group. If you are younger, chances are you watched videos on MTV, VH1, BET or CMT, with their often glamorous and sexy portrayal of the life of musicians. Whatever first inspired you to become a musician, you will find out throughout your music career that you often need to look back at what made you first want to pick up a guitar, sing along to records or take piano lessons. Sometimes what you recall about your early inspirational stages may help you through the ups and downs of a music life.
Of course there is a caveat to what may have inspired you to become a musician. Some of you were no doubt enthralled by the music itself and the talent and passions of the musicians that created it. Then there were those attracted by the fame attached to becoming a star. The luxury sports cars, mansions, exuberant lifestyle, the girls (or guys), the glamorous portraits that are often painted to those who have reached the higher levels of fame. It isn't necessarily bad to have big dreams, but they should be locked in a certain part of your psyche, rather than comprising the majority of your guiding force. First you have to realize that the chances that you are going to be rich and famous are exceedingly remote, no matter how talented you may be. If this sudden blow from the reality hammer makes you want to quit the business or not even try, then that is probably for the best. You are obviously not being driven by the love of making music.
To be quite frank, if the main focus of your music career is huge riches and fame, chances are even slimmer that you will ever achieve that. Many people who enter into the music business thinking that anything less than a million dollar pay day is not cutting it are less likely to do the multitude of little things that are necessary if you are going to achieve any level of success with your career. Too much focus on the ultimate prize usually pumps your ego into dangerous proportions. You start thinking that playing gigs in small clubs for a door percentage, or even free shows is beneath you. And when you do play a show, if anything goes a little awry you will probably be highly discouraged because your expectations are so high. When you are trying to grow your career, you have to have lower expectations when you are starting out. You can't expect every show to be packed, everyone to love your music, and everyone to buy your CDs. What you also need in conjunction with those lowered expectations is the eye to look for the positives that do happen at every show. If you win over just a few fans who haven't heard of you before, then that is a victory. Your expectations can start elevating in increments proportionate to the growth of your fan base. You will gain much more satisfaction for what you are doing, and a better avenue to possibly gain some level of fame and even fortune.
There is nothing wrong with being very proud of the music you have created. You do have to realize that no matter how good it is that does not validate it as your get-rich-quick ticket. If you are truly passionate about your music, then you will follow the proven and correct methods to get it out to more people. Too many people once again go on the ego trip and think they have a radio hit on their hands that will translate into riches for them. Once again the idea of getting a lot of fame and fortune becomes a grand enticement irresistible to ignore for those who do not have the true passion. They waste a lot of time and effort sending CDs and press kits to major label A&R reps and big market radio stations, in the blind and misguided belief that the person who received their CD will rapturously wet themselves over the music and come crawling to them with a big fat money dripping record contract. That sickening thunk you are now feeling is the reality hammer once again descending on your head. This is not the way the industry works these days. Once again, you have to go back to the grassroots way of growing your fan base and popularity. If you are successful in doing that, then you have some of the elements in place that may cause a label to actually take notice of you. The harder you work, the luckier you get and the more opportunities you get offered.
In the past ten years, I have interviewed hundreds of musicians, from those who have achieved their riches and fame to those on the bottom rungs of the ladder in their music careers. It gives me hope that so many younger musicians are of the mindset that they would just like to be able to make a decent living with the music they create. If you are making your living doing what you love and have a talent for, then you are a rich person no matter how much money is in your bank account. Many of the stories of those who have climbed the ladder to a larger scale of fame mirrored those ideas when they were in their fledgling days. Many of them never expected to reach the level of stardom they did. That would make you think if you keep focused on the real reason you want to do music, and hopefully it is because you have a true passion to make others happy by their experiencing your creations, then that will make you happy no matter how far you take your career. And it may just make you a bit luckier as well with a shot at some unexpected fame, To those with the stars in their eyes and the lust for money and fame, you need to take a long, hard look at yourself. Life can often be full of disappointments. It is how you handle them that helps establish your character. If you still feel that nothing short of fame and fortune will satisfy you, save yourself a lot of heartache and move on to something else. Let the people who have the real passion and are truly rich no matter what their payday provides shine. Chances are they are creating better music anyway.