Who wants to be a musician?
I have been earning a living... well making a little cash... from working as a gigging musician for about a year and a half now.
And in all that time it has yet to stop being strange.
The idea of gigging is quite glamorous, I mean who wouldn’t want to earn a living by singing or playing an instrument? The reality is so different it is hilarious.
I think the first time you realise what a ridiculous job this is, is when you work on a show. From the audience it all looks fantastic. Characters come to life on a stage full of glitz and sparkle. The compere is always charm personified, wooing the audience with his tongue in cheek humour and well-timed winks. The rock n roll stars are suitably roguish, all tight leather trousers and sky-high quiffs. The band plays as though their lives depend on it and – for a second – you truly believe that you are transported.
Then you go backstage. And you watch Mr Compere put on his mascara, meanwhile berating his agent – in a gravely voice borne from a 40-a-day habit – for not getting him a higher paying gig. The hairspray leaking from the Rock n Roll Star’s dressing room is enough to not only kill the ozone layer but also revive it as the uber strong undead ozone layer distributing quiffs to all.
One of the band stomps down hall in a huff because the drummer drank the last beer. The keyboard player – weird even by musician standards – is on his tenth cup of coffee and has started twitching. The guitarist has zoned out to such an extent he needs poking with a cattle prod get him onstage and everyone else is running in circles because one of the ageing stars went out for a sandwich 3 hours ago and still hasn’t returned.
And that’s when you realise.
Musicians. Are. Mental
They have to be. Because no one else in the world could possibly put in the level of commitment, obsession, sacrifice and sheer insanity required to make a living in this business. It is a monster gnawing at your home-life, bank balance and sanity.
You will not make money. The purist here would argue that money is a by-product of doing something you love. To you little purist I say – bless you, go sit down and have a biscuit.
“Somebody said to me, ''But the Beatles were anti-materialistic.'' That's a huge myth. John and I literally used to sit down and say, ''Now, let's write a swimming pool.''”
I read a quote from Katy Perry the other day that said “People think I’m sitting on this pile of money, it’s so wrong. To make a lot of money you got to spend a lot of money”. And no-where is that truer than working as a musician. There is always a new piece of equipment to buy, new promotional material needed, servicing to be done... and none of it cheap. So, if you want to be a musician you need to be prepared to be broke about 90% of the time. The other 10%? Enjoy it while it lasts my friend because I can guarantee your mixing desk is about to blow because someone spilt water on it last night.
There are those who gain success. Some of the really lucky ones even manage to hang onto it. I’m not even talking about Mick Jagger success; just maybe the chance to be in the band of a reputable touring singer is one that most muso’s would leap at.
The trouble is the ones that gain success can often forget how fleeting that success can be. They become seduced by the lifestyle and find themselves sucked in by booze, drugs and women. Then – a few years later – they sober up. And sit in their rented flat wondering what the hell went wrong. They then spend the remainder of their careers annoyed, trying to reclaim the success they think they now deserve.
So why do we do it?
Well the short answer is – because it is hilarious. And so much more fun than anything else we can think of doing.
Ok so our daily commute ranges from a 30 mile round trip to a 300 mile round trip. We have spent more nights than I care to remember falling into bed at 4am only to wake up at 8 feeling like we’ve been hit by a bus. We are constantly broke and spend an inordinate amount of time quibbling over payment with venues (tell you what, phone a couple of plumbers and ask them to come work 10 hours on a Saturday night and pay their own expenses then we will ask for a quarter of their quote).
We also laugh more than anyone else I know. We have been to some bizarre places and met the good the bad and the downright ugly. We’ve seen the best in people and the worst.
And we love it. Every time that first song starts up and people start smiling or dancing or – hopefully – both. We love every second of it. It’s a huge adventure and we don’t want it to be over yet.
We have some brilliant stories. Like one of the times someone we work with accidently called James Blunt a **** to his face. Or the time another person had to be searched in the airport as he’d put his wig stand in his carry on luggage and airport security get a little edgy about disembodied heads travelling through the x-ray machine. We’ve played to thousands of people at a music festival and to 30 people in a mansion on a cliff in Guernsey.
In what other job could you get a phone call saying “Mate, gig in Italy tomorrow – can you make it??”.
So that’s why we do it.
At least that’s what I’m reminding myself tonight while I sit in a social club in Basildon.
I hope we don’t get bottled.
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