No one ever told me I'd feel so lucky not to be a musician.

As mentioned before, my husband is a musician, and a fabulous one. He majored in musical performance, he can play both upright and electric bass, not to mention keyboard, guitar, etc. And he can play almost any genre of music.

Yep, he's pretty much awesome... *wipes away goofy grin and continues with blog*

Anyway, we've had a lot of conversations this year about the writing industry, and the music industry and how the two compare. And I gotta tell you, I'm feeling pretty lucky to be a writer and not a musician.

Here's what I mean:

1. To even start thinking about being a full-time musician you have know what you're doing. Which usually means lessons, practicing and doing it for years. (This is also true of writing, cough cough. But in writing, people are less likely to tell you "you suck, get out of our band")

2. Then you have to buy the gear. And musical equipment is expensive. The most expensive thing most writers will ever buy is a computer. One computer. When you get into quality instruments, not to mention amps, speaker cabinets, etc, EVERY PIECE costs as much as a computer. The last bass my husband bought was over twelve hundred dollars, and don't even ask about the upright.

3. Then you have to find a band, if you're not a solo artist, or some backup musicians if you are. You have to find people who know what they're doing, who want to put in the time commitment, and preferably who you can get along with for more than five minutes. That's not easy.

4. Now you have your band and your equipment. So now you have to play. A lot. You hire a manger to find and book you shows, and spend most of your weekends practicing and playing at them. You try to build an audience, you set up a website (not cheap) and put out a few songs on CD (also not cheap).

5. Okay, you're decent local musicians. But you want to be able to do this full time, and that means touring until some small label signs you and then touring some more. Which means you'll have to quit your job and fling yourself on the mercy of the good God and your fans. You'll be on the road for weeks to months at a time playing as often as you can manage.

6. If you're fortunate enough to get signed, you'll tour constantly throughout the year. (Provided your drummer doesn't go crazy from long hours in the van and too much fast food and kill your lead singer with a drumstick.) Which means leaving your family, or possibly taking them with you. Hope they agree...

7. Okay, you're signed and you've made an actual official album to sell. (The making of this is also fraught with sleeplessness and drama, so we'll skip over it.) The album sells okay, then drops like every CD is doing these days. So back on the road you go.

8. You tour and play and tour and play and tour some more. Then you make another album and that does well. Does that mean your first album will sell more too? NO!! Your first album will stay in its hole, weeping.

Here's the kicker. Even after all of this, even after beating the odds time and time again and being phenomenally lucky, your chances of being signed by someone really huge, and making lots of money are still minuscule.

AND your chances of being the next U2 or Rolling Stones--heard into the next generation--are practically nothing. This is because the music business, unlike the publishing business, has no real backlist. You have to continually make music, make it fresh, yet consistent with what's going on in music. You have to keep up with trends, yet transcend them. You have to be amazingly good, incredibly stubborn, and have tiny green wishing elves on your shoulders at all times.


Just reciting all of that was tiring!

This sequence of events can take ten years to play out. And at the end of it, you might be just what you were when you started: a small band on an independent label working your butts off to earn enough money for gas for the van.

I'm so glad I'm a writer....

11 comments:

  1. Miriam, this post is really funny, b/c honestly, it sounds like your hubbie's trudge is very similar to the long and testing struggle we have to be published... I think for any artist, no matter the medium, there's something of a harrowing journey. I love this post!!!

    : )

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  2. Gottawrite- Heehee, it's so true! There are a lot of similarities. That's what makes our discussions so fun. The things I'm grateful for primarily have to do with not having to spend a ton of money for my passion, not having to work in committee to write, and the fact I can write anywhere at any time. (And keep my job while I'm at it.)

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  3. Fascinating post Miriam. I'm glad I write too, though was just reading in one of my daughter's college textbooks the similarities between "writing" music and "writing" books. Very interesting. Quick question now. Would you agree that in the 60s/70s era, so many more bands managed to have a very long staying power, many from then even still performing today? Aerosmith, Fogerty (CCR), Steve Miller, to name only a few. I can't think of anyone new today who it seems has that magic something that will find them still playing successfully three DECADES from now. I'd be curious to your insight into this, being that you're married to a musician! Now that I've taken enough of your blog time, I'll stop back later to read your take on it.

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  4. Good question, Joanne. I'll have to bow to the expert on this one.

    From Dan:

    Hi Joanne. In answer to your question, ask me in 30 years! It's always hard to say which bands will be around in the future based on what they're doing today. Indeed, many of the bands you mentioned were just one among many when they first came out. I have more to say, but unfortunately I have to go to a practice! I'll drop by later though.

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  5. Okay, thanks you two! I'll check back in ...

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  6. Ditto. Plus I don't sing very well and only took piano for a couple years!
    Funny post!

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  7. From Dan:

    Ok, I'm back! Let me dive right in. Just like in writing, there are so many pieces that determine whether a band will have staying power. They must have good business sense, be entertaining, be creative on a deadline, and withstand the stresses of traveling and performing. Having good songs doesn't hurt either. Additionally, they must ALL be on board. So many bands fold when one or more members decide that they're just not that into music anymore.

    Also, something that's really tough to overcome as a young band is the pressure to sound like what's currently popular. So often, when a young band gets signed, they are paired with a producer who has produced many other current popular hits. Most of the time the producer's job is to shoehorn their sound into "The" sound of the day. The unfortunate side effect is to strip out anything too weird and creative from the band's music to be more palatable to a hypothetical radio audience. This really isn't the producer's fault. It's just his job.

    If a band happens to win the lottery with their first album and sell more than 100,000 copies, they're usually given more leeway the second time around. However, with that is the added pressure of repeating their success. The "sophomore slump" is a HUGE factor in music, and it's why many bands who have an amazing and phenomenally successful first album are never heard from again. If your second album doesn't equal your first, you are unceremoniously dropped from the label.

    All this tends to weed out 99.9% of groups before they have a chance to become long-running popular bands. Labels just aren't interested in career development like they were in the 60's and 70's - they're more interested in finding the "next big thing."

    But, lest it be all doom and gloom, there is some hope. When vinyls were the medium of choice, it was so expensive to produce a recording that the only option was to sign with a label. Now, anybody with a few hundred dollars of recording equipment can make her own recording. And thanks to Myspace and iTunes, she can distribute and sell the music herself, and look like a pro while doing it.

    We may not get famous that way, but we still get to make our music and do what we love.

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  8. Hi Dan & Miriam, A lot of interesting stuff here, but I think what answered my question best was that labels are no longer interested in career development. It does seem that way, in music and in writing too. It's too bad, because it takes time to really get your footing with the arts. It's too bad also that producers pressure musicians to sound like what's currently popular. Maybe that's what I'm seeing; the ones who have been around for 3 decades started out with a unique sound that grabbed people, that stood out (The Stones, U2, Mellencamp) they didn't fit a mold, and it's sad to not see that now. My blog sidebar has a link where I went into this in a little more detail (Guelph-Mercury).

    But I think the most important sentence is your last - In the end, that's what matters, doing what we love. Thanks for talking, it's been enlightening, and I wish you much happiness and success with your music! (and writing, Miriam!)

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  9. Joanne, to further answer your question of the differences between the music of the 60's/70's and music of today is all about saturation. When the artists you mentioned became big there was no one else like them. They were unique among their peers.

    I can't even begin to imagine what it would have been like to hear for the first time the experimentation of Pet Sounds in '66. Or Pete Townshend's scream and the warbling synths of Baba O'Riley '71. Or hearing Tommy Iommi's down tuned guitar fuzz in Black Sabbath's early career. Or Simon & Garfunkel's harmonizing. Or The Clash, or Grandmaster Flash, or... We take these musical standouts for granted. It was ground breaking then, but it's standard now.

    All these icons who've enjoyed 20-30 year legacy pioneers in their craft. They invented their own style, and influenced countless other musicians for years to come.

    There are still good bands today. But the industry is quick to capitalize on originality. If any one band does something well (and it sells) then surely it can be repeated. Musical clones can be formed, rehearsed, and recorded in a relatively short period of time. Now the original band (previously) unique is buried under a flood of new artists that sound just like them. You can see this in the grunge explosion after Nirvana & Pearl Jam released their first albums, and again with gangsta rap in the mid 90's.

    While bands like The Beatles or Queen stood in a league of their own, bands today struggle to make an identity of their own (and still appeal to listeners).


    (Sorry for the blogopotamus, Miriam)

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  10. previously) unique = (previously unique)

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  11. Nic, I agree. It's too bad we don't see some of that inspirational pioneering these days. Myself, and my college kids, would love to see new bands rightfully in a league of their own, which I guess would require what Dan originally said in his first paragraph, lots of qualities contributing to that staying power. In the meantime, we'll buy tickets to the summer tours of old as they continue to come around. (Miriam, thanks for sharing your blog here!)

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