Yet, when I talk to the men and women who actually do this every day, I end up with a slightly less romantic image of what it might be like. Sure, they love their gig. But the hours are tough, the money isnt close to what it used to be or should be... But hey, they are flying! Things are good, right? Well, as with any other business, its not for everyone.
Take the music business for instance.
The music business is not a place for thin-skinned wanna-bes with a bad attitude. The hours are long enough and the characters colorful enough as it is. We dont need to add narcissistic, its all about me personalities to the mix. Sure, theres something about people who play music for a living that screams Look at me, Mom! -- but over time we tend to think better of displaying this as outwardly as we did when we were, oh I dont know, 16 years old. Let there be no doubt about it, this music thing can be a very rough and tumble road. Hunter S. Thompson offered the following:
The music business is a cruel and shallow money trench, a long plastic hallway where thieves and pimps run free, and good men die like dogs. Theres also a negative side.“
After reading what Don Swan had to say in the Letters page of Northern Express (7/26) regarding his perception of the local music scene, I thought I might share some of my observations so that those who are on the outside of the local music business or enjoy our efforts as loyal customers dont come away from his article with the wrong idea.
First of all, Ive been very, very fortunate in that Ive made some kind of living playing music from the beginning. My first job was playing rock and roll in a bar at 15 years old. While I dont recommend teenagers run out the door to join a rock band, I can say that I have no regrets. Why? Well, the people I get to work with is really the biggest reason. I know almost everyone who plays music for a living in Northern Michigan, at least in passing. I have more than a passing relationship with a great number of them, and let me tell you, they are great people. Smart, funny, hard-working, talented, sexy, hot, groovy people. Something I hear from fine players who come from out of town is Man, there must be something in the water up here. Where does all this talent come from?
As I blast across the United States every season, I get to see some really nice players. What really takes the cake for me, however, is that northwest lower Michigan can hang with any music scene in the country, player-wise. There are bigger scenes, but from a quality standpoint, we have world- class musicians playing this scene.
Another observation Id like to make is that the venues in Northern Michigan are problem-free for the most part. The only problem rooms Ive encountered over the years are now, interestingly enough, closed. Perhaps this is simply another example of folks who couldnt quite make it happen on a personal level. All they did was bitch and whine about the business they were in. I have no doubt they were well-intentioned in the beginning, and Ill bet they are happier people now that they are out of the business that made them so miserable. For those who continue to provide places for music to be made and heard, we say thank you.
The bottom line is this, Don Swan. I dont know who youre referring to when you say Back-stabbing Backwoods idea of musical politics, but I assure you that you are not talking about the music scene I work in. From folk and bluegrass, metal, blues, soul, straight old school R&B, country, big band, bop, classical music and everything in between, we actually have to work here. We pay our rent, make our car payments and pay for our blue M&Ms, our big boats, our private jets (alright, well, whatever), all with the money we make playing music. Please, spare me the theatrics. Ive heard all this nonsense before. If I had a dollar for every gig I wanted but didnt get, I could retire.
We work on our craft and can really play. We can play our instruments and sing in a huge variety of styles. We do this for a living. The pop band that warmed up The Flask show at the Cherry Festival is an example of great players who have dedicated their whole lives to music. They were not a jazz trio in that setting. They can play jazz though.
Conspiracy theories and armchair psychology claiming This is Art, it isnt about the money aside, and even though what I really want is to fly airplanes for a living, Im personally thrilled to be living here and making music in Northern Michigan, warts and all. Ill take it.