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April, 2005

"Music as a Career?"

by Webmaster

When I was a child, my father, an engineer, told me that I should take all academic classes in school. I was interested in music and art, and he said that music and art were okay as hobbies, but were not academic subjects — they were not something to study in school.

I did take piano lessons. They were okay: they were an after-school activity.

I learned to play guitar on my own, and I sang. He was proud of my singing and guitar-playing. He bought me my first guitar, a $10 Stella, and helped me raise the money and get a good deal on my second guitar, an Espana classic, when I was 14. He even drove me around till I found what I wanted. He wasn't anti-music.

But, I was raised with his bias: music is a hobby, not a career.

My career was in computers: I got a masters degree and spent 25+ years honing my skills. I wrote songs and played music, and did so for money, but it was never as important, or as profitable, as my day job.

A few years ago, I was hired to do a Halloween show for a local rec center. They had a multi-page contract for me to sign, that basically said that if anything went wrong, I would assume responsiblity for it and if any disputes went to litigation, I would reimburse them for their legal and other expenses regardless of who was at fault. I refused to sign this contract. I told them that the clauses were outrageous and that as a computer professional, no one would ever require me to sign a contract like that. They said it was a standard form for musicians and other entertainers and if I didn't sign it, they would hire someone else.

I didn't sign it. I assume they hired someone else.

I had other potential employers book me for gigs then never follow through—they stopped returning phone calls, failed to get back to me with information / confirmation of the gig, and otherwise treat me with a total lack of respect. I would reserve the date for them, turn down other gigs, and fail to get the gig that we agreed to. Then, the following year, they expected me to jump through the same hoops again. I'd refuse to even talk with them again.

As a computer professional, I have been totally outraged by the treatment that clubs, rec centers, and other venues have shown me as a musician and entertainer. Far fewer than half were that way, but enough were that I saw it as a pattern. I conducted myself as a professional and expected the same level of professional treatment that I recieved in the computer field.

When I got laid off two years ago, I found I was not comfortable depending on music for my total income. I found my comfort level in computers: I took web page classes and made money making web pages, this one and others for musicians, artists and small business owners. I made the same amount of money from bass playing as I did from making web pages, but I put more energy and effort into web page development. I worked harder at being a better web page builder than I did at being a better bass player.

I assumed my bias was a comfort-level issue: I feel comfortable doing computer work. After all, I've spent a whole lot more of my life working on computers than playing music in public. Recently, however, I've gotten in touch with my childhood programming and finally acknowledged the bias there.

I'm starting to see signs that I'm not the only person with this bias. Obviously, this bias affects some people who hire musicians and other entertainers. This bias may also affect folks with non-music careers who also play music part-time. Is it possible this bias affects some professional musicians, who see music as a way to make a living without having to have a "real job"? Does this bias make some musicians fail to act in a professional manner—not showing up for gigs, showing up late, cancelling at the last minute?

I recently chatted with a lovely woman who is graduating high school soon and is considering her choice of major in college. She plays several instruments and loves music. She is deciding whether to major in music, as a performer, or in music business. We discussed the pros and cons of each.

She will have to make up her own mind about her choice of careers.

As for me, I think I'm going to work more on honing my musical skills. It's time.

Thanks for visiting AcousticByLines.

PS. I will be adding more music to the site soon — I just need to learn a tricky bass line first.

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From Bob Dolan:

My "childhood" programming came at Stanford when, for one glorious year, I was a music major. I declared that major as a way of taking harmony and composition courses that were open to majors only. I loved it. I was behind on my piano-playing skills, so I was writing music I couldn't play by the 2nd month. My next door neighbor in the dorm played piano well, and I would nag and cajole until he would play what I wrote.

Later that year I asked my [professional musician] dad about being a music major for real — that is, becoming a professional musician like he was. He said, "Can you be anything else?"

I told him, "Sure, I could be an economist, or an attorney, or lots of other things."

"Then don't be a musician," he said. His reasoning was that unless I was so motivated to be a musician that I had no choice, I would find too much frustration, poverty, and grief pursuing music. [I mean, I might have found that anyway, but if I had no choice, what the hey. He would have supported me as a musician if I had said I had no choice.]

I think we both received the same programming for much the same reasons, even though our dads had very different perspectives. It is [pretty much] working for me to go into music after retirement. I don't need to rely on music to pay the mortgage — that really takes the pressure off.

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