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Is it fun to play music?

A Musician's Life

You frequently hear this, paraphrased: "it must be great!! It just HAS to!!"

Well, there are some obstacles that are put in your course. And sacrifices that you sometimes have to make.. (or are tempted to choose even though you don't have to!) Before I continue on this particular tirade — of course I'm not saying that it's a lot of fun and that it can be very rewarding, that's why the job "musician" attracts so many people*. It certainly sometimes attracts mentally instable people — noone truly in their right mind would waste time in trying to make a carreer out of air vibrations. These inherent mental problems (well, OK, inherent in real life, statistically speaking) in musicians compound and aggravate many of the problems below.

OK, now that we cleared that up, where shall we start..

A Musician's Life — really

Often the economy is uncertain which causes stress. This is hard to imagine if you have a daytime job, you simply get your pay check every month. Being a musician is like having the feeling of "layoff hanging over your head" — permanently. It's not only the often volatile band situations. Whole styles of music go in and out of fashion with the years! In the recording industry, the artists are usually the lowest on the food chain, at the mercy of the record corporations, managers, agents, whatnot. There is no job security whatsoever. *

But not only is the economy uncertain, the amounts of money paid out to the actual artists are very often too small to live on. If you put the power of granting access to the retail channel in the hands of a huge corporation, and couple this with the general conception young people have of how much fun it is to be a musician, you can imagine how fair the deals most often are! All this is taken for granted — immutable (so far) and truly integral concepts of the industry. But see the discussion here about how some of this may change with the expansion of internet bandwidth.

Then we move on to drugs — mind-damaging substances. Oh yes, those constant companions, mainly of the touring musician. I'm including alcohol here, conceptually they're all he same, because they interfere in a negative and often expensive way with your brain, the very organ you're supposed to think with. This of course makes some of the problems in here worse, such as the economy and stress, and also causes additional problems, such as with personal relationships inside and outside of the band, with your health, etc. (Many musos that complain about the hardships of life on the road are also the same ones staying up late drinking and partying like idiots every night, but ironically, last I saw there was nobody forcing alcohol down their gullets with a gun pointed to their head.) Anyway, as I've stated elsewhere here, in my experience, if you really have to take any, the only drugs worth the expense when you weigh in price, health and possible loss of cognitive ability are:

Sticking to these two will make you happier in the long run and as they're legal in most countries you can carry them across borders without any problems. You can also obtain them cheaply in the open market everywhere, in case you run out. What a deal!

Then we have the issue of truly harrowing travel schedules. Unless you've toured heavily you can't possibly imagine the tedium of this.. it's not stressful in itself, because you can often relax with a book, twenty beers, fifteen cups of coffee, or whatever fits your fancy, but it can be quite draining. (I've included a little guide to help you see the light right here on the bottom of this page.)

Now, a frequent secondary effect of the previous problems is broken relationships and the stress they create while they are breaking. I've seen so many of these it's not even funny anymore... The main culprit is the travel and the separation that it brings. Plenty of opportunity to lose interest and to be unfaithful. On the touring end, it turns out that some women out there find musicians attractive and literally throw themselves at them*. (BTW I'm using gender-biased language here because it relates 99.9999% to things I've seen.)

So — what's it like? Worst case, imagine having an underpaid, uncertain job that involves you spending months in a row away from your family on a dirty bus together with a bunch of drug-using alcoholic lunatics (possibly; fellow drug-using alcoholic lunatics). But best case, imagine the sound of 70000 people greet you when you take the stage. Imagine reaching out to people with music.

So you REALLY want to become a musician?

Please look at, and listen to, this little audiovisual collage, for eight hours. Now, you have to promise not to close the browser window!

The view from Jukka's bus

If you have speakers and don't hear anything, I'm sorry to say something went wrong, and I couldn't absolutely delight you by forcing you to download a 100 kB audio file and play it back without you even asking for it. Instead use this link (mp3) or this link (wav) to hear the wonderful and exciting sound of a tour bus! For best effect in driving you absolutely bananas, make sure to set your sound player to "repeat" or "auto rewind"!

When eight hours have passed, please scroll the page down or select this link!

OK, you're done, you stared at the screen for eight hours? Good!

Now, give your earnings and life savings away to someone that doesn't need it, stop seeing any wife or family in person, and repeat this procedure every day for two months, and see how your head feels! Come on, what's a mere two months among mentally impaired friends even though your wife was crying on the phone last night because they shut the electricity off?

But also have a look here lest you get too discouraged by the view from Jukka's old Scania bus.

(Sorry any blind folks out there, this is a graphical section but it can't be helped I'm afraid. There's always the sound..)

Page updated Dec 14, 1999 at 18:45 Email: jens@panix.com

All content copyright © Jens Johansson 2024. No unathorized duplication, copying, mirroring, groping, pilllaging, archival, or redistribution/retransmission allowed! Any offensively categorical statements passed off as facts herein should only be construed as my very opinionated opinions.