When asked what touring the country in a van was like, I used to say, “Every six weeks something happens to you that you will be talking about for the rest of your life. The rest of the time, it’s a whole lot of nothing.”
Driving, sleeping, reading, sound checks, and waiting. Years ago, Charlie Watts said, “ In my 30 year career I played for 5 years and waited around for 25.”
Certainly, touring in a rock band is a nice microcosm of life. We wait for moments- birthdays, holidays, weddings, graduations. The rest is just taking care of business.
Individuals are defined by these crucible moments. Who you marry, where you graduated from, the business you started, etc.
In the case of musicians, it’s the most successful band you were in. Or the most successful songs you had on the radio. Or the time you opened up for Godsmack, or Keith Urban, or whoever.
These events may have happened over a decade and 1000 gigs ago. But these are the stories people tell when they are talking about you. That’s the way it is.
But truth be told, the daily grind is more who you are than any of these defining events.
So, that being said, I think it is important for every musician to take a good, long look at themselves and decide how they want to spend those long stretches of time between “moments.”
Why? Because everyone’s priorities are different. And everyone’s tolerance to pain is different. And something that is just not worth it to one guy is a no brainer to the next.
Know thyself brothers and sisters.
There is an old saying that goes, “90% of success is showing up.”
But there is another old saying that says, “The definition of insanity is doing the same thing over and over again and expecting different results.”
Yea, you gotta show up. As gamblers say, you can’t win if you don’t play. But a losing horse is a losing horse no matter how long you continue to believe in it.
Sadly, most of us learn this the hard way.
As musicians, we all have to find our own way. As players, professionals, and individuals. It takes a long, long time. Some guys get it right at a young age and stick with it for a lifetime. Some guys have to change course.
As a third old saying goes, “I took the road less traveled. Now I don’t know where the fuck I am.”
Or something like that.
Enough on old sayings.
Speaking of horses, I would group musicians into two basic categories: Racehorses and Plowhorses.
A plowhorse is a plowhorse for it’s whole life. It’s a steady gig. Not too exciting, but it’s a steady gig. It pays the bills. Plowhorses show up on time. They seldomly screw up. They are nice guys. Everybody likes them. They play in cover and tribute bands. And wedding bands. They teach. It’s a time honored tradition with a solid set of rules. The songs change, but the work ethic is the same.
A racehorse – well, everybody wants to be a racehorse. A racehorse wants to be a champion. Only for a little while, but damn it’s exciting. The racehorse has his eye on the prize. He’ll fire you or leave you if you don’t. He’s going for all the marbles.
Musical racehorses are in bands with record deals. They are songwriters trying to get their stuff heard on a national/international scale. They are producers inventing new sounds.
Some crash and burn. Almost all of them eventually go out to pasture. Or become plowhorses. That’s the way it goes. But for a while…..
Plowhorses want the calendar to be full. Racehorses want to rule the world.
The world needs both.
The problem is most people don’t know what it takes to be a racehorse. Almost always, they underestimate the price. Some spend a while figuring it out and realize they are really plowhorses. Then they settle into life on the proverbial farm.
Others never quite admit that they are no longer (or never were) racehorses. And that is the stuff of bankruptcy, overdoses, and Spinal Tap moments.
At the end of the day, everything has a price. You can mortgage your passion for security or you can go all in and bet your safety on your dreams. Either way, you bought something. It might be worthless or it might be the best investment you ever make.
Your mother will probably tell you to play it safe and get a good job. Enjoy playing on the weekends. Or someone like author Tom Robbins would say, “Never be afraid to trade in your cow for a handful of magic beans.”
Up to you. It’s a long road no matter which way you go. Find your path and stick with it. But don't be too proud to quit if you are on the wrong one.
Keep your ear to the ground for changes. Know your history. Look for loopholes.
As your music career goes through its seasons, a few things will remain constant if you are lucky. Your passion. Your music. Your family. A few good friends……
Take care of those and make changes so those things continue to thrive. Do that and it will all work out.
Whether you are a racehorse or a plowhorse, inevitably you are going to win a few along the way. And you can talk about those for the rest of your days.