The age-old question — do you spend time working doing something you love or something that makes money? I still haven’t answered this question myself, but it’s something I consider just about every day. And I don’t mean your major in college; sure, that applies, but here I’m talking about its relation to the life of a musician.
It’s a tough career to be in, it’s unforgiving and often underpaid. Yet, I don’t think I could ever stop doing it. Whether that be playing live shows, woodshedding at home or just recording for fun in the studio. There’s no denying the importance of money, especially when the costs of being a musician seem to pile on the bigger your following gets. There’s merch that you have to invest in, equipment to buy and sometimes replace; even the strings and sticks you wear through by constantly playing. However, something within me just won’t let myself focus on the financial aspect of it all. There’s something much bigger than the money you can make from playing and being successful as a musician.
It’s the love, man. It’s cliché, but it’s true, and I can’t really get over that fact. Countless times I’ve played shows to no one, made zero dollars after driving 40+ miles or spent time that could be spent differently. Yet I don’t regret it ever — sure, it isn’t fun when it’s an empty room at the venue, but it’s still an experience I wouldn’t have had if I didn’t take the opportunity to play.
Every single gig I play, I improve as a musician. Whether I’m playing drums, guitar, bass or whatever it may be, it’s an opportunity to get better. I’m not saying that in a cocky way either. It’s a fact that applies to anyone. You have no choice but to improve when you continuously do something. The amazing thing is that I can notice it over my years of playing. It’s subtle, but becomes clear at a point. Each show I play gives me a chance to try something new, play a little differently and learn to put on a performance beyond just playing the notes correctly. That cannot be understated.
It’s easy to get caught up in the fact that it’s almost wasting money, or discrediting your own ability to provide a service, but it’s so important to focus on that love of it all. I hold myself to a rule — I play music to have fun, and if I’m not having fun doing it, I’m not going to do it. Music is about the love of it to me. Too many people make it too much of a point to run it like a business or to focus solely on profit than truly enjoying the act of playing. The financial part of it is crucial, of course, but it’s not everything — at least not to me.
To me, the most valuable part is what you gain beyond dollars. When anyone asks me to fill in for a gig, it’s a new challenge for me to take on; it’s music I haven’t played before and I have to learn it within a short time frame, pushing me to do the best that I can with what I have. And like I said, that gives me no choice but to become better. It’s a powerful thing that I try to never take for granted. I consider it an honor to share the stage with any act I get the opportunity to play with.
Over this past year or so, I’ve played with countless acts on various instruments. My band, No Momentum, being the first and foremost. It’s the most guitar playing I’ve done in my life, and I came into the band with it already being established for five years at that point. I had to learn to adapt my playing to a genre I wasn’t entirely familiar with, but now I can consider myself a true part of the band with our album coming out in the next month. I had to write all my parts after the record was practically complete, learning how to fit in my own influence while fitting into that so-called ‘sparklepunk’ sound and creating something I’m really proud of now. I certainly wouldn’t have delved down that genre on my own and choosing to take that step into the unknown proved to be nothing but a benefit for myself as a person and as a musician.
Beyond this, I’ve been playing drums with a fair number of other projects too. Just over this summer, I joined up with local band Balsam Palace, channeling a sort of Mac Demarco energy with their music, another genre I never really spent much time with as a drummer. They had a whole tour already booked over the month of July, as the frontman lives in California and was coming to New York to perform eight separate gigs, showcasing the album they had already recorded. I had about two weeks to learn the eight-track record and had about three practices with the full band to get it all down-pat, and it worked out wonderfully. I pushed myself to the limit and made it happen, and it was an unforgettable experience doing it.
Even in doing that tour, I was often alongside another band, Decent Colors, and found myself learning the songs just by hearing them at the shows. Only a month or two after, I was soon filling in on drums for them when needed and even played a couple of those shows with no practice but the time I spent at home with the songs.
The point is – and I say this with no malice – that I’ve made no actual profit from being in any of these bands or playing any of these shows. I spent my time practicing, learning, travelling to the shows and putting in my best effort to do the music justice. And you know what? That’s payment to me. It’s more than enough to know that I’ve had opportunities to challenge myself, to push myself out of the comfort zone of what I enjoy playing on my own and improve as a musician, no matter the instrument.
To all the artists out there, even beyond music, it’s a fine line between doing it for the money and doing it for the love of the craft. It’s not an easy thing to balance, and I promise I’m not discrediting the importance of financial security as an artist, but the love of it is the most important part, at least to me.
To every band, artist or project that has involved me — thank you for every opportunity, every practice and every show. I wouldn’t be who I am or be the musician I am today without your influence. Remember these words: if you’re not having fun, then why are you doing it?