It occurred to me over cooking lunch for my boys just a minute ago that, a week before my 33rd birthday, I've been in the music business for half of my life. I'd like to share a couple of things that I've come up with.
First of all, to get anywhere in this business, to get anywhere sustainably that is, takes a really long time. There is no short circuiting this process, short of selling your soul to the devil. Even bands like the Black Eyed Peas who are on top of the world right now in 2011 have been doing this since I was just getting started. Acts like Ke$ha stand out in my mind as pure product, and this post isn't addressed to acts like her. This is addressed to bands like the Dusters or Yarn or any of the other top-notch acts out there busting their asses in a van every day of the year.
There is a sustainable livelihood to be made in this corner of the music business. What it takes more than anything is time and hard work. I've seen and worked with other musicians who acted as if their success were a God given right, that their talent would ensure them a livelihood whenever the proper magic hit-maker type came along and granted them the keys. These musicians are generally bitter, bad drunks and best avoided. You may be able to shave a certain percentage of time off your ascent by being smarter and by putting forethought into your career path, but by and large it's game of patience and being pleasant to work with. "If you sit at the table long enough, you will get fed."
Second, and this primarily applies to sidemen, it's good to cultivate an aspect of your playing that is considered mainstream. That is to say, if you are a bluegrass bass player with a penchant for Airto-era Return To Forever, it's okay to slip those leading samba-type Stanley grace notes into your 1-5-1-5. Just make sure that you don't do it all the time and if the very well respected banjo player that is sitting in with your band looks at you funny, that's a clue. If you are a classically trained musician turned bluegrass player, by all means slip as much of that style in there as you want, but know how to chop that thing, too. Keeping this in mind as you make your rounds will render you much more hirable for your next gig. You are thinking about your next gig, aren't you?
Fin for now.At 31, on being a professional musician