This post is for musicians. Or people in relationships with musicians. Or people sick of musicians.
It was late afternoon, a Thursday, and I was sitting in the lobby of the Queen Anne Hotel. Settled into one of their antique couches, I was giving one last read through to this article before submitting it.
Two ladies, wearing almost all white but with long, neon-colored nails, came in and sat across from me. They're conversation centered on how the Queen Anne is said to be haunted. They like haunted things. It's why they chose the hotel.
I have a rude and functional habit of eavesdropping wherever I go. There just happens to be good song ideas in others' random discussions. But in this instance it was the way they were talking that kept me listening. I could recognize those accents if spoke under water.
"You guys from Texas?" I said.
"My parents are from Texas."
"Everyone's from Texas" she said.
Yes, shortly before I was born my parents moved from Galveston to Los Angeles. He was a drummer and L.A. was where the work was (and is). Now that I'm an active musician it's interesting to see which of the musician "myths" that I grew up with are still here. The music industry has changed, the tools have changed, but our conceptions of a life in music haven't changed all that much.
And I have no real problem with this.
For example, if you think that this or that singer is as wacky and alive off-stage as he is on. Fine by me, it's good for business. Or maybe you think that musicians are just in it to get laid. I wouldn't dare argue with you, although mostly this is just true of accordion players.
In my experience, the trouble arises when the musicians themselves start to buy into the myths. This gives them license to act contrary to their own success. I'd like to talk about a few of these myths specifically and then open the floor to some bickering.
The first one is that musicians are money foolish. We are well-deserving of this cliché. Gifted musicians make shitty economists, and vice versa. But too many musicians use this belief to validate their "brokedom." It is hard to make steady money in music, but everyone in music isn't necessarily working hard. Many hide behind the romantic idea of the broke artist. In reality, if you put aside that we don't mind sleeping on floors and creating meals from gas stations, music-broke is the same as regular-broke.
Don't get me wrong. Some of the best music ever produced was done for less than $50, with a guitar and a four-track recorder. I identify with music on those terms. But I also know that recording in a real studio and pressing records cannot be paid for with romance.
Feel free to substitute other artistic endeavors, such as painting or basket weaving, for this next one. It is the myth that musicians need a certain amount of space from life in order to create. Maybe your girlfriend or boyfriend called and left you a message. Something to the effect of: "Honey, I need to finish this album and have left for a barn in Gilroy. Don't try to reach me, just know that I'm okay."
The barn approach has surely worked before. Will it work for you? I guess the proof will be in the pudding. At the end of the day I think they key is focus, not distance. Now your partner is at the barn, only to find that the lighting is not right, the goats are too loud, the porridge is too cold, the Wi-Fi sucks.
Most distractions are self-imposed, aren't they? Someone once asked a famous pianist, performing in a humid outdoor venue, how he kept playing with all those flies and bugs landing on his head throughout the set, and he told them that he hadn't even noticed. This is a pretty extreme example, but the plain point to me is that the distraction defense can easily become a cop out.
Another myth that comes to mind is the most recent of the lot. I hear about it all the time and I hear it swung both ways: modern media is the greatest thing to happen to musicians, and modern media is the death-knell for musicians. Neither is really true, but either one can apply to a given situation. There are times when I feel that there is so much music being released that I don't feel like adding my bit to the oblivion. Other times, and more often, I feel encouraged by the opportunities afforded by social media and the internet.
Regardless of how you perceive the modern music landscape, the thing to be rallied against is the edging-out of a collective approach to music. The music scene suffers when everyone is retreating to the bedroom (for recording purposes). Sure, you can use programs to lay down all the instruments yourself, but that doesn't mean you should. Whenever I think I have a song all figured out, I bring it to light and other musicians find a way to improve it. Music is stronger when it is a conversation; first among musicians, then among the listener.
One of the ladies from Texas eventually asked if I was a guest at the hotel. I told her that I was not, actually. I started coming in a few years ago when I found they have a friendly grand piano in the lobby. Now I stop in every so often, and they welcomed me whether to play or just enjoy the scenery and work on something. I know. I definitely fit the stereotype. I'd play for absolutely nothing. But enough about me. You two seen any good ghosts lately?
Follow David Hunt on Twitter: www.twitter.com/hunt1905