Saturday, March 24, 2012

Finding Your Place

A couple posts ago I wrote about sticking to what you're good at.  This is sort of a continuation of that.  I mentioned a type of person who just hammers away at something for years and years and never gets anywhere, all the while slaving away at some dead end job while they pursue their dream.  There's a very fine line between acting like a gambling junky, clinging to the one armed bandit, and doggedly chasing your destiny.

The Beatles, after all, were rejected something like fifty-six times before they got signed and things wound up working out pretty well for them.

My point this time is that as kids a lot of us get interested in fame in the music biz.  But the chances of making even a small hit are so vanishingly small that your odds of success are only slightly smaller if you don't even try.  But where would we be if Aerosmith or Metallica or Louis Armstrong had hung it up during their struggling days.

You have to look very carefully at your own skill at something.  Your friends and family aren't going to tell you that your thirty-seventh garage demo isn't any better than your first.  You have to go to people with a respected opinion in the trade and have them critique your work.  And more likely than not they're going to tell you that you suck and you should go do something else with your life.

So let's take this beyond the concept of, "I wanted to be Jon Bon Jovi when I grew up but there was just no shot so now I'm an insurance salesman."  For every superstar (and B and C and D lister) there are a host of people working in support roles.  The fact of the matter is that you can actually do a whole lot better for yourself in the entertainment industry as a tech or a manager or even a security guy than a lot of the artists.

And the glory of the moment when the band steps out on stage and the lights blaze, the crowd roars and the sound system starts to blast is out there for everyone on the show to share.  Some roles are more crucial than others, but the crew of a show is a tightly knit community that's utterly dependent on one another and reaching the goal of "curtain up" with a group like that is an amazing experience.

It's not an easy business to be in but the rewards are there.  It took me almost twenty years to wrangle my way into doing sound full time.  But on the other hand I've got friends who have been working on their music for even longer than that who have yet to sell their 1000th CD.  And while fame is fleeting for many artists and there's always somebody new waiting in the wings, the hot new act is going to need a crew.  Artists come and go and very few manage to make their daily bread from their art, but the crew gets paid like clockwork and the work goes on and on.

That doesn't mean that you have to go out and be a road dog to live the dream.  Touring is a very hard area of the industry to break into and it only gets more brutal as you work your way to the top.  If you think the idea of sweating it out in a stinky van with four other guys to play club dates sounds sucky, how about sweating it out on a bus with twelve other guys to tech shows for Brittney Spears (Hi Marty).  There are a million opportunities.  In live music there's clubs and mobile sound outfits, in recording you run the gamut from big studios to bedroom podcast operations, music stores, system designers and installers, gear developers, the list goes on and on.  Riggers, electricians, lighting designers, stage managers, and many many more are out there right now, living the dream.

So in conclusion, when I was thirteen and wishing I was Jon Bon Jovi, or at least working his shows (which I did eventually get to do one time and it wasn't as cool as I thought it would be) I never dreamed that I would work my way through the local bar and club scene to wind up as a salaried audio and lighting director at a church.  I can only shrug and wonder where I'll be in another twenty years.  The point is, I found ways to be involved with the music I loved (and quite a bit of music I didn't love as well, but you get what you get) and it's been a rewarding, if sometimes hungry pursuit.  I went down a lot of dead ends, but over all I sought out and got good advice about my talents and where I should use them.

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