Author: Karsemeyer, John

Going For It

When does a musician cross the line? That line from music being a hobby to being a profession (or hopefully a profession). Let's face it, it has to be a leap across that line. A leap into the risk zone, the shaky unknown of whether or not you're going to be successful and, “make it.”

Sure, that's the way it is with any profession. But if you have skills and paperwork indicating you are a doctor, nurse, lawyer, grocery store owner, carpenter, architect, farmer, dog catcher, or something that is in demand by our society, the probability is higher that you are going to have gainful employment. Even in today's high unemployment and downsizing, the odds are greater that you're better off pursing some conventional type of employment other than trying to make it as a full time musician.

Just think about the response of most parents when their child says, “I want a career as a full time bluegrass musician.” Many parents would get a prescription for Prozac, and say to themselves, “Where did I do wrong?”

Being that the decision to become a full time musician is made by the individual who hopes to achieve that, you have to ask yourself, “How did he or she come to that decision?” Hopefully the person in focus here would be relatively young (or maybe retired, with a band named, “Grey Highway”). A person beyond the age of say, twenty-five, who sets out to do that without any previous success in the music business would have to be delusional, suffer a brain aneurysm, or be related to an established music producer (sure, there are exceptions to that, but they are rare birds).

The thinking of the individual striving to be catapulted into the musical spotlight must be something like, “I'm good enough to make it.” Or, “I'm the best banjo player that ever lived.” And maybe, “I can sing and play mandolin better than Bill Monroe.” Perhaps it may come to the outright thought of, “I don't care if I make it or not, I'm just going to do it.” In any case, there has to be some internal fire in the person that makes them set out on what they think will be a successful musical journey.

If you start out young, say seventeen years old, try it a few years, and don't make it, you can always try something else. Today many young people trying to make it in music have been playing since they exited the womb, been in bands for years, and have college degrees in music. They're at the starting line, ready to sprint into the musical unknown. It's a good thing. Youth is on their side. No limits. They believe they can do it. And some actually achieve their musical career goals.

Recently I saw a television interview with Alison Krauss. You know, she's the one who at age fourteen was fiddle champion in 5 states, and has attained a reasonable amount of success, having earned twenty-six Grammy awards (so far). Regarding her early aspirations of making a living in bluegrass music, she said, “I thought it was something I'd get to do on the weekends. I never thought I'd get to do this for a living.” Her goal was obviously something else, saying, “I thought I'd be a choir director.”

Then there is the great jazz saxophone player, Sonny Rollins. Not bluegrass, of course, but a different example than Ms. Krauss. In an interview Rollins said that at age seven he thought he would be, “a prominent musician.” Sonny was right way back then, he is prominent. Today, at age eighty one, he says, “I practice two hours a day.” There is a lesson there from a non-bluegrass musician for all bluegrass musicians. Whether we are, “Amateur Professionals,” “Professional Amateurs” (thanks Steve Martin), or whatever label we're “wearing” right now, more practice equals better playing.

For all those bluegrass musicians who go-for-it, lets say, “We owe you.” When we're in the audience at a bluegrass event, and our senses consume a live band, we should be aware of the price that has been paid by those musicians. Long hours of travel, fast food, lost sleep, time away from families, a host of deprivations, and a non-conventional life style is the cost these folks pay to achieve their dream. And we are the beneficiaries of their efforts when we attend one of their concerts.

The next time you encounter these folks who are from another planet (musical), take the time and effort to walk up to them and say, “Thanks for what you do.” But please wait until their musical set is finished!
Posted:  1/14/2012

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