Being A Teaching Musician

I once asked a well known songwriter “What’s wrong with the music business?” to which he responded, “What’s wrong is that it’s a business.”

I was 17 years old at the time, I’m now 58. Looking back it was certainly a naive question to ask, but I wanted to make conversation with the guy and I thought that would break the ice. Of course, I also wanted to get some sage advice from that well known songwriter (who shall remain nameless).

Since then I’ve had more than a few encounters with people in and around the music business. Most of those encounters have been less than fruitful. You see, everybody “wants” something. You want something from them … they want something from you.

But what I really want is to make music. I’m not good at the business side of things any more than the business types of people are really good at music. But it’s the suits who run the show, and if you don’t impress them … at least some of them … at least one of them … in a big way, then you’re not likely to get anywhere.

What does it take to get a foot in the door?

Why do I even have to think about that kind of thing. Well, that’s how the world works. You can’t just “do” your thing … you also have to sell your thing.

What seems to be true is that if you’re an artist who wants to do your art freely — which means not having to work day jobs to pay the rent, but to spend every hour of the day free to be involved in the creative process — you have to find a way to monetize said art and to monetize yourself.

The art and the artist are not really different things.

So I teach.

I teach because teaching is doing.

I teach because I love music and have been making music all my life and want to help others who want to make music.

And yes, I teach because I’ve failed to earn a living just making music and writing songs, in spite of my best efforts. My best efforts failed because I don’t have whatever key ingredient you need to have to impress people in the business, and I’m not especially lucky. The small successes I’ve had along the way have given me the confidence to keep going, but that’s not enough to pay the rent solely as a musician.

It’s not about talent. What I mean by that is; there are more than enough talented artists to keep the music biz supply chain fully stocked. Whatever your tastes in music, anyone who ‘makes it’ and becomes commercially successful has some talent. Some have more, some have just enough. Whatever talent is. But there are simply not enough gigs for every talented musician to earn a living, or any money at all.

Sometimes I read about some really successful artist who, people say, is really shy. “Oh, he’s really a shy guy.” they say about said artist. … … Well, they may be “shy” but if so, then someone had to be doing their schmoozing for them because the suits don’t deal with shy artists.

So if you’re really shy and you’re talented, but not so hugely talented that people line up to help you become a superstar, and not so shy that all your friends realize that your talent will be wasted if someone … anyone … doesn’t step up to help you reach the movers and shakers … then you’re basically screwed. But if you really love your art and you put everything you have into it and learn everything you can about it … you may eventually learn enough about the thing you love more than anything else you can do with your life to quit your day job(s) and teach.