Persevere Dear Troubadour
As a long time musician that isn’t widely famous, I hear it all the time, “When are you going to quit music?” Um…"When are you going to quit breathing?” It’s really a rude question that I wish people would think about before they ask, but I know why they ask. They ask because they really don’t get it. They see bands playing at dive bars barely making a living, or “hobby bands” full of near retirement age people jamming away on the weekends only, and they think, “What could possible drive them to keep doing that all of the time if they aren’t famous?” Well that’s what this article is about, why us “non-famous” musicians keep practicing, keep playing and keep persevering.
I started at the age of 8, a little third grade girl that barely knew I had a voice, but my music teacher did and her passion for my talent eventually became my own. My first performance was as Annie from the musical “Annie.” I sang “Tomorrow” all alone on a great big stage in a little red dress that my Great Aunt had sewn for me. I remember the hosts commenting that I must be frightened to sing all alone, but I wasn’t, although I had some butterflies, I was not scared at all. I was excited, and when I finished that last note and an auditorium of parents, grandparents, siblings and teachers all applauded, I was exhilarated. I knew in that moment my purpose in life was to sing, and I have been doing that since.
In a perfect world I would tell you that one performance was the step towards a long, fulfilling career in music, but the world is not perfect and it was not that step. In fact, there have been many more missteps than perfect ones in my music career. After the performance at 8, I continued to in music all throughout my school years. I was in musicals, choirs, show choirs and a few lost garage band projects. I went from singing age appropriate show tunes, to classical pieces and studied Opera. I also with some great voice coaches along the way. My teachers and coaches praised me and encouraged me all of those formative years to pursue music as my life’s career, they made me believe there was nothing else I needed to do and that I would have no problem making it in the business. They were very sweet, and they were very wrong! Not about the talent, I am talented, I am old enough, secure enough, have worked hard, studied my craft and spent years learning and adapting in a very competitive field, so I can say that without arrogance; they weren’t wrong about the talent just about how easy it would be to make it.
I have failed so many times it’s humorous. I have been in numerous competitions, auditioned for reality shows, met with so called producers and agents, you name it and I’ve probably done it. I have been told no by the same people that have told me yes and I have been made promises that were broken countless times too. The sad thing about the music world is that people want to and will take advantage of you, and when you are new to the business you will let it happen at least once, but probably several times over. Personally, in the beginning, after I was out of school and trying to pursue something while maintaining a job and family, I wanted to be a singer so bad I jumped at all opportunities and sadly none of them panned out. I really didn’t have any connections or know anybody in the business to give me guidance, so I had to learn the slow and hard way. After about 10 years, I figured some of it out and I started making better decisions. I got serious about songwriting and seeking out musicians that saw my talent and wanted to work with me not against me. It was not luck that introduced me to career musicians that were finally able to help me move in a more productive and forward position, it was hard work and perseverance, there it is the word in the title, I’m going to segue into the perseverance part of the business (and article) now.
I know that family life, jobs, and other responsibilities can and will quickly derail a music career, if you let them. I also know that the people that should support you and encourage you the most are often your biggest naysayers. The people you should be able to count on and turn to might be there in the beginning when it’s just a little “hobby” that you do occasionally, but when good things start happening and a little success comes along, don’t be surprised when those same people stop supporting you, and worse start whispering “negative nothings” in your ear and try to steer you in a different path. They are the first ones to tell you to quit when the going gets tough, or the gigs just aren’t coming like they once did. They do that because they don’t want you to succeed more than they have, and they want you to quit succeeding at a dream and passion and “work a regular job” like they do, and be a little miserable like they are too. It sucks, but it’s true. If you are new to the music world then you might now have dealt with this behavior yet, but trust me, it’s coming. If you’ve been doing this for awhile you know all too well what I’m talking about. When this happens you have to shut those people out of your head (and maybe your life) and persevere. Whatever your goal is, DO NOT let someone that’s not you change it. Only you can keep yourself on or off the path your walking, so don’t let the negative Nellie’s spoil your vision, block them out and persevere. Keep playing, keep singing, writing, performing, karaoking, whatever is that keeps you going, do it (nearly) every day. Ha, I just keep leading myself right into the next part don’t I.
You heard me, DO IT every day or nearly. I add the nearly because we all need a break from things at times. Make a habit of working at your music career everyday, because I assure you that habit will pay off. Whether it’s practicing, sending emails, posting on social media, contacting booking agents, writing songs, or performing, make sure it’s a very large percentage of your life. “Motivation gets you going and habit gets you there”-Zig Ziglar. He’s right on the money with this quote. Often we are motivated by our own dreams and desires but just as often we are derailed by our lack of commitment to pursue them. I am guilty of this, and I only have myself to blame; I have listened to the naysayers and sometimes I have been my own naysayer. When those voices got louder than my dreams I quit pursuing them, and my perseverance faltered. I quite at least for a time, and every time I did, a part of me was lost.
A few final words on this topic:
Be adaptable! As with most things in life, things change. You change, your environment changes, your tribe changes, etc… What you do with that change is important in keeping you on your path. You have to be willing to move yourself when you can’t move the mountain.
Don’t compare yourself to others! I mean this, because it’s easy to do and I catch myself doing it, but you simply can’t. It doesn’t matter if you didn’t make 14, 24 or even 34. If you’re not dead and you still have the passion, you still have time.
Take criticism in stride! Sometimes this is hard, but you have to learn to weed through things people say and pick out what’s useful and ignore the rest. Sometimes a comment on your performance might be the little change you needed to step your game up and sometimes it might be what you need to finally cut that person out of your life for good.
Persevere dear troubadour. Full circle back to the title now, because that’s what we writers do. When it gets too hard and you’re done, persevere. When everyone around you tells you to quit, persevere. Even when there’s no glory and you feel crazy for not quitting, persevere. You’ll thank me for this one day. When you’ve sang a thousand songs and given it all on that stage, heard the applause and lived the life of a musician, (remember being famous doesn’t make you a successful musician) you’ll remember that moment when a little voice in your head (me) said, persevere dear troubadour, persevere.
Love and Light,