Being a musician really isn’t as easy as you may think it is. Non-musicians probably just see people up on a stage living “The Life.” Whatever that is. Yeah, there are spotlights, and crowds, and people wanting to hear YOU. But there is so much more to it than that.
Where there is a venue, there is also countless hours trying to get in contact with that venue just to get them to notice you. Once they notice you, you have to convince them that they want you to play there for whatever amount of time you are asking for. THEN, you have to convince them to pay you a decent paycheck. That’s where negotiating skills are necessary. Good luck.
If you do that, and you successfully book a show, you better promote it. Put it on your website, on Facebook, Instagram, wherever you have an outlet. Shamelessly self-promote because it’s your job. If people don’t know you’re playing, they won’t show up; if they don’t show up and you’re getting paid by how many people come in the door, you won’t get much at all, if any. Because first and foremost, a venue is a place that is likely to sell food and drinks. You’re there to make the venue money by providing a form of entertainment. Nothing else. IF you’re getting a guarantee and they’re banking on you bringing a crowd and you don’t, there’s a pretty good chance you will not get asked to come back. Promote your shows.
Where there is ONE song, there is at LEAST 3-4 hours put into just learning the song. Some songs are different; some don’t take as long and some take much longer. But you have to learn the words. Some people put up music stands as a reference but I don’t like to use those. I memorize the lyrics to every single song that I play in front of people. After you learn the words, you have to learn how to play the song on whatever instrument you’re into. For me, that’s guitar. You have to learn different chord shapes and work on transitioning into OTHER chord shapes and then you have to put that together and play that while you’re moving your mouth. And you have to remember it all. To make it a little more understandable for the non-musician, playing guitar and singing at the same time is like trying to draw the number 6 while moving your leg in a clockwise circle or saying, “Irish wristwatch.” I bet you tried to do that, didn’t you? It just takes a lot of practice.
Now, if there’s THAT much work put into just one song, imagine doing that for about 45 songs. For me, that’s a three hour set. I do about 45 songs when I play a 3 hour show. I have extras just in case I need them and I’m always ready to know which songs to cut if I need to go shorter.
Let’s pretend you have learned these songs. You’ve even convinced a venue to pay you to play music for 3 hours plus whatever tips their customers may give you. Did you ask the right questions? What time are you starting? How about when you’re supposed to finish up? What time is their preferred load in (the time you get there to set up) for you? Do you need to bring your own sound? If so, how big is the space? Do you need a lot of sound? Or just a little? Do you get breaks? These are just SOME examples of things you need to know before you play a show.
For example, if I have an 8pm-12am show that is just going to be me playing and I need to use my larger sound, I need to get there at 6:45pm and be prepared to leave around 1am. This doesn’t include talking to the people after the show. If I’m playing the same time and need my small sound, I won’t need to get there until about 7:30pm and I will still have time to drink some coffee between sound check and show time. If it’s a band show for the same time, we have to load in at 5pm or 6pm and be prepared to leave at about 2am. After all of this, you have to drive home. And you get hungry.
If you ever think that being a musician is “easy,” please, I encourage you to help me load in and set up all of my equipment and then help me break it down without complaining that it’s too heavy or that it’s too late and you’re too tired. We (musicians) don’t get paid to play music. We get paid for the hundreds of hours we put into learning 3 hours worth of material. We get paid to set up our equipment and take it down. We just play music in between all of that because it’s what makes us happy. And if you think about it like that… in terms of months, days, and hours we spend on just getting ready to play a show… musicians are massively underpaid. But I’m not going to get into that.
But can we talk about just how unpredictable being a performing musician is? You have ABSOLUTELY NO guarantee for anything. Literally, you can drive all the way to the venue and they can cancel as you’re setting up to play the show. It’s not like having a normal job. You don’t wake up at 7, get to your office at 9, work until noon, have lunch, work until 5 and then you’re done. With that kind of job, you have a salary. Musicians don’t have salaries. Sometimes we’re not even guaranteed payment. #anxiety. Some people just go and play for tips. Imagine walking into your office and asking your coworkers like, “hey, I wrote this column, will you give me a dollar or two?” No. What if they don’t like your column? They won’t give you dollar. Or better yet, what if they DO like your column but they STILL don’t give you a dollar. That’s being a performing musician.
Think about your hours at your job. They’re probably pretty normal. As you can see, musician hours are not normal. I have gotten home at 5am from a show and only woke up for lunch just to go back to sleep until 3pm. I was still in the bed by midnight that next night (was super tired).
You may say, “oh it’s cool though because you get to travel.” Yeah, I get to travel to the beach to see people get drunk and then I get to travel back home. You’re not really in the cool place long enough to explore the cool place unless you make time for it.
All of this and I’m only skimming the surface. I haven’t said anything about dealing with rude people at venues. Sometimes, it’s just as bad as waiting tables because you have to deal with attitudes and silly demands. I haven’t talked about working WITH people who aren’t nice to you. That’s never fun. I haven’t even touched on comments from people in the crowd. I don’t mean nice comments either; I mean ones where a 75-year-old dude asks if you need help changing clothes in the bathroom… I haven’t even talked about the time it can take to write music. I’ve only spoken about performing.
You may read all of this and think, “Why the heck would you want to be a musician? Nothing’s guaranteed, it’s a lot of late nights, heavy lifting, and practice.” Well, I have answer for you: I love it. I love making people smile. It’s so cool to be able to play a song and see someone recognize it and then their eyes get really big and they smile and start singing. That’s cool. It’s cool when someone comes up to you and says “wow. You’ve put a lot of work into this, I hope you get somewhere with it.” Or, like, “hey, I really liked your cover of that song. I think it’s better than the original.” Or even better, “I really loved that song you wrote. I kind of cried a little.” That’s “The Life” to me. I like making people feel something. I like surprising people. And you know what? I don’t care about the late nights. I don’t care that the equipment is heavy. I don’t care that I have to drive 4 hours away to a play a show sometimes. I’d go farther if I got booked.
If you love it, keep playing.
I’m sorry it took me so long to get back here. I was at the gym.
Just for you to know a little more about me and what I do on a daily basis: I really enjoy the gym. I don’t mean, like, cardio. I hate cardio. I mean dumbbells and barbells.
I’ve always been into fitness and working out but not really to this extent. I played softball in high school so, there’s that. But once high school was over, I wanted to make sure I didn’t gain the “freshman 15” so I started running. I hated it. But I did it until my high school closed the track off to people who didn’t go to school there. At that point I just kind of stopped. I didn’t really do any fitness stuff and I was too self conscious to go into a gym yet. I know a gym is where you go to better yourself but my thought process makes sense, I promise.
During my last 2 years of college, I got back into working out but I just used machines. I did 15 minutes on an elliptical and then did legs or arms on whatever day I had assigned them to. After I graduated, I got a gym membership at a gym close to my house and I did a thing where I woke up every morning...
That’s 5:30am and I was at the gym by 6. I did an hour on the stationary bike and did some machines for another hour. I did this for that summer (aka last summer) (aka the summer of 2017). My argument was that I had to ride a bike to class everyday and my legs had gotten smaller and I wanted to keep them that way. But since I didn’t HAVE to do that anymore, what was I to do??? Answer: stationary bike and watch an episode of something on Netflix.
Once The Barn was finished, it was harder to go to bed at 9pm because all of my music stuff was there and begging me to use it. So I started staying up until 3 or 4am and not going to the gym. For a second I was kind of disappointed in myself because I had grown to love waking up before the sun rose. It feels like the mountains that early in the morning. (I love the mountains). I missed feeling that but it was so hard to compromise my creativity at night just so I could wake up really really early. So I didn’t.
I kind of half way went to the gym starting in August and I was introduced to dumbbells and barbells. Deadlifts and squats and bench presses! Oh my! It was intimidating at first because I’m naturally a competitive person and I just wanted to be the strongest girl right off the bat but that’s not how it works. That’s not how anything works. But then I remembered “you’re not here for them, you’re here for you.” And that’s how I stopped comparing myself to other people in the gym.
It didn’t really click for me at first because I didn’t feel like I was really doing anything super impressive. But then I realized that I was. I was stepping out of my comfort zone and doing something I had never done before but had always wanted to do. Basically, I have now expanded my comfort zone.
It took me about a month or 2 to be super serious about fitness. So, I was KIND OF into it in August. And then September rolled around and I was like, “meh, I want to but... routine...” and then October became a different story.
I wasn’t so self conscious walking past the machines to go to the free weights anymore. I had kind of gotten into more of a routine and I knew what I was supposed to be doing and how to do it. Since then, I have worked out AT LEAST 4-5 days a week. But if I missed a day, it was okay because it’s always better to listen to your body and rest when needed than to run it to exhaustion.
My most recent PRs (Personal Record) include:
Deadlift: 220 lbs
Bench: 185 lbs
Squat: 200 lbs
I just recently hit my bench press PR and honestly, I had no idea I could do it until I did it. I prefer to not add up the weight I’m about to lift until after I have lifted it. That way I’m not psyching myself out. Of course, I always have a spotter when I’m PRing on bench.
All of this is cool until you pull a muscle. I just did that a couple of days ago. I was warming up for a deadlift PR and there wasn’t much weight on it at all. My back just kind of moved a way it wasn’t supposed to and it just started hurting. Immediately, I put it down and stopped doing back because I’m not trying to hurt myself. I continued on to biceps and I felt okay because I wasn’t using those muscles in my back too much by doing curls.
By the time I had gotten home, it was getting progressively worse. My whole back was tight and it was a struggle to stand up straight without looking like I was trying to puff out my chest. I knew there was no way I was going to the gym for a few days. Immediately, I started on anti-inflammatory meds (ibuprofen) to help out. I laid on the floor with an ice pack and my legs up in a chair for the majority of the remainder of the day. That night, I slept with a pillow under my knees and set an alarm for 3am to take more ibuprofen.
When I woke up, I felt absolutely nothing. No pain. But once I was walking around and using those muscles, it started hurting again but not as bad. Throughout the day, I continued taking ibuprofen every 4 hours. I laid on the ground and did what work I could do on the computer. The whole day I was wishing I could just be better and go to the gym.
That afternoon I got a message on FB saying I was needed to play a show that night. I was thinking, like, “what? How am I supposed to get through this show? I’m laying on the floor. How am I supposed to do this?” I’m not really one to turn down a show. So, me and my mom prayed about it because God doesn’t make you go through something you can’t handle.
While I was getting ready for the show, and silently still freaking out, my mom found something that had helped her in the past: a pregnancy belt.
Well. I call it a pregnancy belt. But it’s really just a 12” wide Velcro wrap. She had to use it when she was pregnant with me to keep her pelvis together because her pelvic bone became separated (ouch).
So I put that around my torso and it helped SO MUCH! It was a great form of support for my back and I could wear it under my shirt and nobody would notice! So I did. I performed a 3 hour show with a pregnancy belt on. And you know what? It wasn’t a bad show.
The breaks I had were greatly appreciated (when I got to take them) but I appreciate the people who came to see me even more. There was a good amount of people there and it wasn’t one of those crowds that just sat and talked to each other. They sang along and video recorded and engaged with me. It was awesome!
In the long run, even though I was running on ibuprofen, coffee, and a pregnancy belt, I’m so glad I played. So, thank you, God, for getting me through the show without me feeling like I was going to break in half.
I’ll be back soon. In the meantime, keep playing.
Post workout mirror pic
What the “pregnancy belt” looks like. You can kind of see where it Velcros together.
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