In this article I would like to touch upon the topic of playing music for a living and choosing between making one's career a purely commercial pursuit or approaching it from the perspective of an artistic one.
But let me first clarify a couple of things.
First off, I believe that most musicians fall into one of two categories. The rich and the poor.
The first kind, Type A, is the commercial musician whose primary career goal is to make money -- the more the merrier. They function efficiently and effectively in various commercial situations and musical genres and they go about procuring any kind of gig; the only criteria being the frequency and size of the paycheck.
Since their primary motive is to make a good living from music, the Type A musician will take on all manner of musical situations even if it means taking a gig that goes against the grain of their musical sensibilities. For the Type A musician, music exists less as an art and more as a craft. And of course, there is nothing wrong with this. They are there to play whatever music is put in front of them.
The second kind of musician, the Type B is more idealistic. Speak to one of these people and one is more likely to hear about their latest musical endeavours in performing, composing, recording or marketing their original music. Type B's are inclined to take on commercial projects that fit their speciality and genre of choice. Often, they do not function well in musical situations in which they feel that their artistic vision is compromised.
From my observation, only a small percentage of musicians, and guitar players in general, vacillate happily between these two extremes.
For those just deciding on a life in music, bear in mind the following:
Don't become a musician because you want to, but do it because you have to.
Once the young aspirant has decided that music is something that they absolutely have to do it, it is wise at this juncture to decide which of the two category types fits one's musical personality the best. Weeks or months of soul-searching is recommended.
If one reckons he/she is more of a Type A, one needs training in sightreading and ensemble playing and be able to play convincingly in various musical styles. A working knowledge of music arranging will also be a plus. Throw in a cheery disposition and the right contacts and one's career will be set to soar. The musical vision is in line with the soul and all is bliss.
For the Type B aspirants, a clear, unique musical vision coupled with a unique individual style and strong compositional/songwriting skills are the minimum entry requirements. The emphasis here is on unique artistry so musical clones need not apply.
Did I mention you have to be unique?
Top it all off with a strong, unwavering sense of self-belief and you will be all set. For some really hard work ahead. Unless you're fortunate enough to have created a sizeable audience for yourself at a reasonably young age, be prepared for some lean years. Again, since the musical vision is in line with the soul, it's all good.
For myself, I've always tried to balance the two. I realized a long time ago that one needs to do the Type A gigs on occasion to pay for the Type B endeavours. Although I think I am myself more inclined to the Type B musical personality, I watched how some of my early guitar heroes made great careers out of being hired-gun session players and who later branched out as artists in their own right. Larry Carlton, Lee Ritenour, Mike Landau and Steve Lukather come to mind.
To the Type B's out there, therein may lie the secret to musical happiness as well as material well-being.
Do what you have to to pay the bills but do so without overly compromising. Choose commercial gigs that are more in line with your artistic sensibilities.
Above all, make time for your own music. Set aside a number of hours every week to write new material and then set aside time to rehearse it with like minded individuals. Take your music out once in a while and play it for an audience. Record some of it and make a CD so that you have something to show your grandchildren. And don't forget to get out there and sell that CD for as much as you can get for it.
A musical life not lived is a musical life lost.