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Chasing The Dream: Part One


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What do you want from life?  I knew what I wanted from an early age.  I wanted an adventure!


The first time I ever ran away from home I was six years old.  It wasn’t the last either but I finally made it through high school and left for college.


I grew up in a cow patty of an oil field town in west Texas by the name of Sweetwater.  It was a place where people got drunk on the weekend and got into fistfights for fun.  It did not take me long to realize this was no way to live while I was watching Leave It To Beaver on TV and watching surf movies shot in LA at the movie theater.


Ironically the name Sweetwater came from it originally being a land scam which most of west Texas was.  People from the east coast were lured there by false advertising buying land they had never seen in the early 20th century.  The water actually came from Bitter Creek which was alkaline in content which made the town’s next biggest industry two sheetrock plants.  The third was a SAC base outside town, Avenger Field, which, during WWII, had been one of the delivery points for aircraft being in almost the exact middle of the country east to west.  This meant many of the fistfights were between the airmen and the locals.  This was a horrible place to raise children and even today is plagued by drug abuse, violent behavior, and alcoholism.  But I digress…


The majority of people wander through their lives like cattle (another Texas reference 😁).  The biggest losers I have ever met were not those who died broke but those who had a dream they never followed.  These people were unhappy, frustrated, and malcontent no matter how much wealth or status they did or didn’t accumulate.  Their situation was worse than the drug addicts I have known which would be several, at least most of the druggies were happy.  The saddest part is that this all happened because something else was always more important than what they actually wanted to do.  Show me an unhappy person and I will show you an excuse.  I am rambling again…


If you want your life to be just like everyone else, there is absolutely nothing wrong with that.  The corporations of the world should be indebted to you even if they aren’t and you are expendable.


If you want to make a hobby of Music that is certainly preferable to being a gun enthusiast in my book.  Kudos on that choice!


If you want to have a career, it is going to require several things.  The first is a realistic assessment of what you have to offer.  I mean a really hard, cold look.  Most people who believe they have talent don’t.  If people say ”That’s nice” when you play rather than “Wow” that is a good indicator.  THIS DOES NOT MEAN YOU CANNOT IMPROVE.


So if you are in that situation polish what you are doing.  If the reaction does not improve you probably didn’t either.  After several cycles be happy with your hobby if your audience reaction does not get any better OR try a different audience.  It might be THEM if you are playing for the same people.  Someone else may fall in love with you.


The second thing is evaluate what you are willing to give up because it will be a lot.  It will be a lot of time, a lot of money, working with people you may wish you had never met, along with a lot of rejection and bitter disappointments on many different levels.  If you are a delicate flower and envision working with everything you ever wanted in a friend or coworker this is not for you.  Although there are some areas where you can work cloistered in solitude.  It will just not be in a stage act.


Sounds fun and exciting, huh?  This is the definition of glamour, the illusion of beauty where there is none.  This is a hard, hard way of life.  It is too hard for the average person.  It is great if you succeed but remember also that Success does not always mean stardom.  There is a lot of money to be made in Music if the general public never knows who you are.  Lots of Music people labor in ignominy but it is generally lower paying if you are not in one of the unions which also give you more benefits such as having a pension plan and residual payments for your work.


It may also take a long, long time.  I used to drink at the bar with and watch Stevie Ray Vaughn with Double Trouble playing at Shakey’s Pizza on Guadalupe in Austin.  Talking with any of them was no more unusual than talking to the bar tender.  Stevie had  been recording for years and was becoming well known among musicians but he could not draw a crowd.  This changed when someone who was more interested in musicianship and already had a crowd booked him, The Montreux Jazz Festival.  He had been recording over a decade at this time and actually was booed at the festival.  BUT after the show he met David Bowie.  This was the fabled “lucky break” which almost NEVER happens.


Stevie later got pissed and quit Bowie’s tour because he was only being paid union scale rather than a cut of the show although he was playing before thousands who would have never seen him if not for that tour.  This put him in the public eye through being on the tour and playing on Let’s Dance which was an enormous hit.  This broke down the wall.  He came back to Texas famous.


My wife Adrienne, who I did not know at this time, was friends with David Bowie from long before this and speaks very highly of him as a person as well as an artist.  She thinks this was a temper tantrum over a perceived slight and unrealistic expectations.


Current union tour scale is $275 per day of the tour plus $100 for a rehearsal, all expenses paid, plus $35 per diem on a playing day or $75 on an off day.  This is $1,925 a week with every expense paid plus whatever the per diem is and for rehearsals.


The third point is decide where you fit.  What do you do best?  It might be songwriting. There is a lot of money in it IF your song is a big seller by you or someone else.  If not, you will most likely not see a dime.  If you are in a publisher’s writing stable you do not get paid unless you sell a song.  Zip, zero, nothing…


Do you sing? Is that singing good enough to put before an audience?  Anyone can sing, the question is how well?  Plus you will be front and center, can you be entertaining?  If you sing very well but are shy there is still good money to be made by joining SAG-AFTRA, the Screen Actors Guild - American Federation of Television and Radio Artists singing on records, commercials, and for films and TV.


Do you play an instrument?  Do you play it well?  If so, do you have any sophistication and taste in the way you play music?  If no, you are a potential Metal player.  If yes, there are a world of options.


If you want to make it strictly on your ability to play an instrument, if you are an American or a Canadian, pony up the $300 a year to join AFM, the American Federation of Musicians.  It is loaded with benefits even if you never play a studio session.  There are insurance programs for you, your family, and your instruments.  There are loan programs, travel discounts, and many other perks. There is a NO PLAY list of abusers, crooks, and cheats.  Many artist tours will not hire you unless you belong to AFM.  If you are not serious enough to spend $300 on your career, you are a bad joke at this level unless you are the artist.  Cut, take, end of commercial…


As long as we are on the subject, session players get a bad rap, although I have never played with one who wasn’t a union pro so that could make a difference.  The guy who owns the studio down the street is most likely using scabs not paying for union musicians.  In the US or Canada unless you are paying everyone at least $144 an hour and twice that for the band leader plus 14.09% in benefits they are not union.  If you are working doing music for a business and you are not union yourself if they bring in “session players” they will not be union either.  


What you will find with union musicians is they are as good as they are directed to be.  If you have a meandering direction so will they.  If you are weak and bland they will be following your lead.  I have a friend in LA whose players are out of control.  He is lost which means so are they.  However these same people played for Curtis Mayfield, Luther Vandross, and George Benson as well as several others on hit albums.  This is because there was a shot caller running the show.  Someone has to drive the car, it will not drive itself.


Famous Session Players


If you want to be the artist, not a band, but THE artist.  You had better be multi-talented.  Most singer songwriters never go anywhere because they cannot hit all the bases.  They play Writers Nights for donations and restaurants.


This is usually is because they are not entertaining.  Their songs are not good enough to keep peoples attention or they are not good enough as a performer or they do not understand the difference between a set and a show.  Amateurs play a collection of songs which is called a set.  Professionals play an order of songs which is called a show.  Thus the term Show Business.


Part Two

Edited by Clay Anderson Johnson

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