In the beginning, I wanted to be a songwriter. Well, I say “the beginning”, but really this was after I’d gone through a few musical phases and had spent a little time studying music at TAFE. But being a songwriter was my first real idea of what I wanted to do with music. So, for a few months, I spent hours and hours every day studying and analysing what I considered to be “great” songs – Motown classics, tin pan alley, Duke Ellington, Nat King Cole, The Beatles, and Van Morrison. I wrote as much as I could, but I found that my own limitations as a player were holding me back. So I kicked my practice regime up a few notches and learned how to play all the scales, chords and rhythms that I felt like I needed to better my own writing. But by that point, I had become so focussed on becoming a great player of songs that I had lost some of the spark of interest that I had when it came to writing songs. I had moved on. I passed through several phases or focuses over the next year or so in a similar fashion until I realised that there was no point in limiting myself to just one aspect of being a musician. I needed to do it all, and more.
I am a full-time musician. I don’t make nearly enough money to support myself through music, but being a musician takes up my entire working week, often up to 80 hours in a “good” week. Some of the stuff I do is paid, but a lot of it isn’t – or in lieu of payment there appears a six-pack of beer or an IOU for a favour down the line. While sometimes frustrating, this is totally fine – most of the people I work with or for are also musicians, trying to make the most of the same struggling industry as I am. We spend years working for free and rationalising it to ourselves by saying that it’s all worth it – everything I do now is helping to create a better, more sustainable career for myself in the future. The truth of this statement remains to be seen, but it’s certainly true that friends and contacts made now and into the future are one of the key aspects to developing and maintaining a musical career.
I learned pretty early on that I was going to have to develop a wide range of skills in order to support myself in the music industry. Over the past six-or-so years I’ve taken every opportunity I can to acquire new skills and experience, broadening my palette of possible income streams. At various times in the past, I’ve been a sound designer, live sound engineer, performer, photographer, composer, arranger, musical director, writer, theorist, teacher, tutor, proof-reader, music copyist, web designer, recording engineer, booking agent, graphic designer, brand manager, session musician, and producer. I don’t claim to be an expert and all or any of these things, but I’ve always been willing to put in the effort and get things done to the absolute best of my abilities.
I’ve met plenty of musicians that do things differently, focussing on just one aspect of their musical life over any other – becoming a virtuoso player, a great songwriter, or an expert recording engineer. For me, I love being able to do as much as I can. So many of the facets overlap and enhance each other, and as a composer I feel that I can incorporate much of what I’ve learned in other roles into my composition work, and I find the knowledge gained from every area really invaluable and personal to me.
If you’re a musician, you might find yourself thinking in a similar way. The “jack-of-all-trades” thing doesn’t suit everybody, and I’m not suggesting that this is the only way to make a solid living out of music, but it’s just my story so far, and I’m enjoying every minute of it.