Part of the FurniturePosted by Nemo
Musicians have always been with us. Amongst the original cave dwellers you can be sure there was always some show off who had discovered a way of knocking out a tune on a blade of grass or laying down a beat with a bone and an empty skull. Some would have been so good that they would have gone from cave to cave entertaining others in return for a hog’s head and a jug of whatever constituted Carlsberg Special Brew in those days.
When emperors sat in the Coliseum with thumb poised deciding whether an unfortunate gladiator should live or die what would have been played to increase the suspense…. a drum roll of course. Some soldiers marched off to war armed with nothing more deadly than a bugle or a snare drum to motivate their comrades whilst at home musicians played to help a terrorised public deal with the daily bombing raids.
Like it or not, music plays a major part of our lives and although I have actually met one of the few people on the planet that claim they don’t like music even they admit that to be condemned to watch films or television in total silence would be unthinkable. So while music is taken so much for granted it is not surprising that the people who play that music are also overlooked. Musicians are often regarded as part of the furniture to the point that when people are smooching on the dance floor they are not aware that there are real humans on stage who can see what they are getting up to when they are facing the band rather than the audience.
There is no shortage of autobiographies written by famous musicians that generally follow the well trodden road of boy meets band, band gets famous, boy overindulges, boy loses band but in writing my autobiography Just A Few Seconds I wanted to tell what life is like for most working musicians who although never becomes famous still have stories to tell.
Contrary to popular belief not all musicians spend half their lives playing in seedy bars and the other half waiting to be served in soup kitchens. I made a very good living as a musician and so did most of my colleagues and let’s face it, who wouldn’t prefer to work two or three hours a night playing music rather than eight hours a day behind a desk or shop counter. I also got to travel the world and meet some amazing characters as well as backing lots of famous artists in concert. There was an abundance of work in a large variety of venues. One night I would be working in a small jazz club and the next in the orchestra pit at Jesus Christ Superstar. One day in a well paid studio session and the next at the Grosvenor House Hotel backing Petula Clark. Some mornings I woke up to find an envelope on my doormat containing a cheque for repeat fees for a BBC radio session I couldn’t even remember doing.
Ok a musician who is not very good will struggle to find work but that can be said of any profession. Ironically some of the worst musicians I ever knew had so much trouble finding work they became bandleaders or agents and ended up earning more than the whole band put together.
So why do so many people come away from having read my book thinking that a musician’s life is so tough? because there is a commonly held misconception that being a musician is the same as being a composer which is far from the truth. Most musicians can’t compose to save their lives and sometimes good musicians are actually handicapped by their virtuosity as they tend to compose to showcase their instrumental skills rather than concentrating on the music. In my early years I thought nothing was worth writing unless it was in some really complicated time signature and filled with lighting fast guitar solos.
The eternal struggle and debt I wrote about in my book was down to my aspirations of becoming a composer and unlike a gigging musician you can’t just pop around the local pub and get paid for knocking out a quick tune. To make a living as a composer you have to get your music played and the competition for radio and TV airplay has always been vicious so unknown writers have very little chance of getting their compositions heard regardless of how good they are.
So next time you someone tells you they are a musician don’t get tempted to throw them a crust of bread because they might be earning more than you.
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