The studio guitarist’s guide to happiness and personal fulfilment, as related by session ace Mitch Dalton. This month: Existentialism for dummies.
The title ‘Self Employed Musician’ carries with it any number of assumptions, most of them utterly erroneous. But I’ll refrain from trotting out clichés describing sleep patterns which begin and end at 3 (am and pm), heroic consumption of craft beers and an intimate relationship with the Department For Work And Pensions.
The reality is very different. And without engaging in some critical self-analysis, can be as dark as a dawn December commute wearing prescription Ray-bans. So the next time you engage an itinerant ukulele player in conversation, I’d avoid patience-testing enquiries as to what ‘real’ job he undertakes when not attempting to entertain the great unwashed. Unless you’ve a thing about A&E departments.
First off, the combination of constant insecurity and the reliance on random offers can be more than enough to puncture even Mary Poppins’ positivity. And secondly, there is a corrosive emotional aspect to periods of unemployment in the creative arts. Musicians feel defined as much by what they do as by what they are. And by extension therefore, what they don’t.
The loss of any job is a source of anxiety. But when a factory closes or relocates to Slovakia it is rarely accompanied by the notion that you - personally - aren’t good enough. So, before punching ‘Beachy Head’ into your sat-nav, it might be helpful to remember that most of the stuff that happens has little to do with you. Here are just some of the causes of angst in Showbiz, made infinitely worse by the fact that you’ll never know for sure if all or any of the following lies behind your vigil by an apparently disconnected telephone.
1. You’re too old.
Now, ’too old’ could easily be 25 in some situations. For example, there exists a cottage industry populated by attractive young things who are employed to add glamour to pop tours and TV dates. Nice work, assuming you don’t mind miming to a sampled sound, someone else’s performance, or even your own. It’s not a musically demanding way to pay the rent but it ain’t money for old riffs. You’ll earn every penny due to the inevitably gruelling itinerary. And sadly, your shelf life will compare unfavourably with the life cycle of a cabbage white butterfly; an endless procession of kids out of college continues to roll down the production line. Top tip - it’s best to play pretty, not look it.
2. You’re too young. There’s nothing more comforting to a Hollywood movie mogul than to look out from the control room at an orchestra liberally laced with white hair, battered instrument cases and vari-focals. The message is clear; here’s a bunch of seasoned pros who’ll lick this expensive score into shape. And within budget. What’s not to love? 3. You read music too well. It’s easy to intimidate a self-taught singer-songwriter by effortlessly shredding his agonisingly crafted tale of Love, Loss and Lament in one take. Sometimes it pays to take time, share the pain of the journey and bond with the song. 4. You read music too badly.
Don’t attempt the last approach when sitting with the rhythm
section in The Royal Philharmonic Orchestra. Hit it and quit it. You get one run through. And moving on… 5. You aren’t the artist’s new
girlfriend, or son of the orchestral manager. They probably all play a bit of guitar.Unfortunately, any of the above will signal the end of that particular musical relationship. 6. The artist thinks you’re too
passive. Unknown to you, he or she is desperately insecure and waiting for you to come up with
STOP MICRO-ANALYSING AND SEEKING ANSWERS TO UNANSWERABLE QUESTIONS. IT ISN’T ALL ABOUT YOU
three different ideas to turn demo dross into master magic. 7. The artist thinks you’re too
proactive. It’s their song. They know what they want. Just play the thing down and get out of town. 8. You’re too cheap. Ergo, you can’t be any good.
9. You’re too expensive. No matter that a third-rate plumber would laugh at the record industry’s concept of freelance fees. Don’t bother to interest a producer in the childhood sacrifices of time and friends, of endless practice and the purchase and maintenance of equipment. He doesn’t care.
10. You’re too good. If you can cut it without rehearsing for 10 hours a day in a dungeon under a railway arch, fellow musos may confuse your genius for ‘lack of commitment’.
11. You’re not good enough. I saved the best until last. Because this is the point at which madness meets music. A creative endeavour is not a quantifiable activity. The litmus paper doesn’t turn blue when you rip out a killer tune. There’s no accurate method of divining why one date goes well and another leads to despair. And that, my friend, is where we came in. Try to rid yourself of the egotism that implies that it’s all to do with you. You’ll save yourself a warehouse full of misdirected emotional energy. Your mission is to address the 10 per cent of the job that’s within your control. Learn to play in time. And in tune. As my dear old Mum used to say, “Always say ‘yes’. Unless you can’t.” Have a good additood. Stop micro analysing, agonising and seeking answers to unanswerable questions. It isn’t all about you. Unless you’re Madonna.
Next time - Teach Yourself Assertive Buddhism, Lose Ten Stone In Ten Minutes, and Fifty Easy And Nutritious Answers To The Meaning Of Life.
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“It really isn’t all about you,” insists our session hero