My dad has a saying (or movie quote or song line) for every situation. Over a cup of coffee one Sunday afternoon, he advised "there is nothing better than doing what you love to do, having fun while doing it and making a sh*t-ton of money." I think we can all agree with this. Then he added, "like every high, that withdrawal is brutal". I had been venting about my less-than-ideal weekend in the music industry, a scene he has become all-too familiar with over his 30+ years as an OG professional entertainer.
That weekend had been a textbook case of the trials and tribulations of professional musicianship: slow nights, hecklers, being shortchanged and serious anxiety over job security, all while running on low sleep and being clouded with personal drama. While I try to never left my personal life affect my performance, singing for a near-empty room doesn't exactly do wonders for your self-esteem.
This wasn't my first negative experience with show biz and gosh, it certainly won't be the last. There are months where no gigs come in at all. Do you know what's scary about that? There is absolutely nothing you can do about it. There is nothing you can do if the bars you're playing are failing financially. There is nothing you can do if other venues have their calendars booked out for months. You just have to stick it out.
So why did that weekend sting? Why did it get to me this time?
Because just a few days before, I was sitting in the same place at the same time, surrounded by hundreds of folks requesting and singing songs, laughing and having fun. Friends came in to see me. I made new friends. As an extrovert; I feed off this energy. There is nothing cooler than waking up on Sunday morning to Facebook and Instagram messages thanking you for a fun night at the piano bar. I'm doing what I love to do. I'm having fun while doing it.
That's what my weekends typically look like. My 9 month tenure as Miss Mass has enhanced those weekends with handfuls of black-tie events, parades and charity events. Sometimes I'm interviewed for a magazine or the radio or the news. Just a few months ago, LITERALLY millions of people were watching me on TV.
And then some nights, I am sitting alone at a piano in a big empty room, singing for 5 disinterested people, dying inside and desperately wishing for the minutes to pass like I'm back in 9th grade Physics.
Today, that weekend seems like ages ago. As I'm staring at a fully booked calendar and email inbox bombarded with inquiries, it is easy to dismiss those nights as "really not that bad".
Like that handsome quarterback you despised/were obsessed with in high school, the music industry likes to play with your emotions. On a good night, there is no better feeling in the world. But the bad nights? They can make you doubt everything you've ever been sure of. When my students tell me they want to be professional musicians, or that they're looking at music schools, I feel uneasy. On one hand, I feel so honored that I helped inspire those aspirations and that (in their minds) my life seems pretty interesting. But it also breaks my heart. Because they're some of the sweetest and nicest kids I know and I would never wish the emotional roller coaster of this gig on anyone.
Pursuing art is exciting and adventurous and absolutely horrifying. The music industry can be a really mean and nasty place, but for those of us in too deep, performing really is the only thing that makes us feel alive. We'll take the losses along with the wins. After all, we don't really have much of a choice.