Music is essential to who I am. It is an artistic passion I have engaged in since I was 5 as a pianist and now as a vocalist of The Blue Rats, a blues band in Manila. I value it as much as I value my health. I know I am nothing without it.
But at no point in my life did I envision becoming a full-time musician.
Sure, the case could be different if I were as ridiculously talented as Lady Gaga, but I am not. What I do recognize is that I still have talent, and if that is not shared, it goes away.
I do not want that to happen.
What I have learned over the years of amateur music-making is that music opens doors. In graduate school, for instance, it was easy to make friends because I performed in dorms for free. People could call on me for impromptu entertainment. I even won some contests and got free drinks. The network that I have built around that is so powerful because even today, five years on, these people still remember me as the “singer.” When I message them, they respond.
And in still did my problem sets for a Stats course I barely passed.
Music makes a person well-rounded. Some of my favorite conversations with newfound friends were forged through favorite songs or favorite movies where I first heard those songs. The connection-building is unstoppable. See if you can run out of things to talk about in the company of people whose musical tastes you share, even though they are not musicians. I guarantee you, it is hard.
While difficult to validate and measure, music has invisible effects on the brain and in the psyche, of which I think I have been a beneficiary for many years. My memory is still sharp, and my ability to multi-task is intact, but then there are other factors that contribute to this (I truthfully look after my health). A better example would be those who have experienced a traumatic brain injury who are recovering well through music therapy.
Bill Murray once said, “If you can write, write.” The same goes for music. It would be criminal not to sing if you can because not many people can do that.
So I make music but treat it as a hobby, which is essential in achieving some balance in life.
“Let’s get it done so we can have some fun.” — Anonymous
Music is a hobby because I love many other things. I like seeing ideas germinate, examining them, and articulating my views in writing. I like questioning things and learning more about them in the books that I read. Basically, I like technical, mind-bending work.
Music is a hobby because I am passionate about travel. Music can take you places, such as concerts abroad, but that is a logistics-heavy tour and not the slow travel that is more my style. The performances are also physically exhausting with only a day or less in between to recover. A lot of session performers for back-up bands do this.
Music is a hobby because most full-time musicians are broke and sick. Clearly I am not referring to the Lady Gagas of the world here. Some of the full-time musicians I have met have turned squandering their measly paychecks and health into a sport. I have lost count of the anecdotes about artists who scored lucky breaks, were given an advance to record an album, and yet spent that money on drugs and girls. When applying for health insurance, I was too honest that I had mentioned my part-time gigs as a source of modest income. The insurance company asked for my medical records, anticipating a potential client that is a heavy smoker, drinker and a person deprived of sleep. I was neither of those three, but that is the quintessential profile of a musician and the insurance company had reason to worry.
Music is a hobby, but whenever I perform, I give it everything I have got. For me, that is enough. The last thing I want is to have to drag myself to gigs six nights a week and turn music into a chore, or worse, the main source of my livelihood. The art tends to become compromised when there is that kind of pressure. This is not true for many of my friends, who make a decent living as working musicians and painters, but it is for me.
Social media has enabled the discovery of more up-and-coming artists and the creation of another income stream for them. I know of friends that have been selected to endorse certain brands for musical instruments and gear, and they are not full-time musicians.
Music is a hobby because I would like to give back to the music community that has given me so much, and that entails money that paid gigs cannot afford. It requires connections for effective fundraising. It demands patience in educating fellow musicians about the value of equity and control over their artwork. I do free gigs to raise funds for musician friends afflicted with cancer, but does that ever stop them from neglecting their health? I can only wonder.
My philosophy is to take care of yourself so you can take care of others. Maybe when I am much better off financially, there is still a future in doing music professionally. Life is full of surprises anyway. But only then will I look at focusing on music exclusively.
Because by becoming a musician, I witnessed the plight of hardworking hand-to-mouth musicians, and I did not like what I saw. But your luck, skill, and experiences are different from mine. It does help to know that the road to success is paved with suffering, but it does not have to be that way, especially now with technology enabling viral communications and exchanges of impressive art. There are sound business models that sustain them, one of which was popularized by David Bowie. That man has touched the lives of so many people with his art and yet managed to be rewarded financially each time it was enjoyed. Many amateur and professional musicians will benefit from following his example, without hopelessly trying to be the next Ziggy. They just need to treat their craft as a business like he did.