I remember the moment that I had to make the choice very well.
I had been out of the Air Force for less than two years, and I was 24. I was working a menial job in San Diego, Calif., and playing in a band that was good but doing nothing.
Did I want this to be my life? Scraping to get by while chasing a dream that seemed far out of reach? Or maybe it was time to head back to Arizona and start college?
I was undecided until I saw a guy working in the local Guitar Center I knew from a band on the local scene. His band was popular locally, and even went up to Los Angeles from time to time to play on the Sunset Strip. This 1986, so the Strip was pretty hot at that time.
I heard this guy talking. He was 38, had a wife and a couple of kids but was sure this time he was going to “make it.” Did I want to be this guy?
No, I didn’t. I went back home, went to college and here we are. Yes, I still write and play music and have for decades. But I also have a roof over my head and food on the table.
The reason I bring this up is because many musicians are back to starving these days. Sure, those of us on the local scene have seen our gigs cancelled, and we do miss getting out there and playing music.
We mostly do it for fun. Actually, we only do it for fun. But for many people, playing live music is their livelihood and they are hurting pretty bad right now.
Sure, that does include some local musicians. Playing in an area band that covers popular music can certainly put money in your pocket. It is not enough to make you rich or even very comfortable, but along with a “real” job it can be a nice supplement to your income. And it can help pay for the thousands of dollars worth of gear that it takes – guitars, drums, amplifiers, sound systems, lights – it is not cheap.
But I am talking about national artists here as well. It used to be that you were signed to a large record label and that label funded recording and touring. Once the band made money, they paid the label back. And artists made money from selling actual music as records, tapes or compact discs.
But the Internet has pretty much destroyed that businesses plan. People sharing music for free on the Internet has killed many bands and artists. The days of making real money off of your art are almost gone. Sure, some pop stars still do well, but not every musician wants to be a pop star. They probably don’t even care about being rich. But making a living is even hard to do these days.
But there is always touring. Going out and playing, selling T-shirts, having fans pay a little bit to meet their favorite musicians, that is money in the pocket for many artists. It keeps them alive and doing what they love.
Right now all of that is on hold, and some musicians who have been writing, recording, and touring for years – even decades – are in bad shape. These are people who lost thousands of dollars a week in income because they simply can’t go out and do their job.
And the people I am talking about include many bands and artists you love. It is tough with no road work for artists right now. This is another story of COVID-19 killing off a sector of the economy. In this case, live music is dead, and that is costing artists and venues millions.
I know, many people are currently affected by this virus in the same way. I am not saying these people are any different or special. But we often don’t think about people like this who are almost always out on the road, entertaining people in a different city night after night.
I could have been one of those people if I had chosen a different path back in 1986. I am glad I didn’t, but I also hope all of these musicians can get back to playing their music live soon. I know I am ready for some live music.