Is playing the music you love a worthwhile endeavor? The optimist musician would instantly answer a big YES! The pessimist would say NO. Both views have their equally valid points that are worth exploring. By evaluating such things will we find answers to what’s the kind of music a musician needs to write and perform and the sort of music he/she would want and love to write and perform.
Why do certain people such as myself become musicians in the first place? The first reason that comes to my mind is that music expresses what mere words could never express. The second reason is that music is universal. Life is simply dull without music. Can you keep paying attention to a movie or a TV series that doesn’t even have a tone or a chord hit of sort? Unless you are deprived of hearing, you would never even consider such media to be entertainment. Even some people who have been deemed clinically deaf like Ludwig Van Beethoven and virtuoso percussionist Evelyn Glennie have very deep appreciation for music. The third reason is that music provides both mental and physical stimuli that would excite any person on the planet. Even the most tone deaf of people love hearing a single song or two. You could easily say for these reasons and many more that writing and playing the music you love is a noble and worthwhile endeavor.
The deepest aspiration of every composer (such as myself) would be to receive appreciation for the work he or she personally believes is his or her real musical voice. The sad reality in this world that’s ruled by the whims of many is that only a very few could make a living off of it. More often than not, composers are forced to compromise their musical aspirations in order to be able to pay the bills. Otherwise, composers like myself would be the starving artists upholding Bohemian ideals. In many regards, ideals are worth holding on to but this nagging question still remains: What worth would ideals be when your stomach is rumbling from hunger?
According to Abraham Maslow’s hierarchy of needs, biological needs provide the groundwork for reaching higher goals and aspirations. This is pretty obvious. If you are undernourished, you will get sick and then die without even getting the chance to do anything else. You simply won’t succeed preaching to any person who is suffering from hunger. Satiate his hunger and he’ll probably lend you an ear or two. In a similar light, composers and all other musicians would face such problems too. It’s all good that you would want to be able to express your art, but if you don’t have the financial means to do so then how could you do it in the first place? From my experience, it is very common for many musicians to take on other jobs as an aid to express their art. I used to have a corporate job three years ago while trying to record what I thought for myself are my personal masterpieces of progressive rock and art music. Some would wait tables waiting for that big break to happen.
At the present time, I have all these musical ideas for original prog, classical, jazz compositions but I have to pimp myself into working music jobs that are far from my ideals. I’m lucky that making music in the multimedia sector provides more freedom but it’s not the exact kind of freedom I would want personally as an artist. It feels like it’s close but no cigar. I got to eat, pay the bills and support my family and the chances of keeping my son from going hungry with the powers of progressive rock is very slim. I would think that many musicians think the same way and then go on to explore things like jingle making, writing the next big hit, and all those sort of commercial music jobs because of more immediate concerns than meeting lofty goals.
This reminds me of my first day training as an independent karaoke MIDI producer. Just a few hours ago, I was being trained by RJ Sy, bassist of the Karl Roy Band. It was a shock for me to hear that RJ never earned a single cent from playing with Karl Roy. With Karl Roy being a legend in the Philippine rock music scene, it is baffling and unfair. While the people who can’t even write a song earn millions with their second-rate versions of hits from the 70s, 80s, 90s and even up to the present time, bands like the Karl Roy Band are performing and writing music pro bono. RJ would admit that playing with Karl Roy was indeed musically satisfying, but it would never take care of his expenses. It couldn’t even pay for a bottle of beer he would enjoy in the venue where he’s playing.
I remember the time that I played with my old band known to UCCP Ellinwood-Malate Church insiders as Jacob’s Ladder and known to the outside as Blue Fusion. Back in the late 90s up until the last quarter of 2000, we tagged along with Filipino progressive metal kings Eternal Now for a couple of gigs. If my memory serves me right, audience numbers would never exceed 20 during those days! I remember having that disappointed look upon seeing how empty looking the bars were. Despite the musical joy and fulfillment playing progressive rock brings, nobody in the Philippines would give the genre the attention and respect it deserves. I still played the gigs just for the love and appreciation I have for prog. It is very likely that people both inside and outside the church have forgotten about Jacob’s Ladder or Blue Fusion or whatever name you would call those five teenaged musicians who thought that they were among the few who played prog rock in the country.
There are times that being coerced into having to write or play the music that you “need” is a good thing in certain respects. You get to learn a lot of things. MIDI production and music transcription provides excellent education by experience. I’ve learned a lot of things since I started transcribing for Kuya Cesar (Cesar S. Wycoco) and Tatay Romy (Romy San Mateo). My experiences writing music for multimedia applications were more than stimulating. I also think my ongoing training as a MIDI producer would add an irreplaceable wealth of knowledge to my expanding arsenal of techniques.
So, what would be the conclusion to all of my ramblings about music? I think that all musicians have to fulfill immediate needs using honest means whether it be in the music sector or elsewhere. It’s stupid to say that you don’t need to earn money. How else could you purchase your musical instruments and gear without it? More importantly, how can you keep yourself from going hungry without earning a single cent?
It’s also important to say that meeting those immediate needs would pave the way towards reaching any musician’s musical ideals. When you no longer worry about how to pay for your house, your car, your child’s college fund, etc., then of course you would be free to pursue writing that magnum opus you’ve been dreaming about. You could say that the Eraserheads would not have been able to write a concept album like “Fruitcake” without first recording “Ultraelectromagneticpop!”. The Who’s “Tommy” would never have come to life had they forgotten to write “My Generation”. Dream Theater would not have been able to write “Scenes From A Memory” without “Pull Me Under” opening up opportunities for them. You could say that it’s necessary to go and delve into the music you need before pursuing the music you want and love. It’s the bitter reality of life as a musician but the rewards awaiting those who persevere are sweet.
When will my reward come? That I do not know but I’m hoping it’s out there somewhere.