One Drummer’s Journey Ep. 1
In this episode I play three swanky private events in three cities in three days. Lot’s of driving and lot’s of great music making!
One Drummer’s Journey Ep. 1
In this episode I play three swanky private events in three cities in three days. Lot’s of driving and lot’s of great music making!
In the 9 years I’ve been teaching music I’ve never complained about a private student who won’t practice or is uninterested. I’ve never had to hustle to keep a full roster of students. I’ve never had to chase parents around for money.
The struggles that I’ve listened to my fellow private instructors talk share just haven’t been mine and I think I’ve figured out why. It all comes down to setting and enforcing expectations. Right now I teach 11 students primarily on Monday and Tuesday afternoons and I’m always excited to go in to work because I know I’m going to love it.
The secret for me hasn’t just been setting the practice expectations but setting them early.
Before the first lesson I email the parent my lesson policy and ask them to go over it with the student. You can view that here and you’re more than welcome to make use of it as a starting point for your own if you want. One of the most important parts of the policy is the clear practice standards. Everyone knows before they walk into the room for the first lesson that they’re expected to practice 30 minutes a day. For the first couple lessons when this is a new and exciting experience I almost never have to bring up practicing. But right around lesson number four is usually when I have to enforce expectations.
As a private teacher I’m limited to what “enforce” can mean. I obviously can’t dock their grade at school or directly affect their schedule at home. However, I can allow them to be embarrassed by their lack of work. Once it becomes evident that the work hasn’t been done I let them struggle for awhile. It gets awkward and the awkward is good. They need to feel the discomfort that comes from not working hard. Once they realize they’re not getting anywhere they usually look at me sheepishly and I look right back at them, probably with a minuscule grin and a raised eye brow.
“How much time did you spend on this?”
“Not very much…”
“I know. It doesn’t feel very good does it?”
This is all done with a small smile on. I don’t want them thinking I’m angry, I’m not. Obviously the outcome I’m looking for is better practice discipline, not a sad student so I don’t want it to feel too confrontational. Just enough to elicit a proper response.
After this I remind them about the practice expectations and ask them if they’re going to blow me away next lesson with the good work they put in. Then they’ll say yes and then we’ll continue the lesson as though the problem never came up. After that it’ll be months before we have this conversation again, if ever. Expectations established.
In the very rare case that I have to discuss practice discipline with a student a second time I’m much more serious about it. I usually end the lesson early after guilting them (which is included in the lesson policy). When this moment comes up I promise them they won’t meet their goals unless they put the work in. I remind them that I’m not cheap and that mom and dad are making sacrifices so that they can have this opportunity. Lastly I tell them “If this happens again I’ll have to stop lessons. I don’t want your parents wasting money and I have a waiting list of students who want to do the work.” There have only been 3 or 4 instances where this was necessary in the entire time I’ve taught.
I have the full latitude I need to do something like this because I work for myself and not at a music store. I bet if you work work at a music store you may have cringed at reading that. Being independent, I’m able to worry more about quality of students than quantity. The only boss I need to please is myself. This results in engaged students who’ve studied with me throughout their entire high school careers.
That longevity comes from students being challenged. Kids are not dumb and kids don’t want to be lazy. They want to be industrious. They asked for lessons because they want to put some of their industry into making music. If i don’t challenge them they won’t get what they asked for, they’ll get bored and they’ll quit.
One of my favorite things to do is say “Remember back when you couldn’t play the snare drum at all? Look at you now!” “Remember when you couldn’t read music at all? “Look at you now!” When they’re reminded of the fruits of their work they want to work harder!
One of the things my policy shows is I am not entertainment. Students don’t ask their parents for lessons to be entertained. They want to learn about music so I’m here to teach. Of course we have fun but the fun is a byproduct of the work, not the other way around.
Lastly and most importantly we celebrate. The hi fives I’ve given students are probably upwards of 700 by now. When a student comes prepared to lessons they know I’ll be excited about it. I’m not the hard teacher who frowns when it’s bad and just un-frowns when it’s good. When it’s good I might have too much energy to stay sitting. I might have to let a not-so-quiet “whoo!” out. They will hear “Good job, I’m proud of you.”
Rewarding the best behavior is just as important as discouraging the undesirable one.
Within the first 4 lessons every student knows exactly what to expect from me and knows what I expect from them. If they come unprepared it’s going to be a drag. If they come prepared it’s going to be a party and we’re going to get some excellent work done.
What can I say? We have a lot of parties!
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In his book “The War of Art” Stephen Pressfield talks about the struggle of the Artist against what he calls Resistance – the unseen but certainly experienced force that stops us from getting our work done. The Artist who overcomes Resistance is what he calls the Professional. In one chapter, “A Professional Seeks Order,” after reminiscing about a disorganized life he used to live he says:
“The professional cannot live like that. He is on a mission. He will not tolerate disorder. He eliminates chaos from his world in order to banish it from his mind. He wants the carpet vacuumed and the threshold swept, so the Muse may enter and not soil her gown.”
Over the last year I’ve been trying to find ways to make things in my life more orderly. I was the most productive I’ve ever been the last couple years of college. Some of that came from inherent aspects of college like a schedule of classes and expectations on a time table.
Others were personal choices. I had a definite practicing appointment every week day. I’d wake up at 5 and be at the school around 6, playing the drums by 6:10 if not earlier. I used a practice journal. I organized a binder with all of my materials. I came up with systems for practicing and organizing my ideas.
Now, almost two years into the professional musician career, disorder is the hallmark of my life. One day I’m teaching lessons, the next day I’m driving two hours to Ft. Myers for a gig. The day after that I teach a percussion class at the middle school, a jazz class at the high school and have a gig that night. The next day I have no appointments but a ton of office work to do.
Most days I enjoy that. It’s freedom, it’s liberating. But some days I’ll admit it’s maddening. The biggest problem was the reduction in productivity in 2015. I think I moved backward in a lot of areas where I had been growing. Last year (2016) saw an entirely different kind of growth and I think a big part of it was the intentional pursuit of order. Below I’d like to share some softwares and habits that have reduced complexity and increased order in my life. Ultimately allowing last year to be my most productive and creative yet.
Clean Environment, Clean Aesthetic
I began making a big effort to keep things neat. I’ve never been a dirty person or a super neat person. Always floating around acceptable. I also never bothered with decorations of any kind. I’ve been keeping everything neat and adding just a few small things to my room and my environment has become welcoming. I love walking into my room now. It’s beautiful to me. I’ve got a couple nice paintings a friend did for me. The bed is made, the desk is clear. Everything has a place and everything is in its place.
With an atmosphere that’s so well taken care of, I feel creative. I feel like there’s space in the room for me to brainstorm, to pace, to practice, to write, to compose. If the muse comes by, she won’t soil her gown.
A Place for Everything and Everything in Its Place
The first solution for an organized space is having fewer things, of course. The more stuff you have, the more you’re responsible for and the more likely you are to have clutter. Clutter is unattractive so let’s get rid of it.
But after that, everything needs a place to go. I don’t have any loose papers. Instead I have a small file and an inbox on my desk. Papers of the desktop variety have only three destinations. If they require action, forms to fill out, business receipts or outgoing mail for instance, they go in the inbox and I take care of them on Mondays. If they need to be kept, they go in the file. If they’re not actionable and they don’t need to be kept, they’re trash. So they go in the trash.
Everything from the cord I use to record my electronic drums into my iPhone to my bag has a specific place. I also prefer hidden to out in the open. So for instance, my wallet, keys and watch all go inside a drawer instead of on top of my nightstand. I bought a few things so that the things I have could have places too. Like the inbox I mentioned earlier as well as the night stand with multiple drawers. And you’ve got to make your bed too. All of this creates an elegant and organized appearance. It’s pleasant to look at. Looking around is satisfying.
For the last two years I’ve used one bank account for my business and personal spending and separated them using Quickbooks Self-Employed. While the software worked nicely, it was ultimately an enormous hassle.
I recently separated my personal spending from my business spending with two bank accounts and I’m already seeing huge benefits. If you’re curious about this talk to an accountant and they can help you out. I just wanted to point out that it’s been helpful in reducing complexity. Unnecessary complexity is just as unattractive and counterproductive as disorder so this may be an area you consider making changes in.
I’m constantly driving, often long distances for my work. I’ve been using MileIQ recently for tracking my mileage and I’ve found it be very accurate. Letting a software track my mileage for me reduces complexity. I review everything on Mondays to make sure everything’s accurate.
To keep my money in order I use a budgeting software called YNAB. I would encourage you to check them out regardless of what you do for a living. Not only is the software excellent but their 4 Rules, free classes and podcast have changed the way I think about money for the better. I also do the budgeting for the week on Mondays.
I don’t enjoy email. It often feels like the ultimate waste of time. But I’ve figured out the best way to handle it for my purposes. I check email a couple times a day. I read the subjects and decide if I need to read it. If it needs reading immediately, I open it and read every word, take necessary actions and archive it. If based on the subject it doesn’t need immediate action and I’m 100% confident I can ignore it, I ignore it until Monday. If I’m only 99% that doesn’t cut it and I’ve got to go through my process reading every word. If it needs action but the action can wait until Monday I flag it and leave it in the inbox.
On Mondays I clear my inbox. Anything remaining that needs action gets handled and archived. Anything that’s junk gets unsubscribed from too.
Wunderlist is a free task management software that let’s you organize your individual projects into folders with specific tasks and check them off as they’re completed. I use it to organize my day and to brainstorm ideas. As projects become more solid I put concrete steps down. At the beginning of a day I can star individual tasks from projects, put them in a logical order and then check them off one by one.
This keeps my time organized and focused. There’s no flailing about during the day wondering what to do. I just make a plan and then work my plan.
My Music Staff
At first when I had just a couple private students I would organize everything in my head. Then I shifted to an Excel spreadsheet. Then I shifted to a Google spreadsheet. Then inside iCal. I would regularly mess up payment schedules and I’m lucky none of the parents ever gave me any hassle because I would have deserved it.
Finally a few months ago I happened upon My Music Staff and everything is much more organized now. I can access all my students’ information, send invoices, reference a calendar specifically for students and make schedule changes from any device any time. It has done a huge amount for me in reducing complexity. You can learn more about it here.
At some points in the year I’m practicing the drums less and composing, reading, learning theory etc. more. But during the periods when I’m practicing hard I use a practice schedule and a notebook. On Sundays I look at my calendar and based on what’s on it I schedule practice times and then I try to stick to those throughout the week. Inevitably there’s rescheduling but for the most part I stick to the plan well. I have a vlog about this that you can check out here.
I also try to commit to a particular practice regimen for a month at a time. This prevents aimless confused practice and also prevents being distracted by the next YouTube drumming sensation. I don’t need to work on that new lick. I need to work on what I’ve planned. If I remember that new lick by the end of the month then I can put it into the plan for the month.
I was beginning to get overwhelmed with handling so much business every day. While budgeting and tidying are nice and necessary they’re not creative. I was spending more time doing emails and dealing with receipts than I was brainstorming and practicing. That’s not going to work.
I finally had the idea last month to relegate all of the stale, business and home stuff to Mondays. I have an Evernote document called “Mondays” that lists all of my tasks to get done. I simply obey my list every Monday and it’s been great.
The business part looks like this:
I also do all of my cleaning, laundry and cut my hair on Mondays.
This could be any day for you, of course. I chose Mondays because they’re the most consistent part of my weekly schedule. I’ve been teaching lessons on Mondays at roughly the same time for 7 years. Every other day of my week is constantly changing but generally Sunday nights I get to bed at a reasonable hour and can wake up early and fresh on Monday to handle everything on the list before I leave to teach private lessons.
It makes for a long and tiring day but it leaves a clean, worry-free orderly atmosphere for creativity the remainder of the week.
Happy New Year folks! I hope what I’ve written here can be helpful if you’re looking to put some order in your life too. You may have some friends on social media who could benefit, as well. Would you consider using one of the buttons below to share? I’m hoping to reach more people with tools for Happy Drumming this year. May your year be full of success and fulfillment!
I was offered a year long, international tour with a major Broadway musical three Sundays ago. Dubai, Turkey, Germany, New Zealand, Japan, Singapore and more. I had one day to decide.
I turned it down.
How’s that for an introduction?
The details of me passing on the offer aren’t the purpose of this particular piece, I’m sure I’ll address that in the future. Instead I want to detail what led me to get that phone call. I had been auditioning for that phone call since my sophomore year of high school and didn’t even know it.
I worked really hard in high school and my percussion teacher noticed it and helped me get into his alma mater. In college I worked really hard, and two grad students noticed and asked me to be a part of their graduate recitals. I worked really hard for their recitals and their professor asked me to play a gig with him. With every form of nervousness I said yes, of course. I played a couple gigs with that professor and did well.
He noticed and recommended me for a musical at a nearby theater. I worked really hard to make sure I had the music ready for the first rehearsal and then I played a fairly consistent run of the show for 2 months. The music director noticed.
Then a year later, that same music director gives me that potentially life altering call 3 Sundays ago.
Did you notice a pattern? I worked really hard and they noticed.
Are you someone who wants to be a professional musician?
People will tell you you can’t do this. “It’s unstable.” “It’s not legitimate.” “What’s your backup plan?” “Are you sure?” “Maybe he’ll grow out of it.”
It’s probably out of sincere concern for you too. They want the best for you and all they’ve seen are the depressed, drunken, broke and broken artist tropes presented by movies and television. They don’t want you to be depressed, drunken, broke or broken so they’re trying to caution you.
What they don’t know are there are many thousands of musicians making a successful living in many thousands of ways. They don’t know those people are out there because those people aren’t making a lot of noise about it. They’re busy doing their work.
This was life confirming for me. This taught me that if I’ll just work really hard, I can get that kind of a phone call. Phone calls like that become careers. If I took that tour and aced it, I would be a part of the touring musical theater circuit. I could potentially stick to that for many years if I wanted to.
And don’t get it in your mind that I’m something special either. I’m no childhood prodigy. I started percussion in 7th grade. I had good teachers and I practiced a lot and I try to be a good person. That’s it. No fairy dust, just waking up at 5 am to practice when I was in college.
The more I live the life of a professional musician the more I realize there’s a straightforward formula to this. Work really, really hard and be someone people want to be around. If you do that, you can leave the rest to those forces that are out of your control. When those forces open a door, you’ll be prepared to cross the threshold.
When they tell you you can’t do it, smile, hear them out, say thank you and let it motivate you to prove them wrong. Friend, work really hard and nail every audition, even the ones you don’t know you’re taking. Soon they’ll be calling you instead of me.
Do you believe in super powers?
I don’t either, exactly. But wouldn’t it be cool to have one? What if I told you we as musicians have something pretty close? I’m convinced we do.
The day after the Orlando shooting I had several private lessons and I discussed this Leonard Bernstein quote with my more mature students:
I asked them what they thought it meant and we came to some important conclusions together.
One of them (which I hadn’t thought of) was that our reaction to the strife in our life can be to make music for ourselves. To practice our instruments or another art and use that as our way of dealing with the anxiety life hands to us. To express what is within in a constructive manner rather than a violent one.
The second one, the one I had in mind, was that our music-making can have a significant effect on the audience that hears us play. At any given performance, there will certainly be untold pain in the crowd. There may be recent divorces, family tragedies and financial woes.
What if the way we played our notes could lead the person considering suicide to give tomorrow a chance? What if the way we sang our lyrics made a couple considering divorce remember the magic they used to have? What if a well placed silence could be the thing that stops someone from walking into Pulse night club, killing 49 and wounding 53?
Many people use live music as a way to escape, for relief, as a way to recover. Whether its at a concert hall or a bar, a night club or a corporate gig we will always be handed the opportunity to make people feel. What they feel is up to hundreds of factors, yes, but one of those factors is us.
Is there potential for a well-delivered show to offer relief from a year’s worth of turmoil? It happened to me at the beginning of this year when Snarky Puppy came to Tampa and laid it all out before my eyes. I’m not a crier, but if I were a crier I would have flooded the place. While 2015 was the best year of my professional life it was easily the worst in my personal life. They took the misery off my shoulders, I felt it all flow, (maybe melt?) off my body. I don’t have an explanation for it, but I bet you have a similar story to tell too.
I think the ability to do that for people is a super power, or at least as close as we can get.
Maybe that’s arrogant, or wishful thinking but after so many “You made me remember my dad”‘s and “I’ve had a terrible week and you took it all away”‘s I’m convinced it’s reality.
May we be so devoted to our craft that the intensity and beauty of our music heals the hearts of our audience.
My condolences and moral support are with the families of the victims. My deep affection is with the survivors and with the many who are donating blood, money, time, and tons of love to those who have been affected. You are truly beautiful.
The terrorists win once we’re terrified. My prayer is that as the world appears to get darker and darker, we’ll see the light in the thousands who always react with love to tragedies and that we won’t let fear stop us from growing closer to one another.
What are your thoughts? Have you had an experience with the healing power of music? I’d love for you to write me an email and tell me about it.
A top question I’m asked by students and strangers alike is the question of stability. Is being a musician a stable way to make an income? This is the wrong question to ask, of course. The better question to ask is “Is this musician stable?” or “Are you a stable musician?”
They’re asking if I’m scraping by monetarily or living comfortably. Again, this can’t be a blanket question for the whole career of music-making. It’s too broad. Each musician has a different career, a different set of income sources, a different set of abilities, and a different money history as well.
I’d like to present some questions that a freelancer in any capacity (not just music) could ask themselves or be asked to determine if they’re stable or not.
None of these are end-alls. For each of these I could point to a musician who’s making a good stable living but doesn’t have the “right” answer to a few of these. These are more like individual metrics that add up to “stability.” The more of each of these someone has in their favor the more stable they would be.
So here we go:
1. Are they well connected? – The size of a person’s network means a larger pool to pull work from. The more people aware of a person’s talent and to which a person’s talent is applicable, the more opportunity will come their way in the way of referrals and bookings.
2. Do they have a low overhead? – Car payments, mortgages, student loan debt, and high monthly expenses while not inherently dangerous, can become precarious when they start to add up. Someone who’s doing their best to keep these kinds of expenses manageable based on their income is less likely to get in money trouble.
3. Are they saving for “True Expenses” and rainy days? – The idea of a “True Expense” as far as I know was coined by the folks at YNAB, the budgeting software that I happily use. We should expect that our 6 month car insurance payment will be coming every 6 months, that Christmas will come every year, and that our cars will breakdown and will be expensive to fix. If we expect those and save for them now we won’t be caught off guard when the time comes. Stability is when sudden changes don’t catch you off guard. The better prepared a person is for True Expenses the more stable they are. Most emergencies and surprises don’t need to be.
4. Are their talents diverse? – The more abilities a musician has the more work they can accept. Musicians that can play almost any style of music authentically and can read music are best equipped to be successful. Being a good educator, being able to repair instruments, and being able to write and arrange music are just more strengths increase stability.
5. Are they well liked? – People want to work with their homies. It’s an assumption that we’re good at what we’re doing. After that, it’s all about being enjoyable to be around. I love working for and with people who have warm auras, friendly smiles and good quality hugs. Drunk people, loud people, egotistical people, and selfish people are not enjoyable to make music with. Actually, they’re just not enjoyable. Music is a people occupation just like most of the other arts. Good people skills lead to stability. Bad ones take away from stability, there’s only so much people are willing to put up with.
6. Are they professional? – Things like dressing appropriately, showing up on time, learning the music, playing the music appropriately and selflessly, answering the phone etc. keep band leaders happy and thus add stability.
7. Are their gigs diverse? – Similar to number 4, it’s good to work for a lot of different people. No gig lasts forever – this is the best assumption to work from. New musicians move into town, venues close, economies ebb and flow, and relationships get strained. It helps to not be too dependent on any particular gig. “What would happen if this gig ended?” is a good question to ask. If “not much” were the answer, that’s more stability. In this regard, a lot of musicians have more stability than “normal folks.”
8. Is there debt? – Debt is a crippling, paralyzing, anchoring nightmare of a monster. Simply put the more debt, the less stability.
In my own career I’ve made these 8 things a top priority. The result has been a stable living. At this moment I’m the drummer for two very busy bands, serve as the house drummer of a weekly jam session, occasionally play at Busch Gardens and Adventure Islands, teach 7 private lessons per week, and teach/write percussion arrangements for two schools. In between those regular weekly, monthly and seasonal gigs I sub for lots of drummers in the area, play musicals, freelance all around Florida and teach percussion and jazz classes in schools all around the county.
As I have the opportunity I’m cognizant of expanding my network and skill set. Practicing good money habits, especially aggressive budgeting (get YNAB!) and saving.
I use these 8 metrics to determine the stability of my career. Keeping my skills, network and jobs diverse, remaining professional and managing money well is all it takes to be a stable freelancer.
With a little bit of planning and effort its absolutely possible to be a stable musician.
What are your thoughts or questions on freelancing and stability? I want to hear from my readers, send me an email!
This is a question I get a lot and it doesn’t have a straightforward answer. That said, it may be a surprise to you that a day in my life is probably not incredibly different than a day in other professions as far as the contents. They’re just at different times of the day and in a different order and I’m in charge instead of someone else.
A day in my life will have some combination of these three categories:
Work at Home:
Work Away from Home:
The Same Stuff You Do Every Day:
The main difference is while someone with a more “normal” job may be relaxing at 7pm, I might be relaxing at 3pm. While their work day might begin at 9 and end at 5, my work day could start at 2pm and maybe end at 1am when I get home from a gig. If there’s not a gig that night my workday might be really short. I usually get to cook my breakfast and my lunch where they might only get to cook their dinner.
Weekends are when I work the most and I have no prescribed days off. So I might work 11 or 12 days in a row before I get what most people call “Saturday.” Sometimes I’ll get 2 or three Saturdays in a row too.
I don’t normally wake up early unless I have an appointment that requires my physical presence or church. Yep, you read correctly. I’m pretty much only waking up early for Jesus.
We musicians drive a bunch too. Far more than most people. The most I’ve driven for a gig is 3 1/2 hours. 2 hours isn’t uncommon and 1 hour is typical. So a 3 hour gig when you include leaving early (lateness is unacceptable, people – construction, car accidents and snowbirds will make you late if you leave on time) driving there and driving back, a 3 hour gig is really at least a 5 1/2 hour commitment.
As you can see, most of this is self-directed work and that’s the way I like it. I like the feeling of holding the responsibility of my success in my hands. I also like the feeling of being able to measure my success the way I want to. For some people success is money and “moving on up.” For me success is autonomy, being able to do the work that I want to do, being able to give of my time and money to those who need it and being creative on a daily basis.
Aside from some obvious differences, we musicians aren’t terribly different from what everyone else does. That said, I don’t know that many of us really have a “day in the life,” to offer. Every day is an unexpected adventure. I don’t think I’ve duplicated the schedule of any given day since I started making my living as a professional musician.
I wouldn’t have it any other way.
I haven’t quite figured out how to explain what I do for a living.
Most occupations need no explanation or maybe very little, but that’s just not the case as a musician. Being a musician comes with the stigma (perpetuated mostly by movies, books, media and fearful parents) that artists are probably poor and starving, possibly lazy, maybe uneducated and certainly impractical.
Not the actual case. But since that’s the assumption and I’d prefer not to be thought of in those terms, it requires some explaining.
I think it comes from the foreign nature of an artistic profession to non-artists. If the primary exposure to musicians has been to the two polar opposites of Beyonce and that starving artist trope, of course someone making a blue collar living as a professional musician might be unsettling.
After I tell someone “I’m a professional musician, I play the drums,” they say “Do you teach?” Or when I get to the part in my explanation where I mention teaching they say “Oh you teach!” Like maybe I was being a bit deceptive when I said I play the drums for a living because that’s, you know, impossible and they figured out the truth like Lieutenant Columbo or Adrian Monk.
People. I’m not exaggerating this happens like clockwork.
It’s when they hear that I’m a teacher that they become relieved, even excited. They can now wipe the nervous sweat from their brow saying “Whew, turns out he’s on the conveyor belt like me after all.”
Full disclosure, I actually charge super low when I teach and its not my primary source of income. I teach to have a part in sharing music with young people. Music did a lot for me, great music teachers did a lot for me too and I’ve found a way to teach that fits with my life priorities. I don’t teach because I cant play (“Those who cannot do, teach” is another trope that’s got to go in every subject, not just the arts), or because I don’t make enough playing. I make enough playing, but I want to also be a teacher.
Anyway, once people hear “teacher” they latch onto that and suddenly feel very comfortable. I can see their posture normalize and their face un-scrunch. From then on the questions revolve around my teaching, not my playing, even though that’s not actually the focus of my profession.
This particular misunderstanding is just one example of many. I’ve just come to embrace the fact that this occupation is a bit hard to grasp if you’re not a part of it. We’ll always get questions, some accusatory in nature, because we’re doing something out of the ordinary. This used to really bother me but now I’ve come to understand that it’s just one of the costs of living a creative lifestyle.
Totally worth it.
I’ll never forget March of 2016, the month I drove and worked way too much. The way it normally works is if someone says “Hey, can you play March 9th?” I check my calendar and if the date is empty I mark it and commit. I just committed to way too much this time and it really wore me out.
There was one day during the month where I was going to be driving about two and a half hours both directions to make some decent money. I didn’t at all feel like making the drive. I wasn’t even that excited to play the gig. I don’t mind driving long distances and the gig was a good and fun gig, I was just so tired and worn out from the amount of work I’d been doing already that the only thing I wanted to do was sit on my couch and relax.
This moment caused an important realization. This gig paid well, but did it pay as well as sitting on my couch right now would? Absolutely not. Sitting on my couch instead of getting in my car for a gig I wasn’t excited for with the amount of exhaustion I had going on was worth $300, maybe $400. Like if I could have paid to not to do the gig, I would have paid up to $400 at that moment.
Money is nothing more than a tool that enables us to craft the things we want into our lives. Without a direction money is nothing more than potential. I needed rest more than I needed more potential. I’d made good money for the month already and there was good money waiting for me in coming weeks. I had the potential I needed. My living expenses were more than covered, I didn’t need the money from this gig. I didn’t need more potential, I needed to rest.
The value of money is giving us the potential to do what we want with it. It’s a means to an end, it’s not an end. The end that I wanted was to vegetate on my couch but the end I was going to get instead was more means. This is backwards.
We’ve got to be guardians of our time, no one else is going to guard it for us. If we guard it well we can avoid burnout, if we don’t we might have to drive two and a half hours to a gig instead of recharge our batteries.
I had an ideal day today.
I woke up at 7:00 AM to coach two middle school percussion sections at one of the most successful middle school band programs in the area. Talented band director, receptive kids. Beautiful.
I stopped at Sam Ash to look at some equipment and ended up trading licks with another drummer in the drum room. He asked me to show him some of what I was playing and we had a good talk. Beautiful.
On my way out of Sam Ash I got a text message about another teaching gig that would start next week. Beautiful.
I got on the highway and took the scenic route, (I275 South) to where I was headed (Naples, Florida). I stopped at the rest stop before the Skyway Bridge. As the name suggests, this is a very tall bridge surrounded by a lot of gorgeous water. I decided on a whim to stop there. I climbed out on the rocks, found a perch overlooking the pristine, glassy and still sea water, read Psalm 51, prayed and considered how huge the world is and how small I am. Beautiful.
I got back on the highway, connected to I75 South and stopped in Sarasota. Here I took a nap waiting to hear from my dear, dear friend Brittanny. We sat in the car for a couple hours after I got some food and just talked and listened to music. You don’t need to make plans with a friend like her, all you need to do is plan on being in the same place and you can be certain the experience will be fulfilling. 2 incredible hugs, many laughs and several wonderful conversations later I was back on the highway. Beautiful.
On the way down I75 I got a call from a North Carolina number (“Huh? I don’t know anyone in North Carolina”) who wanted to use me for some good paying gigs that were already booked. I found out that one of my teachers recommended me to this guy. A really great teacher who did a lot to shape the way I see music in just 2 semesters at the end of my college education. Beautiful.
Eventually I got to the gig, set my drums up and had the best time making some beautiful music with some beautiful people. We got funky, we played Latin, we did some swing – I even got to play some Baiao. I played some solos I was really happy with and several times the singer, guitar player and bass player all but made me stop playing because of how wonderful they sounded. There was one time I almost got teary eyed at the idea that this what I do. I didn’t. But I was really close. Once in awhile I just look up at the sky and involuntarily thank God that this is out there to be had and that I’m having it. Tonight was one of those nights. Beautiful.
Now it’s 1:05am and I’m on Sanibel, the island I lived on for 18 years, in the house I lived in for around 18 years, on a couch that’s probably not remotely that old but is still a relatively comfy couch. My parents and grandmother are sleeping in their rooms but they’ll wake me up at a frustratingly early hour I’m sure. I’ll quickly forget the early wake up call and we’ll spend quality time with each other – I get to visit them sometimes when I play nearby. Then I’ll hop back on the highway in time to play another gig closer to Tampa, where I live now. Beautiful.
This is the life I live.
Of course not every day is such a wonderful highlight reel. Some days are tough emotionally. Some days are all work and very little fun. But some days are like today.
I don’t enjoy a life like this without a cost, every good thing has a cost. There’s a degree of insanity that goes into choosing an entrepreneurial lifestyle like this one instead of the cookie cutter life most live. While I enjoy a pretty regular income, it’s not exactly predictable. While most people are free at night, night time is when I’m working. I don’t have anyone telling me what to do, everything is self-directed, whether its success or failure its on me. I can’t complain to my boss because my boss is me. It’s a lot of driving too. A lot of driving.
But I’m not forced into the rat race. I have time to make an impromptu stop at the water and be with my thoughts. I have time to stop in Sarasota and grab two of the best hugs humankind can experience.
And days like this? I get to enjoy days like today often! Every couple weeks or so I get a life-confirmingly incredible day like to day. A day where all of my emotional needs are filled to a surplus that’ll last a couple weeks or until the next life-confirmingly incredible day. Whichever comes first. This is incredible! This is beautiful.
This life is just beautiful.
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