Is Music a Viable Career Choice?

Rant of the Day:

Is being a musician actually a viable career choice?

Jazz artists, even famous ones like recording artists Wes Montgomery and Kenny Dorham, at various times in their lives have struggled to make a decent income.   Kenny Dorham, who played with Charlie Parker, and has influenced a vast number of musicians with his playing, had to work in the post office, and then in a music store towards the end of his short life.  Kenny died at the age of 48.  Wes Montgomery, now considered one of the most influential jazz guitar players of all time had many recordings, but really came into his own on Verve with large productions with strings.  Hank Mobley is one of the MOST recorded jazz saxophonists in history, on multiple recordings with the famous Blue Note label, as leader and sideman.  Yet his life was marred by alcohol and excesses, and without proper help, he died without much money at age 55.

Once someone told me, you’re on stage, you’re performing, the audience loves you, you feel exhilarated and then when it’s over you’re back in your hotel room, drained and empty while the audience goes home on a musical high.  Not many people understand on a cosmic level, how much musicians “give” to people who enjoy their art.

But now the market is flooded with people who study jazz NOTES at colleges and music science.  Educated beyond belief with speed and technique that is unworldly, yet many are not expressing any soul or reaching people (of course amongst the herd come brilliantly gifted musicians, and I think music schools are great and the best place to study music, but I’m speaking in terms on the industry and art now) because a lot of jazz is calculated brain music.  Jazz should have three things, DANCE, MELODY and BLUES.  If you listen closely to Ornette Coleman, John Coltrane, Don Cherry, and Eric Dolphy, you still will hear these elements in their music at all times.  Jazz is historically a DANCE music, not a sitting and listening music.

Jazz has not been popular music since the 60’s really, and really started dying in the 50’s when it’s child, R & B came out, and led to it’s next child,  rock and roll.  R & B and rock were dance, party musics, and it squashed it’s boring parents, Jazz, like a bug.  Soon Jazz had another child.  Funk.  When the Beatles hit the US, and those first concerts happened, the promoters had NEVER seen anything like it, it changed music and the industry forever.  It made the idea of having 100-300 people at a concert obsolete, the promoters said, these guys sold out in thousands!  The Beatles had 8000 people in the Washington Coliseum in 1964, the old days were over!!

At any rate, nowadays there are so many well trained musicians, but no business industry is left, there is no recording industry or living wage jobs for the every day musician, no jingles, no radio music, no TV music jobs (like back in the 50’s and 60’s when The Wrecking Crew, with Los Angeles musicians,  Hal Blaine, Carol Kaye, Glen Cambell, Plas Johnson, Jackie Kelso etc played on every rock and TV show recording that was made.  Nowadays, no big record deals, no contracts, no music union gigs, teaching jobs at universities have maybe 8 new positions per year, and it is fought over.  A doctorate is the new masters degree.  Many can get a job with a masters of course, but most now want that doctorate in music.   Most of us teach other people how to play music, that’s how we financially survive, and then we send them out into the world and the cycle continues!

Let’s throw into the mix the iPhone and other devices with streaming services (where artists get checks, for example, in the amount of $1.80 for the use of their recordings), and downloads and sharing and youtube, Mp3s etc, a musician now will never sell 20 million records like Michael Jackson again.  David Sanborn has had a great career, but he said the days of him selling 1 million jazz records are finished.  Artist make 1 to 5 points on the dollar with record label deals that is they get 5 cents on a every dollar sold.  Ray Charles made a great deal like that AND he said I want to OWN my music, recordings which was UNHEARD OF PREVIOUSLY.  The label broke and said yes.  Of course he was Ray Charles and we are not.

Most artists for Motown became broke, no money, no good contracts, no residuals, that’s the reason they worked the rest of their life.  One artist, vocalist Darlene Love had Number one hit records, and ended up working as a maid!  “Darlene also vividly recalls the period in her life when she disappeared from the music scene and fell on hard times. One day, while working as a maid in Beverly Hills, she heard herself on the radio and vowed to make a comeback, and so she has, with appearances in all four Lethal Weapon movies, starring roles on Broadway and headlining concert tours worldwide.”   Maybe you remember seeing her on The David Letterman Show, he loved her voice so much he put her on his show every December singing her song, “Christmas”. (I miss that nowadays!)

David Sanborn: let’s say he sold a million records back in 1981, he got a dollar per record-that’s a million dollars for him, but now even Sanborn can’t do that now.  He lives off his residuals and tours with his band makes him money.  And he is one the THE most important pop jazz artists of history.

So some folks are using Youtube to make themselves famous, and now a lot musicians are independent, using their own money to record, promote, make a website etc.  Unheard of in the past.  The artist had all of this paid for by the record company before.  That’s over,  except for those who make a “big break”.  TV shows make it appear that anyone can get lucky and make a big “break”, but that is TV fantasy.  Most artists who it seemed like they got “discovered” and had “instant success” really had years of preparation and practice getting to that one point.  Including the Beatles themselves!

Well, things might continue to get worse, because now people can’t tell that the music they hear is more watered down, and not as relevant as it was before.  A lot of pop music is manufactured in the studio to make money as a “hit”, with someone singing  with a “look”,  and has nothing to do with making a relevant piece of music.  Snarky Puppy is a good, funky band, but so many people are not aware of the path to that led to Snarky Puppy via Tower of Power, James Brown, Parliament, The Brothers Johnson, The Brecker Brothers, Weather Report, Herbie Hancock, Miles Davis’s Electric band etc etc.   Knowing music history makes it more interesting and understandable.

Chicago, Earth wind and Fire, Emerson Lake and Palmer, Yes, Sly and The Family Stone, Marvin Gaye, Stevie Wonder, Genesis, Lionel Richie–once people had to sit at the piano or with a guitar in their hand and learn chords and write songs, now you have artificial musicians using computers and stuff to “write “ music.  Melody. What happened to that novel idea.  Beatles.  Carole King.  Dolly Parton.  Holland-Dozier-Holland.  Song writers.  Where is the music now?  And where is the concept that we as a society love music so much, that we will pay a musician or artist a living wage?  Well, even Mozart died poor.

Music is one of the most important aspects of any great civilization and music historically has been used for Dancing, Singing, God and Communication.   It’s an embarrassment that artists have such a difficult time making a decent wage.

Me: “I’m a musician……”  Reply: “Yes, but what do you really do, what’s your job?”

Rant off.

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