In 1968, as an 8th-grader in LaMarque, Texas, I took Shop Class. It wasn’t that I longed for a future of building furniture or fixing cars. I didn’t. (Nothing wrong with either of those fields. They just weren’t for me.) No. Like most every 8th-grade Texas boy in the 1960s, I was required to take a year of Wood Shop & Metal Shop. (How times have changed.)
Let’s just say that Shop Class was not a great fit for me. There is a reason why, all these years later, I still have ten healthy fingers: I do not own power tools. I inherited my mother’s gift of wordplay and music rather than my father’s knack for making things with his hands. Believe me, there have been times I wished that were not so: Particularly in that 8th-grade year of Shop Class – where I spent an entire semester building the flimsiest little pool cue rack (which never once stood straight), while Joey Ashworth sat across the table from me completing a glass-doored cherry-wood gun cabinet that looked like it belonged in on the showroom floor of Haverty’s Furniture.
My dad never said it, but I’m pretty sure he worried about the future of his elder son, a boy who could not drive a nail straight or tighten a screw without dropping it three times. Hopefully, he took heart in the fact I made A’s in math and spelling.
That is not to say that I did not long to make things. I did. I wanted to make music. Interestingly, the older I get the more I realize that making music is every bit as much a craft as making furniture. And creative carpentry is probably every bit as much an art as composing music. The biggest difference between carpentry and composing is that carpentry is a useful survival skill for the coming Zombie Apocalypse. Composing? Not so much.
I have been very fortunate to have had an actual career writing and producing music for broadcast, records, and print for four decades. I now have terabytes of computer storage filled with recordings and a wall of bookshelves filled with printed music scores – all of which I “built by hand.” But it has never been easy to make a living writing music, and it is getting more difficult every year.
Somehow, a lot of people have come to think music is free. Folks who would never steal so much as a dime from their worst enemy think nothing of grabbing an MP3 from a friend, or running a quick photocopy of sheet music (for “convenience”), or uploading their favorite songs to YouTube without the publisher’s permission. None of these little infractions amount to much – just a penny or two. But those pennies add up – fast. Or at least they would add up if everybody paid for music. But they don’t – and that is our new reality.
This blog is not a rant about the injustices of people stealing music. But it is a “heads up” for those of you out there who write music and hope to get paid for it. Unless something significant changes, you’re not going to get paid. At least, you won’t be paid very much. But I know from experience (and you know in your heart), you’re gonna write music any way – because you have to. Writing music is an unstoppable force in your life. At times, it’s practically a curse.
So then, my hope is that you can hang on to the idea of writing music as a labor of love. Let’s face it, we ere drawn to make music first because we love it, because it nurtures our souls and expresses our innermost feelings. If you’re fortunate to make some cash from it – great. And if you decide to chase music as a career, promise me to do it with your eyes wide open. If I knew then what I know now…
Who am I kidding? I would still have chosen music. I didn’t even have a second option on my list of prospective careers back then. But maybe I would have experienced fewer frustrations along the way that often came as a result of uninformed expectations.
So, while I still have no useful skills to save my wretched self in the coming Zombie Apocalypse, at least my dad lived long enough to see I could indeed build something that other people found useful. I could build music.
What are you going to build today?