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Are you a musician? Is your group having issues? Ask Fan Landers! Critic Jessica Hopper has played in and managed bands, toured internationally, booked shows, produced records, worked as a publicist, and is the author of The Girls’ Guide to Rocking, a how-to for teen ladies. She is here to help you stop doing it wrong. Send your problems to her–confidentiality is assured, unless you want to use your drama as a ticket to Internet microfame.
I currently have a steady job, a mortgage and an awesome girlfriend. However, I want to fuck my shit up by making the switch to being a musician full-time again. I’m having a hard time dealing with the transition. All my time is taken up with gigs, practice, and recording sessions. Meanwhile I’m still working full-time to pay the bills. How do I find balance?
It sounds like you are barely in the transition. You are astride your transition; you made the choice but have not ceded anything on one side or the other. You seem to be aware of the issues of giving up straight life for the music grind, but something is holding you back from fully committing to either.
We went to high school together (full disclosure/word to Minnesota Center for Arts Education alumnus everywhere) and I know that you’re a talented drummer who has been playing for decades, so it’s not surprising that a 9-to-5 isn’t quite keeping you satisfied. That said, that you didn’t up and quit your life for your band speaks to the quality of your grown-up dude life and your interest in maintaining it as much as to the inherent risk of being dependent on drumming to pay your bills.
Your set up on the question tells me this is not about feeling hectic, this is about the fear of the consequences of doing something that probably looks like back-stepping to other people who believe you cannot hack being an adult, which is hopefully not the case. I am a staunch advocate that success is doing life/art on your terms–but circa 35 is usually when most people are quitting their bands and settling down, not the other way around, so you are likely going to have to deal with some judgment from other people about this choice. Sounds like you are already dealing with some of your own.
Quitting your job to be in at band at 35 could be the best or worst idea ever. Let’s walk it out: What is holding you back from jumping all in? Do you not have a reasonable savings? Are you scared of having to play in shitty jobber restaurant bands or roadie to make your mortgage payments? Or are you scared of being settled in your grown-up life where music is just a hobby? Is this a broaching-40 freakout? Do you just super-hate your job? You have to be really honest about what is motivating you.
Before you start tweaking either side of your life, you need to get to the marrow, because this is big and you cannot be lying to yourself about it or upselling your motivations to the people in your life. (Hash it out on paper if need be, but do not over-burden your woman with this; she needn’t be the one trying to talk you into or out of it.)
You need to reach out to someone who is in a position to tell you what the greener grass is like. I’m tasking you with talking to a handful (say three or four) of people who are older than you who do music as their job. Ask them what it’s really like. One of them needs to be someone with a family and a mortgage–someone with a spectrum of real world responsibilities–not just 50-year-old bachelors who play in blues bands, and not people who are in bands as a way to continue a high-functioning stoner lifestyle. Famous people do not count either.
Things to ask them: How do they do it? Are they happy? Are they having to give lessons on the side? Would they do it again? What would happen if their band broke up? How lean are the lean times? Take them out for a Shirley Temple and play 20 questions. Mull their answers and get all Ghost of Christmas Yet to Come in your mind–do you want their life? Once you pass 30, you have no excuse for making uninformed decisions.
You are unmarried, don’t have kids to feed and you live in a Southern college town–you can probably get by on not very much. Judging solely by your girlfriend’s online trail journal/pictures of her goats (I Googled her, duh), she is an awesome, free-spirited, can-do gal that loves you (on Instragram at least) so perhaps she is down to take that ride with you as you follow your muse. Maybe you can sweeten the deal by feeding her goats when she is at work. It sounds like you are in a good life position to jump back into it.
Just keep in mind you are not 22, so just make sure you really have the energy to do it and the temerity to potentially significant downgrade your lifestyle. Don’t rule out having some little jobby-job so that you are not mooching off your lady (or anyone) and can take her to the movies or buy her some $22 hiking socks just ’cause. You are no less pure an artist because your part-time gig is what keeps you afloat.