So here’s a funny thought. I am a musician by trade, and my children are way too young to know what they want to be yet. They think they know, but I don’t believe “Iron Man” is an actual job. At least not yet. But someday they will have to make career choices, and there is always a possibility that they would want to follow in my footsteps. So if they told me that they were going to be opera singers, or concert cellists, or robotic DJs of some sort, what would I say to them? Would they have my blessing? Do I believe in my field enough to be okay with my children participating in it?
I mean, let’s be honest. There are tons of things that I do that I would not want my children doing. I don’t want them to drink Coke at every meal. I don’t want them to stay up way too late watching “Game of Thrones” and then being all tired and grumpy the next day because they are exhausted and all of their television friends are dead. I don’t want them putting off tasks until the last second. I don’t want them loudly complaining about other people behind their backs, especially when those people happen to be accidentally passing by the open window that they are standing in front of. The list of terrible things I do, either by accident or quite on horrible purpose, goes on and on. And I suppose if they do all of those bad things, I will only have myself and my bad behavior modeling to blame. But is being a musician on that list?
Let’s look at the facts for a moment. First of all, I want my children to be happy. I want them to follow their dreams. But hold on, are those two always the same thing? Maybe we should separate them out. I want my children to follow their dreams. I want them to feel free to choose their own paths, without worrying about whether or not I approve of them. They could be doctors, or bakers, or experimental physicists, or minor league baseball mascots. As long as they feel excited about what they are doing, I’m happy for them. But are they happy? What if they dream of being famous musicians, and then spend years and years of their lives madly banging their heads against the failure wall and end up miserable? Is it possible to chase your dreams and never be satisfied?
Jim Carrey recently gave a speech which went viral, where he said that his father chose the safe route, did not chase his dreams, and failed anyway, which taught him to become a famous comedian. Which is a very inspirational sentiment, but I wonder if it is also slightly misleading. I wonder, what are the percentages of stand-up comics that become Jim Carrey, versus the percentages of accountants that have successful accounting careers? I have no data to back this up, but my feeling is that, yes, you can fail at anything, but it is a lot easier to fail at making a living being an artist than an actuary. In America, we are trained to believe that we are the special ones, who will make it when no one else can. But of course this is nonsense. We can’t all be at the top of our fields.
Plenty of movie stars have gone on public record saying that they are not allowing their children to become actors. They have seen the business, been used and abused by the industry, and now that they have gone through it, they want to protect their kids from it. Is this noble? Hypocritical? Defeatist? Are they taking the bullet for the children? If the life is so bad, why are they still in it? Do they think it is too late for themselves? Have they given up on life? It is all very confusing, and yet I sometimes feel the same way.
Nothing in life is as rewarding and fulfilling as music. At least to me. Even when I wasn’t working in music, I was working in music. I just can’t help myself. And I would never deny my children that experience. Ever. And yet, trying to make a living at music is the most difficult thing I have ever tried to do, and it is something that I have mostly failed at. I am awesome at a lot of things, music included, but making a living does not seem to be one of them. If it wasn’t for my wife, I would not be a professional musician. I would be the manager of a Ben & Jerry’s. But maybe I just suck a money, and negotiating, and businessy things. Maybe my kids would do better than I did. And besides, I’m not done yet! I feel like I’ve almost got the hang of this career-building thing. It has just been a very long and hard road.
If I ever get the word from either of my children that they are going to be music majors and end up like dear old Dad, I would probably have to be fine with it. But I would teach them from my mistakes. I would suggest that they double major in business. I would suggest learning various industry-related skills, and have fallback plans. I swore that I would be a performer, or nothing. Teaching was for failures. And I am a performer. But now also a teacher. And I love teaching. I wish I had started earlier. I wish I hadn’t been so stubborn and misguided as to what a career in music might mean. Do you know how many big-time opera singers teach as well as perform, or end up teaching at some point anyway? Pretty much all of them. And that’s just one example. The point is, there are plenty of ways to have a career in music or the arts, and while focus is important, limiting yourself is not always the best idea.
If I could go back and do it all again, would I still go into music? If my parents sat me down 20 years ago and told me what was going to happen to me, would I do it anyway? Probably. But it would have been nice to have a heads up about some of those pitfalls before I was pitching headlong into them. And luckily, that’s what I’m here for. Unless they want to be chefs. Then I have no idea.