I once asked a colleague I often work with if they’d be interested in being part of a project I was involved in at the request of another colleague. My colleague declined stating they were not interested and only really wanted to take low maintenance gigs. This colleague gigs as often as, if not more often than I do, so I completely understood the sentiment as it’s one that I have when it comes to taking on gigs or new musical projects.
I spend so much time reading others’ thoughts about the music business that some folks might consider it a waste of time. That’s neither what this post is about nor do I think I’m wasting my time doing this kind of reading. Neither is this about all the time not doing music in service of music career (e.g. travel, set-up/break-down, networking); nor am I talking about the endless hours doing inefficient rehearsals or practicing.
This post is about the actual musical activities musicians do that tend to be a waste of time. And here, by “waste of time,” I mean that these are things that will have a low Return On Investment (ROI).
There have been a number of recent pieces about Classical Music and Clubbing over the past few months and a couple of hefty dissertations about the “new” phenomenon and the “Indie Classical Scene.” I’ve been meaning to write about this for some time (well, years, actually) as I’ve been playing clubs for a couple of decades now (for the most part with the cello as my main axe) and have seen the explosion of clubs during the late 90s and their subsequent decline over the past 10 years or so.1
The other day, I was thinking about the Aesop’s Fable, “The Miller, His Son, and Their Ass“, while I was reflecting on the direction my musical career has taken. This was after a nine-day stint of 23 performances across a variety of musical genres.*
You are surely familiar with the story–a miller and his son take their ass to the market to sell it and along the way they meet several individuals or groups of people who comment or criticize them on their trip. The miller and his son adjust their journey according the comments or criticisms: when told they should be riding the ass, the miller puts his son on the ass; when criticized for not respecting the aged, the miller replaces himself on the ass; when criticized for being lazy, the miller then lets his son ride behind him; and when told they could more easily carry the ass rather than have it carry them, they proceed to tie the legs of the beast and haul it around with a pole. As they cross a bridge near the town, the townsfolk laugh at the sight before them and the commotion frightens the ass which breaks free of the restraints and tumbles into the river.
The obvious moral of the story is that if you try to please everyone, you end up pleasing no one.
In my previous post about tools for the 21st Century Musician, I discussed improvisation as probably the most useful tool musicians can be using. In a way, technology is even more indispensable. Unless our voice is our primary or only instrument (and even then there are exceptions), then nearly everything we make music on is the result of some level of technology. Whether we’re talking about the technology of carved bone flutes and dried skins over a wooden frame, or the highly advanced craft that luthiers use to carve/mold stringed instruments, or the ability to build circuitry or program for electronic instruments or computers, there is always some level of technology involved in the making of musical instruments.