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What does it actually mean to make it in the music business? Is it millions in the bank and a cover in Rolling Stone, or is it making a living playing gigs and creating your own music? | Photo: Cody Board
What does it actually mean to make it in the music business? Is it millions in the bank and a cover in Rolling Stone, or is it making a living playing gigs and creating your own music? | Photo: Cody Board
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TOP 5 Reasons Why You Don't Have to Be Rich and Famous

When a musician reaches a certain age (by which I mean when they are suddenly thirty or older) and they are not a worldwide celebrity, they go through a phase of re-evaluating their career in the music business. Suddenly, you have to ask: Does it still make sense? Is music really the only thing I want to do in my life? What does success really mean? When was the last time I had a free weekend? Why do I get a twitch in my eye when I hear the word "gas station"? Everybody needs a dose of success, respect and recognition in their life. In the music business, you live in extremes – either nobody cares or you're on a roll. However, in the turbulent times of modern technology and dramatic socio-economic fluctuations, it's good to know where we stand. Let's take a look at the top 5 reasons why you don't have to be a rich and famous musician.

1. Loss of privacy

It is fascinating that many of us willingly give up privacy by sharing all sorts of often very intimate details of our personal lives. Social networks are filled with experiences of family vacations, sweaty bodies during workouts, toned bums in yoga poses, and of course culinary or travel adventures.

However, there is a big difference between what we choose to share and what someone else is sharing about us. The work of the good old paparazzi has driven more than one celebrity to desperate measures. And I would even say that the media, in their thirst for sensation, has literally killed many celebrities. So if you happen to get into such showbiz stratospheres that they want to take pictures of you even while you're taking out the rubbish, you've got a problem.

John Paul Jones, the bassist of Led Zeppelin, mentioned in an interview that while his more famous colleagues couldn't even leave their hotel rooms on tour, he enjoyed walking through cafes or sightseeing areas undisturbed. Sometimes it is worth being the "fat guy who stands at the back", as Paul McCartney jokingly described his vision of a bass player.

2. Pressure

I recently watched two fascinating documentaries on Netflix: about footballer David Beckham and surprising global popstar Robbie Williams. Both of them went through a pretty harsh period when it seemed like the whole of the UK, where they both come from, hated them.

Beckham got hell for a red card in the 1998 World Cup. It happened in the second round of England's match against Argentina when Beckham lightly kicked Diego Simeon, who, with an Oscar-winning performance, made sure the England star was sent off. Unfortunately, England lost the match on penalties and Beckham became the arch-villain, passionately hated by all British football fans. The documentary showed that this period of his life took its toll on him and almost cost him his career.

Robbie Williams had enemies in the English tabloid press when the extremely popular newspaper The Sun revelled in the regular humiliation and defamation of everything the then-global star did. Even though he had regular gigs in front of crowds of 80,000 on his European tour, he dreaded arriving in his native country. There's also a very intimate scene in the documentary where Robbie is standing in front of one of the trucks that brought his huge stage show, and suddenly fully realises that the truck (and its driver) is there just for him, for his concert. Every bolt, every stage prop, hundreds of crew, backing band and crowds of tens of thousands are there only so he can go on stage and sing a few of his songs.

Robbie was in his early twenties at the time and in this scene, you see a guy who is just overloaded with too much of everything and in overwhelming quantity. All that responsibility. Ugh! Constant pressure is part of fame, and the higher your status, the greater the pressure. And that's not for the faint of heart.

3. Fake friends

"...they are like shadows: always near you at your brightest moments, but nowhere to be seen at your darkest hour."

Khalil Gibran

On the top, loneliness reigns supreme. Celebrities have an overwhelming number of people around them every day who they either work with or who simply admire them. But at the same time, they can't trust anyone. All the flattery, smiles and helpfulness. What's really behind it? What do all these people really want from me? Am I really as hot as all those models at the party say I am? Am I really a musical genius in the eyes of the record company people?

If you don't keep a healthy perspective, family or friends from the time when you were a nobody, you could be in big trouble if you believe all those lies. You'll be locked in a bubble of sycophants and golddiggers who will abandon you in a heartbeat once your bank account gets thinner or you lose relevance in the fluid world of celebrities. However, money can't buy happiness, but it's certainly more comfortable to cry in a Rolls Royce than on a bicycle. If you resist the trap of this shallow adulation, you can have both – friends, money and fame. But you'll certainly be a lot more cautious in forming new relationships than, say, most of the population.

4. Temptation

Yes, the devil lurks at every corner of the celebrity world. Whether it's beautiful people, alcohol, drugs or any other vices, you can have an abundance of everything at once. So why not enjoy it, right? Most of the famous musicians who made it through had to bridge the phase when they felt that the world was at their feet. You feel like the mythical Greek god Dionysus at a never-ending party. Duff McKagan of Guns N'Roses made it thanks to mountain biking, Sting practices yoga regularly, David Bowie loved books and Lars Ulrich paints pictures.

Strong will and discipline are surprising attributes that most famous musicians who have managed to stay on top for many years have. After all, managing the job of a musician and a celebrity at once is quite a challenging task, but at the same time a job like any other. Imagine a plumber who comes to work late, has a nose full of coke and installs taps backwards. Celebrities also have to manage their work like professionals and separate the party and work environment, otherwise, their time in the limelight will soon be over.

5. Addiction

Now I'm not talking about drugs, alcohol or antidepressants. There, the situation is more or less clear: you can choose from many luxurious rehabilitation facilities around the world, where you can meet many colleagues from the industry. I'm talking about the addiction to fame, to audience applause, to admiration and to that proverbial spotlight. Few people can stay on the scene as long as the Rolling Stones and still come up with new, fresh music even at the age of eighty.

Indeed, legendary drummer Bill Bruford (ex-YES, King Crimson), aptly described the reasons why it's important to just call it a day at some point:

"Retiring, of course, implies that you can afford to do so, and I guess that can attract suspicion. I think too many of us are obliged to continue for financial reasons only, which is a shame. The stadia of the world are clogged with geriatric rockers, who tend to prevent the emergence of young blood. The older guys are effectively institutionalised and now know no other life. If they don’t get a proper hotel and a wake-up call they don’t know what to do. I loved Max Roach’s playing (a brilliant jazz drummer, author's note). Someone sent me a CD of his latest music shortly before he died, and it was tragic. I didn’t want to remember him like that. You could see daylight between him and the bass player. I never could see the appeal of dying in a hotel room."

Source: Interview for The Drummer's Journal, May 2015

Tagy TOP 5 Paul McCartney david beckham Robbie Williams Duff McKagan just for fun

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Marek Bero
Bass Gym 101 books, touring & session bass player, football tactics aficionado.