The Oil Slick: The Cons of Being a Pro
We've all done it. We've watched Jack White on TV jumping around with a peppermint guitar among thousands of adoring fans — and we've felt a flash of envy.
Being a professional musician looks like one of the coolest things a person is paid to do, and I'm sure it usually is. There's the road tripping, the stalker-like enthusiasm of fans and the freedom to pursue almost any twisted vice you can come up with.
However, before you go making any pacts with the devil, consider the dream a little more carefully. Being a rock star isn't all Rolling Stone photo shoots and hanging out with Dave Grohl.
For instance, you have to practice until you have every song you've got down pat. Then you get to practice some more. Hours spent plucking, singing or drumming the same song; day after day, month after month. And if you're lucky enough to score a hit? I hope you really like the tune, because even after playing it a thousand times and releasing three more albums, fans will still be yelling for it come encore time.
After mastering some chords, going out onto the road is the next step, and taking a road trip with four people in a VW van is only cool for the first three days. Settle in for long nights on the road and early morning snack runs on Coke and Cheetos. Next time you see a show featuring artists who don't get their own line of bourbon, appreciate the fact they have enough energy to get on stage — much less perform — after driving across Montana.
So you've got the band and people are starting to flock to shows, next up is an album. This is the time to meet the people who are paid to sum up all your time, effort and emotions you've poured into the album in under four hundred words: the critics. Be prepared to have something you've put your heart and soul into scientifically dissected and publicly judged. And these guys can be incredibly cruel, just ask Nickelback.
If you still want to be a rock star, just remember you need a thick (tattooed) skin, gastrointestinal fortitude and a strong acceptance of repetition—and that's not even talking about dealing with record labels or numerous band tiffs. I might stick to Rock Band.
John Grimley writes The Oil Slick blog for GuitarWorld.com.