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Making the Decision to Go Pro as a Bassist (Or Not)

Contemplative Bassist
Photo by Bryan Rosengrant

Q: What is your experience before becoming a professional musician? Is it something that naturally occurred or did you have to decide to make it a career? Could you share a story in which you reconciled any doubts you may have had?

A: Interesting question! I’ve always played music, and I always assumed that music was what I would continue to do. Day jobs were something I needed to keep from living on the streets while I tried to get good enough at playing to make money playing music.

However, there was a definitive moment when I realized I couldn’t expect to get great at playing music unless I really applied myself and practiced diligently. That realization was the moment I had to decide just how badly I wanted to go pro. I decided that I would rather practice more now and work less later. This was especially true for me because having operated under the assumption that music was what was going to happen, I only ever pursued disposable jobs. Jobs that I could quit at the drop of a hat if I got a tour, for example.

I drove moving trucks, tow trucks, ran coffee shops, worked at sub shops… you name it. As a result, I looked horrible on paper. When it came time to do or die, I also knew that I had left myself no choice but to play music.

This was actually intentional. I knew that if I ever landed a day job that made me too comfortable, I may never leave. So I actively worked labor jobs and food service gigs.

I think that moment comes for every athlete, actor, visual artist and musician – the moment when we have to decide just how badly we want it.

Making a living exclusively by playing music will likely make you poor indefinitely, and perhaps even permanently. If not poor, struggling, or only ever a few checks away from poverty. However, this has become true in the working world as well, it seems.

So, my short answer is “yes, there was very much a moment when I decided to become a professional musician.” I was already pretty good but I had hit that wall that required me to either bust my ass or decide to just be an okay player for the rest of my life. Knowing that choice #2 would leave me broke for life and unhappy with myself, I chose the harder path. I often find that the harder path is often the more rewarding path.

Any doubts? They never left. But I have less doubts now than I had before. I used to question my ability to ever get good enough to really make it. Now, that I consistently make a reasonable living, my doubts are more about whether I will ever be able to plan for the future (I don’t imagine that I’ll retire, but I would like to have some savings so I don’t have to take every gig that I can muster once I’m the old timer in town). The fact is, the old timers often get replaced by the younger generation, unless they become famous enough to always be marketable, of course. That means that I’ll likely be working less in the future, regardless of my desires.

There isn’t much in terms of retirement plans for musicians except for having paid off your house in time and at least have equity in later years. That’s a whole other topic though.

Bottom line, life is full of doubts no matter what path you take. If you choose a better and more secured job, you’ll likely wonder what would’ve happened if you had chosen music. If you choose music, you’ll always wonder if life wouldn’t just be easier if you had a steady paycheck. You really just have to weigh your heart’s desires!

Readers, how about you? Which path did you take, and how do you feel about it today? Please share in the comments.

Have a question for Damian? Submit it to the Ask Damian Erskine Forum. Check out Damian’s instructional books at the No Treble Shop.

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