June 27, 2013
Bob Hempker here. To me, being a musician is about finding that one instrument that you are totally compatible with and falling in love with it, sleeping with it and always wanting to hold it in your hands.
Different people have different aptitudes for different instruments. I know one guy who is a great banjo player and another who is a great bassoon player. Each found his own space in the musical landscape.
Many colleges will allow you to go to school there if you play steel guitar, but it has to be a secondary instrument to you. Anyone who has ever studied steel guitar knows that to really be a great steel guitar player, it has to be your number one priority. If you really get engulfed in steel guitar, you don’t have any time to get involved with other instruments.
It’s very beneficial and helpful to be able to hunt out chord inversions, harmony lines and things of that sort on the piano, then convert them to steel guitar, but that doesn’t make you a piano player. It’s better to concentrate on mastering one instrument than a whole bevy.
The love of music and the love of your instrument should rise above any fame and fortune aspirations.
Of course, your goals have an influence in what you focus on. I have a friend whose passion is writing songs. He doesn’t care if he ever writes a million seller or not, he just writes because he loves writing songs.
His goal is to become reasonably proficient in several instruments rather than master one because he wants to be able to understand guitar, bass, piano and drums in order to write better songs.
When you really love doing something, you’d do it for nothing just because you love doing it. Having said that, we need to keep that fact to ourselves or we’ll be taken advantage of mercilessly by music producers, club owners, singers, in short, anybody who needs to hire musicians.
The saying goes that a successful musician is a guy whose wife has two jobs. There are so many musicians willing to work for so little just to be able to play. This is part of the root cause for the plight musicians are in.
If we were to collectively hold out for what we believe we’re worth, we’d all be better off, however solidarity will never be achieved in the music industry. There is always a new kid in town who wants to play for free just to prove himself and get his foot in the door.
There’s no way of winning the battle against these elements. This is a dark side of the music business we are forced to accept. If we allow this to take up space in our mind, it can eventually take over. I know personally several people with superb musicianship who have developed horrible outlooks and attitudes over this. They eventually find it next to impossible to find work.
When people develop bad attitudes, people don’t want to be around them and don’t hire them. Bottom line, the best players don’t always get the best jobs. The point is, you don’t want to let the low pay or bad conditions make you bitter so you blow yourself out of jobs you could’ve gotten.
I had to turn down a job the other day and I recommended another guy for the job and was instantly told, “No, we’ve used that guy before. If we play anything he doesn’t like he takes his picks off and just sits there.”
I understood and told him I didn’t blame him not wanting to hire this guy. This type of attitude reflects on all steel players whether we like it or not, many people will categorize us and lump us all into one stereotypical category by just experiencing one player of that sort.
When being paid to play, we must try our best to make every song that’s played sound better because there’s a steel guitar doing something that enhances the song. That is, unless we’re asked or told not to play on certain songs.
Just some general thoughts, choose an instrument that you dearly love and want to play. Learn to play it as well as you possibly can. Learn how to allow any negativity from other people about you or your instrument roll off your back. Use whatever social skills you have to get along with other people.
Be to work on time. Keep your opinions to yourself. Play as well as you can play no matter what the job pays. When you’re done playing, put your money in your pocket, go home. Don’t hang around.
Next week, we’ll be closed for the July 4th holiday and closed July 5th as well. We wish everyone a happy holiday.
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