Making a Career as a 21st Century Musician
Updated: Apr 7, 2021
Many parents experience fear, apprehension, and maybe even anger when their child tells them they want to be a professional musician. Based on the stereotype of the “starving artist” this is understandable. If you are this parent, take a moment to think about the last movie or TV show you watched, or the last commercial you saw. What did you hear? Music. What about the last time you went to the grocery store or the mall (pre-pandemic), what did you hear in the background? Music. What about the last time you went to a restaurant? There was music in the air.
Until about one hundred years ago with the advent of recording technology, the only way to consume music was if you could play it yourself, or if you could afford to go to a concert hall. This made music precious, something that was rare to experience and therefore something highly cherished. We’re so used to hearing music in the air that we often don’t notice it’s there, or what profound meaning it adds to our everyday lives. Take a moment to imagine your favorite movie without its incredible score: Imagine watching Jurassic Park – seeing dinosaurs come to life on screen without John Williams’ classic theme. Would it be the same movie? Or Alfred Hitchock’s classic 1960 film, Psycho. Would the film have been so thrilling without Bernard Herrmann’s score? I don’t think so.
One movie music moment that always stuck with me was a scene in Danny DeVito’s 1996 film, Matilda. Matilda, the little girl protagonist is left home alone and uses her magic to bring a spoonful of cheerios to her mouth. At this moment, “Little Bitty Pretty One” by Bobby Day starts playing. This is my favorite scene in the movie because it’s the first moment when Matilda is able to use her abilities freely - this is the first time we see her experience joy and have fun. Not only did this scene fill me with joy and excitement as a child, it introduced me to an artist I’d never heard of before, a genre not regularly listened to in my home, and showed me the power of tiny musical moments.
As a professional musician, I am now acutely aware of all the artists it takes to create tiny musical moments like that. There are arrangers, composers, producers, engineers, managers, teachers, agents, editors, and many more roles involved in creating musical art for us to consume. I believe the role of a musician in the 21st century is not just that of an artist, but an entrepreneur. There are plenty of jobs out there for musicians, because there’s an endless amount of art to be created and enjoyed. The consumption of art is a necessary part of all of our lives, whether we recognize it or not. Art reminds us of our humanity, it tells stories, it fosters community, it can inspire us to look at life from someone else's perspective, and it holds a mirror up to society. Like Nina Simone said, “You can't help it. An artist's duty, as far as I'm concerned, is to reflect the times.” I believe as artists, we should be less concerned about being famous, winning the best job, or getting the best gig, and more concerned about helping our communities place a higher value on art in society as a whole.
So if you’re concerned about your child wanting to be a professional musician, remember how many people it takes to create those tiny musical moments that bring you so much joy.