Every musician has had the experience of playing at a gig to only a handful of listeners, or even to nobody. Trying to live from just performing your own music is practically impossible unless you are very well-known and can get sponsors. Most musicians I know have to teach music as supplementary income, or do some other part-time job. I am currently in the same position: I teach guitar and also a bit of English. Although I enjoy that work, it would obviously be very satisfying to get more well-paid gigs: to perform my own creations. I am working towards this because I know it is possible with the music that I produce. What I have to offer is generally very highly appreciated. I believe my vision is much more realisable now because of an inner development which I want to tell you about here.
Up until almost a year ago, I often used to be very disappointed when hardly anyone turned up at a concert. It didn't seem fair. It also didn't quite make sense. There I was, playing something original and also unusual, which I knew to be of high quality. I had put in months of work to refine and practice my pieces and make them as valuable as possible. It always cost a lot of energy and time to set up and get to bed late, and the pittance I would earn on those evenings was like a slap in the face. Conversely I would get private gigs where I was payed a fixed sum handsomely.
Of all those that did come to any of my gigs, many would thank me and express great enthusiasm, so I knew I must be on the right track at least. I would also sometimes pass a hat around to collect cash, instead of charging for entry. This has become a common sight amongst even very talented musicians, basically because of the undervalued arts these days, and bureaucratic obstacles that make organising concerts with tickets so expensive that it only makes economic sense if you are already well-known.
In short, the odds are heavily stacked against the less-known quality artists. After a few of these hats-passing episodes, I quickly became disillusioned because I noticed that often people in the audience were unaware of the investment required to give a high-class performance. They would give less money for that than the cost of the beer, but still call me a fantastic musician! Whilst I could understand this lack of understanding, it still got me down.
It is very sad to see top-notch musicians walk out of such a gig with as little as €20 each but I can see now how musicians themselves have allowed their art to be culturally downgraded by going along with the process themselves. I for one, decided never again to be in that begging position. I find it preferable to play for entrance fee, if the organiser doesn't pay a lump sum themselves. In that way I can state what I'm worth, and if only a few people turn up, it doesn't matter because I have kept my integrity. This isn't the whole story, because sometimes it is worth playing at unpaid events to guaranteed big crowds, in order to promote oneself. I have also done benefit concerts along the way, which of course is a completely different ball game.
To return to the dissatisfaction I was experiencing – it was getting me down enough to make playing seemed more like a badly paid job, then a creative outlet and passion. This went on for some time until a major event occurred. One day, after moving some heavy furniture around in the flat in a hurry, by myself, my left shoulder became inflamed and immediately put a stop to almost all my guitar playing ability. It didn't go away and imprisoned me physically and mentally in many ways. I was only ever able to practise for 5 min at a time and I only managed to do three gigs over the course of a year. It was a huge undertaking before a concert to balance delivering the goods by practising just enough of the right things, and avoiding absolutely any unnecessary movements with my arm that might cause further inflammation. Fortunately I was able to teach guitar during this period, as I didn't need more than a minimal amount of demonstration with my own playing, to give a good lesson.
I tried various natural-healing remedies to cure my shoulder. I finally came up trumps with an effective combination of laying-on of hands, known as Jin Shin Jyutsu. This is an ancient, holistic Japanese energy-healing tradition which is similar in its principles to acupuncture (more about that here). It had been recommended to me by an experienced practitioner and good friend.
I noticed improvements within 2 weeks. Although the problem has not completely gone and I still have to be careful with some tasks (e.g. typing with a computer keyboard) I am able to live normally and play guitar as I wish! This was such a relief to be freed from an affliction which completely blocked my musical passion and caused significant inconveniences for 12 months. Because of this, I rediscovered my joy in playing, and have since had many unpaid musical sessions just for the sake of living my music. 2 years ago I wasn't motivated much by sessions at all; the question was more about the success of my musical career.
I'm so grateful for this course of events because on the one hand I have learnt to present my self-worth and set limits so that I don't sell myself. On the other hand I can see what an incredible gift it is to be able to play at all. If you are alive and have enough creative outlet, that is a blessing. If you can be successful in your creative career, that is a bonus. All this time I have never had any income problems. You could say that my art has been supported by other means! I still have the bigger vision of reaching many more people with my music, and being able to support myself more from it, but simply being aware that that is a bonus, is liberating in itself. Who knows, I may achieve that dream simply through having all this newfound fun on the way!