I feel like my career is once again at a crossroads. Every so many years, I make a major life decision when my wheels are spinning and my life is stagnating. In the past, it has meant returning to school, moving to a different community, or retooling.
My last effort was retooling in 2015. I quit my Toronto bands, as the travelling was taking its toll, and compensation was remaining the same as the cost of living increased. As a saxophonist, it is about 10 times harder to work than a rhythm player or vocalist. A trumpet player I know once said that horns are "the last to hire and the first to fire." Sums it up perfectly.
So, I created a solo act that combined my guitar, vocal, and woodwind skills into one thing using a piece of technology I bought. Four years later, it seems to be a wasted effort. I need a paid weekly gig to properly develop the act, but I soon learned that I'm not allowed to make mistakes. I practice my material hard, trying to memorize everything, but it's not the same as performing. I'm sure many musicians will agree with me. It doesn't help that I battle stage fright either. However, the more I perform, the more it becomes normalized, and the more confidence I have. Without a regular gig, this is impossible.
That brings me to my next challenge. I'm not good at talking to strangers. I’m not a salesman. I get nervous making a 30-second pitch, and people pick up on that. I mean, how can you entertain if you can't get your point across? Sometimes I just leave a card if the owner isn't in, but that never results in anything. I need help in this area, but can't find it. I want to be fair, offering a 10% commission on a booked gig. Every musician or band needs a team. I believe I have something to offer, but I can’t convince anyone to give me a real chance.
I'm disconnected from the local musical community. Perhaps it's my own fault. I have attended local events, but being an introvert, I end up sitting by myself. I've attended open stages, jazz jams, and blues jams to sit in, but it never results in decent paid work. I know where I stand: I'm not a great saxophonist, but I don't suck either. After a while, open stages feel like exploitation, especially when I see money go into a tip jar while I'm on stage, with the money going to the house band. After that happened a couple of times, I stopped attending. On top of my formal music education, I worked for cruise lines, toured with tribute bands, and played in community musical theatre pit orchestras. I would be happy playing in pit orchestras for my career, but I can't work for $30 per show.
I see some of my music friends doing really well while others are bowing out. I'm wondering if it's time for me to bow out too. However, I have so much invested that I can't see myself doing anything else. In my 20s in the early 90s, I tried getting a regular job but failed, perhaps because of the recession. I applied to a new Tim Horton franchise but there were 300 applicants. I think employers looked at my resume with a music degree and wrote me off. So, I decided to stick with music, especially when I saw my friends in other disciplines having difficulty finding work. Gen X had a hard time coming of age.
I have my teaching business, covering my expenses and giving me spending money. I live with my elderly mother, so I have a safe living environment, and I am grateful for that. However, I could not live on only my teaching income if I was on my own. I must have performance income to support myself along with my teaching practice. That has always been a constant.
Right now, I am focused on recording and releasing original songs that have been in my mind for over a decade. I can't afford pro engineers, so I've been learning to engineer myself. I released one song last month with little fanfare. Yet I'm working towards releasing another song before the end of the summer. My sound and style is different, which I’m finding to be more of a curse than a blessing. I'm hopeful that a small group of people will enjoy my work and support what I do. I want to go out and tour while I still can, while I'm in my prime. Otherwise, my life has been a great waste. I sit in a bar during happy hour while I write this, listening to cheerful talk, and wonder how others can be so “happy."