Paul McCartney just released a new album at age 71. Elton John did as well, at age 66, as did Cher at age 67. Mick Jagger still tours around the globe at age 70 and B.B. King packs in clubs at age 88.
Unlike other careers where you become a “subject matter expert” in a particular field, apply those skills to an organization for 40 some-odd years before giving it up to retire, being a musician is a different beast. If you are committed to the craft, if you are in it for the long haul, there is no retirement. Not ever. You do it for as long as you walk this Earth.
Being a musician is a life-long calling.
I got my first “real” guitar 19 years ago. A sweet, fire-engine red Fender Squier plugged in to a 15-watt Crate amp. I loved that thing. And just like Bryan Adams, I played my first real six string until my fingers bled. After a few months I built up enough chops to play Smells Like Teen Spirit start-to-finish, solo and everything, and I thought I was on my way. A few months after that I’m working on Hendrix and Red Hot Chili Peppers tunes and thinking this is it! Then, maybe a year later I was off doing something else… and that shiny red guitar that I was so fond of sat in a corner, collecting dust, and losing its sparkle. I had moved on.
In reflection on that time and curious as to why I gave up something I clearly loved so much, I’ve come to the simple conclusion: I wasn’t in it for the long haul.
I didn’t understand that stardom is not something that comes instantly. I didn’t understand that “overnight success” never really comes over night… and that those people who become huge overnight actually work their asses off. Hell, even some of the teenie-bopper acts that you either love or hate have put their fair share of work in. Justin Bieber sat on a street corner with a bucket playing for spare change… Taylor Swift went door-to-door to every music label on her first trip to Nashville and got rejected by most… Katy Perry slept on floors and in seedy motels while writing new songs every single day just trying to catch her break. Say what you will about those artists, one thing is for sure: They were, and are, in it for the long haul.
Are you in it for the long haul?
I am… now.
But I wasn’t always this committed. I let 17 years go by before I finally picked up that guitar again and got serious about becoming a musician. Now I practice each day. My playing gets better and better every time I play. You could say that I am wiser this time around, or that I have more maturity, but that’s not the real thing that has changed with me… the true reason is that I’m now in it for the long haul.
I’m committed to the journey.
I’m mentally prepared to play guitar every day for the rest of my life, whether or not that brings any type of public success. It doesn’t matter. I will do this until the day I die. That’s what being in it for the long haul means.
No matter what you goals are for learning to play… whether it is to play in front of packed arena or to strum a few songs at the Sunday barbecue… you have to be in it for the long haul. Even if it is nothing more than a hobby for you, understand that it is a life-long activity and progress will come steadily over time.
I currently make no money playing guitar. At this point, despite my dream to be able to play at a professional level, I am not skilled enough where people will pay to hear me play. I may be there in a year, or three, or more, I dunno… but I can tell you I do not have one single goal that puts a time frame on me becoming a “musician.” I have not set an arbitrary date on a calendar to determine whether or not I should I be at a certain level.
I tried that once… with shiny red Fender Squier in hand, I gave myself a fixed amount of time (one year) to see if I could play like a rock god. And when I couldn’t I moved on. I was an Idiot.
Now I know better.
Here’s to rocking for the long haul.