Well, it’s about a week overdue, but I finally decided to chime in with my little contribution to the series. I’m going to talk about a situation that I’m sure most families have to deal with at some point when there is an aspiring Working Muso in their midst… the dreaded MUSIC/FAMILY BALANCE (gasp!)
Well, I wasn’t sure about what I was going to do to contribute to this series until literally last weekend, when something very special happened to me as a musician and, more importantly, as Dad.
I know that this is not a secret to any muso with a family but I’ll just lay this out there for those of you that aren’t yet in that situation… trying to participate in the music scene after work hours is tough. You factor in the serious responsibilities of parenthood, an angry wife (or husband) that wants more time with you, and the late late nights that can drain your battery and potentially impact your well-being the next day… well, it gets to be quite a challenging task very quickly – even if you’re just a “weekend warrior!”
It’s an unfortunate reality that most musos gotta have that steady day job, and I would never advocate sacrificing your family time for ANYTHING, especially if you have kids in the mix… so what’s a soul to do? I personally have agonized over that more times than I care to count or re-hash… both alone with my own thoughts and in animated ‘discussions’ with my significant other. But THEN last weekend happened, and it helped me with a little insight, too.
Now, as an old instructor of mine loved to say, “I’m gon’ tell you a sea story.”
So there I was… sitting at the dinner table. As so often happens, I was eyeballing the trusty ‘music corner’ in which I do my recording and practicing. I was really itching to get over there, but I knew that if I were to do that now I’d get some disappointed groans from the kids and a load of stink-eye from the wife. It was, after all, immediately after dinner and the kids would be turning in shortly. It was a fight between what I wanted to to and what I knew I should do. We’ve all been there – it’s family versus music, and one of them has to win. Such was the case here, and it was eating me up inside a little more than usual. In FACT, it was eating me up enough that I was sitting at the table mentioning some factoids about music theory and playing by ear and other miscellaneous tidbits that I’m sure, to my family, sounded something like “Nix blarney quando floo! Dippity doo-dah!”
In the middle of all this monologue, though, I was lucky enough to come out of my reverie for just enough time to catch the trailing end of a reply from my ten-year-old daughter that implied “you know what? I just might wanna try a little of this on for size myself!”
In a flash it hit me that needed to jump on this NOW. I quickly came up with a “lesson one” for an improvisational exercise, played around with it a little to turn it into a game, and ushered my daughter over to the keys. I picked up the bass, turned on the drum machine, and started to lay down a single note bass line. She proceeded to start playing Dad’s little game for a few minutes, and then… ohhh my my my THEN… her ear picked up on what was going on, and she kicked the rules to the curb and started picking out an improvised melody line! By the time we were done, we’d done some improv in C major, D dorian, and A aeolian modes (notice that all of those are ‘white keys only modes’ – a big part of the success but I digress…). I was laying down some rude progressions on the bass and she was having a blast playing along, and when she finally had to stop for bed time, she asked “Dad, can we do this again soon?” Needless to say I was over the moon about this development. After some years of my family all standing on the outside looking in, I finally knew what it was like to get someone to understand how much fun music can and should be!
Well, naturally that got me thinking about the rest of the family… “one down, three to go” is what I’m telling myself at this point. And of COURSE, that got me to think about this Working Muso series… why wouldn’t it, right? Because the fact of the matter is that a big part of the need for discussion here is family. When you’re working a job (or two, in my case) and trying to do the gigging, practicing, rehearsing, promotions, and all of the other miscellaneous things that come with trying to attain a measure of success in “the scene,” family often times gets pushed to the back burner. This naturally causes some friction, and can easily lead to a family member or the family as a whole starting to resent something that is an integral part of your self. I would not on a bajillion years suggest that anyone put their husband, wife, or kids on hold to further their musical aspirations – the kids will only be kids for a short time, and you need to be present and active in their lives as much as you can before you find that they’ve passed you by and are out of the nest – leaving you with regrets of memories that should have been (“Cat’s in the Cradle,” anyone?). Likewise, your husband or wife should be a bedrock of support that you can trust to understand this part of your life and help you live it out… and if they feel that they’re getting the shaft while you spend quality time with your axe (not ex… that’s another problem ENTIRELY) then there’s not a high likelihood that they’ll be your biggest fan – or indeed a fan of music in general.
So, as it occurred to me on that glorious Sunday evening, one possible solution to the music-family balance is simply involvement from the family. I am not naive enough to think that everyone in the pack is going to pick up an instrument and then all of a sudden the Partridge family will stroll out of the other side of the sausage grinder, but that need not be a deal breaker! Let’s look again at all of the necessary activities of an aspiring ‘working band’ that I mentioned above… There is the practicing and rehearsing, sure. But there’s SO much more that goes into a full-fledged musical side-job. Have a budding artist in the family? Introduce that kid to the Adobe Suite (or some fabulous open-source equivalents) and see if you have yourself a promoter/designer! Wife likes to write? Hey man, that would be a blessing here – shoot me some lyrics! Is there a techno-nerd in the flock? Web designers that fit in the budget are in fairly short supply… and you’ll definitely want one of those at some point! Got an audiophile? We could all use a sound guy. All of these things come to mind just off the top of my head – we’re just scratching the surface here. Get those peeps participating in the machine that is your band, man!
“But JUUUUUULES!!” I hear you shouting in my ear, “We don’t need no Yoko Ono wannabes! Don’t you know that’s what killed the Beatles?!?” Okay first of all, please don’t call me Jules. Second of all, while I acknowledge that plugging the fam into a group of people that might or might not welcome additional input WILL be a challenge, it is a challenge that CAN be conquered, and I dare say that the family is worth it. In all likelihood they’ll be there long after your current musical project or group is a distant memory, and who knows, you might even find that things click along even better once you discover that your family LIKES carrying some of the non-musical ‘load’ and that you can trust them to do it! We’re not talking about Yoko-level involvement here – I’m not talking about the family urging you to leave the scene or your band… I’m talking about using your brain to include people that love you in a very large, very important part of your life in ways that will benefit you, them, and the group as a whole.
Give your folks a chance, and give them some credit… they might not all be musicians, but you can definitely aspire to make them all players.