Posted by: Reginald Cyntje | July 9, 2010

The Life (of a Musician)

The passion erupts into creativity and the musician is born. What will happen now? Will the gift be enough?

The training begins. A lifetime commitment to love, growth and understanding. What about the ability to sustain a family?

Over the years I’ve met many great musicians. Some stick with it through the ups and downs of life awaiting the moment when the blessing of their labor will be more than the gift. Some are awarded great opportunities and others struggle until poverty and/or frustration forces them to choose a different avenue.

When the elders speak, they talk about paying dues. How long should one pay dues when hands await food? How long does one pay dues when the desire to nurture relationships are part of life? Should the musician stay married to music and only music until the dawn of fruitful opportunity ripes?

Yes there are musicians who are sustaining themselves and profiting from their own labor. But what about the musician who is gifted but under paid and suffering from the traditional practice of corruption in the business?

Why are there establishments allowed to under pay and over work musicians when they depend on the ambiance of music to bring in patrons? Why are there musicians who work below standard rates only to undercut their peers? Why are there still band leaders who get paid a large amount of money for a gig then turn around and not even pay the rest of the band enough to make a living? Why are there those who lack training posing as professional musicians? Are we not humble? Are we not aware of the rites of passage?

There needs to be an over haul of the music business scene, the club scene, the touring scene and a new found respect for the amount of time that goes into becoming a creator of music. The moment where divine intervention inspires the vessel to compose melodies.

To my sisters and brothers struggling to pay rent, bills, child care, food, etc., let us no longer accept the blatant disrespect by these so called supporters of music who only use the imagery of the musician to promote their establishment. If you are going to be used, be compensated for the inconvenience.

I know great musicians making a decent living, but there are others working for $250 divided by four on a Saturday night. I know a young musician who is struggling to support family while dealing with the blatant disrespect of the ‘local’ musician stigma. I know musicians on the road being paid $1200 for 2 weeks over seas (food is not included in the pay). I know of many stories, personal or first hand, of atrocities associated with the life of a musician.

While our children cry for mommy or daddy because we are gone trying to make a little everywhere to amount to a lot, others are lining their pockets from our labor. The future musicians need us to take a stance for their soon to be careers. No longer can we be concerned with self.

There are only a few union chapters around the country who actually look out for our well being. There are some who charge more in health insurance than regular commercial rates. Some union chapters also only show up to collect dues from you for gigs you personally book.

We musicians have always been surrounded by crooks, but some musicians stop the fight for improvements once they ‘arrive’. Young musicians, band together now. Don’t let the corrupt people divide you for temporary gain. Learn from the triumphs and mistakes of your elders. As you grow, remember to stay true to the truth. Be you artistically and not somebody else.

Some might say get a job! I’ve worked multiple jobs throughout my life and know many who do the same. There are many hours required to master an instrument. Those working other jobs eventually have to make a choice. A few are able to maintain a balance between the ‘day gig’ and the life.

Some say teach. If you decide to teach, make sure it is something you love to do. Nobody wants to have a teacher who hates their job. Like any other profession, the performing musician needs time to perfect art.

No matter where you are in your musical career we must fight for the future of music. If you’ve never struggled you know folks who have. We work too hard to be treated this way. United we rise divided more musicians will end up on the streets.



  1. I can relate to what you’re saying. My dad was the muscian who gave up his dream of plaing in Vegas-the musicians Mecca of the 60’s, to take the day job and take gigs at night. Luckily, Columbus,Ohio had a great union, so my father played as much as he wanted. The union made sure that outside acts hired a certain percentage of local musicians. When my dad passed, the union came by to give my brother and I a small check. But I digress; I’ll never forget my father saying that with the popularization of the electric piano the “real” musician” would begin to disappear. Technology is good, but nothing replaces live music and the real interchange between musician and audience. Somewhere in our recent timeline the value for the fine arts has diminished. I’m blaming technology.

  2. I also see an issue with musicians that do have day time jobs. They are trying not to sell out while undercutting highly trained professionals because they won’t pay for money. There are also young cats without college education who will pay just to avoid the streets. The fact is also the American public really can’t tell a mediocre musician from an above average so they really don’t know what they are paying for.

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