So just about a year ago I recorded an album – it was one of the best days of my life, all told. Four hours of a studio session with an amazing team both in the band and in the engineer’s booth, where my only job was to show up and sing. All the planning and rehearsing had been done, and I was able to dive into the music fully without any other distractions. I was immersed and happy as clams are, I was.
I’ve been busy since then, but I can count on one hand – maybe two fingers, how many times I’ve just been a singer on a gig since.
The performer’s landscape today is filled with all sorts of opportunities, and responsibilities that go well beyond just singing or playing an instrument. The other week I did my first streaming gig, and found myself lugging bottles of sparkling wine and d’oeuvres down to the studio, where I assembled the technology, got the band together, did a soundcheck, and enlisted the help of unwitting audience members to coordinate the room and get things settled. Only after all that was it time to make some music, which of course was the centerpiece of the evening. As I trudged down the street in heels, bottles clanking away in my overstuffed bag and warming up a bit as I walked, I wondered if all this entrepreneurial work – the flyer making, the Facebook posting, the making sure the band meal at a gig doesn’t have any shellfish because your drummer is allergic – if all of this makes us more complete artists and people, or if we’ve lost something in the multi-tasking.
The truth is, musicians have always had responsibilities well past simply arriving. Band leadership has always meant more than just making music – it has to do with people, logistics and communication. I think there can be a lot of illusions about what artists do – and fairy tales artists tell themselves about how someone else (a version of the knight in shining armor) will arrive, and they will never have to do anything besides practice and perform. One of the things I love about jazz especially is that one day you might just be the bon-bon eating, late sleeping diva who just has to choose a dress and a tune before going onstage; and the next you’re attempting to be an amateur sound engineer and fixing some failing PA system at a bar you’re playing.
So if a career in the arts were a fairy tale, which could it be? I’ll say Cinderella, but in a version where she gets to go to the balls, wear the dresses and have the carriage, but still has to work as a maid daytimes. A lot more interesting, and a little less linear, and not likely to entice people into the business. But for some of us, the shoe fits.:)