Things People Think/Say/Do To Me Because I’m a Professional Musician – PART 1

I’ve never been a fan of forwards, but that doesn’t seem to stop them from finding their way across my path from time to time. One such forward has, not surprisingly, crossed my path several times, and in several different versions. It is a forward about the most common misconceptions and/or things people say to musicians that absolutely makes us want to go postal on everybody.

I have seen versions of this specifically involving family members during the holidays, I have seen memes depicting the differences between what people think we do, what our parents think we do, and what we think we do, and everything in between.

Since I’m no fan of forwards, I will make use of my power as the owner this blog to provide you with an original version of this idea. What you are about to read is based on my all-too-real personal nightmare of the things people think/say/do to me because I’m a professional musician:

Dialog #1:

Stranger: “So, is this like, your full-time job, or do you just do it for fun?”

Me: “No, it’s full-time. Music has been my primary source of income for about 6 years now.”

Stranger: “Wow. That’s so cool. It must be so nice to get to do what you love for a living.”

My Inner Dialog: “Yeah, I especially loved the part of my work day when you tipped me a whopping $2 to play ‘Brown Eyed Girl’ AGAIN immediately after I had just finished it the first time because your brown-eyed friend was in the bathroom. It was like a dream come true!”

What I Actually Say: “Yeah, I am very fortunate to be able to make a living doing this. People always warned me not to put all my eggs into the basket that is music, and to be sure to always have something else to fall back on in case it doesn’t pan out, but in these troubling economic times, it’s actually music that I’m falling back on. Ironic, huh?”

Stranger: “I’m gonna go stand over there now. Bye!”

Dialog #2:

Stranger: “Do you take requests?”

Me: “Of course. What would you like to hear. I have a song list online. You can access it from any device with an internet connection. You can sort it alphabetically by any category you see. You just push the button for the song you want to hear and it comes directly to my phone and I play it. Or, since you’re already up here, you can do it the old, analog way and just tell me if there is something in particular that you wanted to hear.”

Stranger: “Umm….What’s your favorite thing to play?”

My Inner Dialog: “That’s not really a request now is it? Why did you bother walking up here if you didn’t already have something in mind? Can you not seriously name one song you’ve ever heard before in your entire life right now? The answer to your original question is ‘something you will definitely never have heard before and absolutely loath once you do.'”

What I Actually Say: “Oh man, that’s a really tough choice. I guess I sorta like ’em all!”

Stranger: “Well just play something we can all dance to.”

My Inner Dialog: “Sure thing. Let me quickly just go find a drummer and bass player, grab a few extra power amps, some subwoofers, a couple of extra lighting tiers, and about 900 sq. feet of additional stage space, then me and the boys would be happy to rock out some old-school R&B tunes for your entire party to dance to all night long, or until you inevitably leave the restaurant because its WAY too loud in here with a full band playing.”

What I Actually Say: “Of course. I’ve got just the thing.”

What Actually Happens Next: I play the next song on my set list.

Dialog #3:

Stranger: “What kind of guitar is that?”

My Inner Dialog: “Oh boy. Here we go! The talking to a musician equivalent to asking about the weather. Let me guess, your son plays guitar. You just bought him one for Christmas?”

What I Actually Say: “It’s a Chet Atkins.”

Stranger: “My son plays guitar. I just bought him one for Christmas.”

My Inner Dialog: “Wow. I never saw that coming. Now that you’ve been on the inside of a music store shopping for a $199 guitar starter pack for your son, you probably know pretty much everything there is to know about all guitars just based on their model name.”

What I Actually Say: “That’s awesome. Definitely tell him to stick with it. It doesn’t get any easier to find time to learn the older you get, as you probably already well know. If he gets good enough, someday, all this could be his.” [here I point around the room to the dozens of uninterested patrons shoveling Mexican food into their faces.]

Stranger: “Yeah, my wife and I are thinking about getting him a drum set this Christmas.”

My Inner Dialog: “Awesome. That’ll definitely prevent him from ever being able to make any money in the music business.”

What I Actually Say: “Everyone loves a multi-instrumentalist.”

Stranger: “Oh, I think my food just came. Bye!”

 Dialog #4:

Stranger: “Do you know ‘Moon Shadow’ by Cat Stevens?

Me: “No, I sure don’t, I’m sorry. I can probably fake my way through ‘Wild World’ for you though if you’d like?”

Stranger: “Really? Well do you know ‘Caravan’ by Van Morrison?”

Me: “No, ‘Brown Eyed Girl’ is the only Van Morrison song I do.”

Stranger: “What? Are you serious? Why?”

My Inner Dialog: “Well, because I can only remember the 250 songs I already know how to play, so unlike your iPod which can hold 250,000,000 more songs than you’d ever be able to listen to in 10 lifetimes if literally all you did for 10 lifetimes was sit and listen to .mp3’s one after another, 24 hours a day…unlike THAT, I’m at maximum capacity. Also, because you’re one of 15 people on the planet who know either of those two songs by those artists, and literally 15 people per night request ‘Brown Eyed Girl,’ so…”

What I Actually Say: “Yeah, I know, I love those songs, too. I SO wish I could play them for you. Thanks for listening though, and let me know if you see something on the actual playlist that you do want me to play.”

Stranger: “Yeah, I just think Cat Stevens and Van Morrison are two of the most underrated songwriters of all time. You know?”

My Inner Dialog: “Well, that’s because you stopped listening to new music just before Cat Stevens became Yusuf Islam, in 1977. So yes, it doesn’t surprise me that when your musical world ended 4 decades ago, you’d be surprised by the lack of Cat Stevens and Van Morrison in the day-to-day conversation of songwriters today.”

What I Actually Say: “Oh, absolutely. For my money, I just don’t think it gets any better than Cat Van Stevenson. See what I did there?”

Stranger: “Yeah, my margarita is ready at the bar. Bye.”

Dialog #5:

Stranger: “What do you call that box thing your buddy plays on? Is that like an actual instrument, or did he just make that?”

Me: “It’s called a ‘cajon,’ and yes, it’s very much an actual instrument. Peruvian actually.”

Stranger: “Well how does it work?”

Me: “Well, there is a set of snares that taper away from the faceplate as it stretches from top to bottom, so when you hit it at the top of the faceplate, where the snares actually make contact with the faceplate, it sounds like a snare drum. But when you hit it toward the middle of the faceplate, where the snare strings have tapered away from the faceplate, it sounds more like a kick drum.”

Stranger: “What’s a snare drum? What’s a kick drum?”

My Inner Dialog: “Why the $#!+ did you ask me about how this instrument works if you don’t even understand the basic parts of a drum set or principles of rhythm? Did you wanna talk about my cajon or were you just making chit-chat? I guess my answer should have been, ‘Well, you sit on top of it and flail your arms at it randomly, and all these amazing beats come out of it. You wanna try?'”

What I Actually Say: “Oh, I’d just love to stand her and talk shop with you all night, but I’ve been holding a pee for that entire, hour-long set. If you’re still here when I come back, I’ll send my drummer right over to talk to you all about this.”

Stranger: “Can my kid play it? He just loves the drums.”

My Inner Dialog: “Can I come to your office tomorrow with my baby nephew and let him just play around on your computer for a while? Maybe spin around in your desk chair until he throw up? His absolute favorite thing in the world is eating Cheetos and drinking giant glasses of apple juice while watching Sponge Bob videos on Youtube. He already knows how to operate the mouse and keyboard and everything! Oh, you have a touch screen monitor? Even better!”

What I Actually Say: “Oh, you’ll have to talk to my drummer about that. He’s VERY particular about who he lets play on his equipment.”

What Actually Happens Next: His kid climbs on top of the cajon and starts “flailing his arms at it randomly, and all these amazing beats come out of it.” What NEVER comes out of it is the Cheetos dust, and sticky.

I hope you enjoyed this little educational tidbit for the day. Tune in next week for PART 2. In the meantime, if you are guilty of any of these, be sure to leave a comment about how this post will help you not offend your musician peers moving forward. If you’re a musician, let me know how applicable this is for you. Thanks for reading.

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