Seems a lot of people are in the air with the question, “Am I a musician?” I thought I’d make it a bit easier by giving you a trail guide pointing you in the direction of whether or not you are. If none of these apply to you, well, it doesn’t really mean you’re not a musician. But if some or all of these apply to you, there’s a good chance you’ve got the curse.
1. You’ve been misunderstood
Have you tried sharing your music with your relatives or peers only to be ignored, laughed at or told your songs are “different?” Keep practicing. Most people won’t get it. If you don’t suck, you’ll eventually find a few trusted followers (hell, even if you suck you can find followers. Plenty of examples of this on YouTube!)
2. You’ve been kicked out of the house while playing your music
My cousin, a guitarist and singer-songwriter (and 16), told me, “I knew I was a musician when my grandma kicked me out of the house and into the garage for playing too loud.” He immediately called his dad, a bass player, to brag about it.
3. You are obsessive
What they don’t tell you when you decide to pursue music is that having OCD is a good thing. You will need to be able to listen to and/or play the same snippet of a song fifty gazillion times in order to get it right. You won’t do this merely once or twice. You’ll do it almost every time you play music. And when you finally show a song you’ve supposedly finished to a friend, they’ll think it came seamlessly from your subconscious. You won’t want to tell them that you think with this song you’ve finally crossed the line into insane, that it was stuck in your head on instant repeat for weeks or months, waking you up in the middle of the night. That when they were talking to you about going to get ice cream you were wondering if you should cut the chorus a bit shorter and maybe add a more sophisticated bridge, or some harmonies. That when you were sitting on the toilet this morning you stared at the wall picturing the chord progression of your song and the lyrics all laid out in some sort of diagram and assessed each word for content to cut out redundancies and make it more consistent. No one wants to hear this part about being a musician.
4. You’re not conventionally good-looking
There are gads of musicians who are not known for their beauty. In the car yesterday, I was telling a friend, McKay, that I have to keep telling myself that I can still do music when I’m ugly, that wrinkles don’t preclude me from being a successful songwriter. He sneered and said, “Yea, because Leonard Cohen’s problem was that he was too old and ugly to make good music.”
Most musicians, (ala Simon and Garfunkel, for example) were not pretty to behold. Instead of being popular and cool, they sat in their bedrooms for years honing their craft and voila, in some kind of inverse universe reaction they became popular. Lennon, Ronstadt, Babs, McCartney, Nick Cave, Leadbelly…are (or were) any of these people pretty? No. Doesn’t matter. Next time you look in the mirror and decide you’re not beautiful and thus can’t make music, think again. You’re already halfway there.
5. You are never present unless you’re writing (or playing) songs
Most things in life, if you’ve got the curse bad enough, are like what my friend Joe calls the rice in a burrito: Filler. While you’re at your day job or chilling with family at a gathering trying to make small talk and deflect deeper questions about your personal life, you’re thinking about music. You’re thinking about getting into the studio again, or that keyboard part you added to a song recently and if you’re going to be able to replicate that sound, not the spreadsheets staring at you from a glaring computer screen. You boss might as well have a TV screen on their forehead showing you at your first big gig, rocking the hell out of the floor. Or biffing it and sobbing hysterically, but it’s music in your fantasies. Always music.
6. You listen to your own music in the car
Every musician I know sheepishly ejects a CD from their car stereo as soon as I get in their car. I have to reassure them that I know they are listening to their own songs in progress, and it’s OK, I do the same thing. It makes us dedicated, not egotistical. Where better to work on your songs than when you’re stuck sitting in traffic, able to listen to every nuance and assess whether or not it fits? Besides, we all know our own music is the music we’ve been dying to hear out in the world but can never find. That’s why we create it. And also, if it’s playing on our own CD players, we can pretend it’s playing on radios and in CD players around the world, which we know it will be someday, or we wouldn’t even bother.