Music has always been something special for me, but over the last couple of years I have began straying away from certain projects in fear of criticism and upholding a professional perception. When I perform live I find myself scanning through each song looking for mistakes, for fear of another drummer's judgement. The pressure is higher and will only grow with larger venues, bigger paychecks, and more difficult songs.
None of these are bad things but I see how easily it is to get caught in the motions of simply showing up at the studio, or stepping up on stage. It's easy to think about your paycheck over your passions. God knows I've done this plenty of times because I missed the last electric bill. For any professional artist, there is this constant struggle of doing what you love versus doing what pays the bills. And since the bills will never go away it seems the only thing we can be responsible for is what we love. I believe if you keep that in check then the battle won't be such a hard one.
I remember playing guitar as a kid and how much I loved going to my short thirty minute lessons. The joy I had when I left was an honest emotion, unaffected by money or goals. I simply enjoyed riding home and knowing that I had learned a new chord on my miniature guitar. Jump ahead a few years and you'll find a chubby 10 year old who loved Tupac. My dad and I used to ride around and listen to this one greatest hits record, over and over again. I didn't know half of the words(slang) I was hearing but I know I loved the emotion behind each line. From there on out I was determined to write rhymes and program the best tracks, that is, until I set behind the drums.
My dad bought a kit for himself a few years later, and one day he challenged me to sit down and just hit a couple things. Up until this point I had ridiculed him for playing the drums, but I thought I would entertain him and give it a shot. I ended up playing drums for several hours that day. Immediately I was hypnotized, between the five toms I could hit and the new shiny cymbals, nothing else mattered. It wasn't just an outlet, but in that moment I realized my passion. Being behind the drums made me feel like I wasn't just responding to the words, melodies, and grooves. Playing drums gave me the power to initiate that conversation. When I was happy, I drummed; when I was sad, I drummed; when I was overwhelmed, I drummed. It was my expression and it was one of the only ways I knew how to communicate, and although I was only communicating to a sheetrock wall at the time, I knew somebody would hear me someday. And it wasn't just them hearing me that excited me, it was knowing that I could have that musical conversation and finally hear a response. Whether it was punk, hardcore, hiphop, or even straight ahead jazz, I truly enjoyed music, listening and playing.
Over the years I've gone through phases with music. Sometimes I wanted to play every day with no plans in mind, just because I liked the music. Other times I would sit in my room and write out all the dreams I had ever had involving music. And those dreams gave way to me seeking out gigs, which led to me learning songs, which led me to making some money. Many years later, and here I am. I'm a full time musician, routinely playing with multiple artists/bands. I make decent money and genuinely enjoy what I do(most days). But the more I get calls and the more money I make, I realize that this wasn't the end result. Because I hate doing things half hearted so much, I began to toss ideas and concepts around in my head:
"Why do I still practice when most pop gigs require a simple backbeat?"
"As a professional musician, do I still take free gigs, and when did I even start expecting money?"
And after many conversations with some dear friends, I decided to trace my steps back to the simple question, "Why did I start playing drums?". That's when it hit me that none of this started out as a career. I never practiced because I wanted to impress a producer or get a gig. I starting playing music because I simply loved music. I loved listening, but even more, I loved creating. It was a passion rooted deep within me. I truly enjoyed getting to play crummy songs with my friends in a beat up shed, with no insulation, in the middle of winter. I loved trying to record songs on a tape recorder I found at my friend's grandparents' house. The conversations, the camaraderie, the self-expression. I loved it.
My challenge to myself has been to take a breath each day and simply enjoy a moment behind the drums. We have to set goals and we would all love to make a paycheck playing our own songs, but the fact is that without passion were just putting on an act.
I hope wherever this finds you today, you can take a few minutes to listen to your favorite song or look at your favorite painting or read your favorite poem, and fall in love again with art. Let your passion get the best of you today, and each day after.