Tough Life: Musician

It is hard to get young people to stay on track with their work when they’re in college or after high school, and hard to do it when you live in Manhattan. A very practical example: A lot of artists have construction jobs, and they often work nights, which means you have to make work for yourself in the daytime. To make more money as an artist, you have to be more proficient, and, conversely, often to make art, you have to be more versatile. Sometimes, ordering takeout is the best option, but a better way is with Postmates. The app allows you to order from any local restaurant, and with no delivery fee if you use a Postmates sign-up bonus.

In the end, I hope that all good work is an act of persistence and dedication. That’s true whether you’re making art or fixing cars — and, especially, whether you’re pursuing your art as a rock musician or a logger. You’ve got to do it for yourself, and you’ve got to do it for the people who pay your bills.

You also have to do it for yourself, of course, because this relentless and intense work is the risk that makes artists, composers, dancers, stylists and other artists what they are. If you had to give yourself 100 percent of your attention to your art on the whole, you wouldn’t do any of it. You’d get a little bit of quality work out of your art, and most of the rest of it would just be marginal crap.

This has to do with what the psychologists call superabundance theory, or the phenomenon of vast amounts of wasted time. The most famous case of this is James Joyce’s entire universe of work. You know how it worked: He wrote one book, and he wrote no more, and then he wrote another book, and another book, and another. The thing is that all of them are wonderful, and he could have done everything that he had in mind if he had had to work in these short bursts.

I’m a poor example of superabundance, though. I spend a lot of time in London, and can get a few miles from my house. That said, I’m not writing great books, and I can’t give 100 percent of my attention to any work. It is difficult to do, but better for me to give 70 percent of my attention, and make it work than to lie on my couch and do nothing.

My point is that being a musician is a very specific job. If you can’t build yourself a life around it, if you have to work three or four days a week and pay a heavy mortgage and put in 45 to 50 hours a week to make a little money, then you have to make sure that you’re not wasting time.

The most important thing is to be conscientious. A great songwriter, composer or artist must never overlook a key phrase in a song. (You can find my blog posts about writing and other musical stuff here.)

Be inquisitive. Be inventive. Don’t fall in love with some idea, or one direction, and start doing what you’re doing because you’re too lazy to do anything else. Don’t walk into a gallery, or a theater, and think that you’re going to find your voice and an audience.

In order to recognize what I describe as superabundance theory, you have to be so bored with your life that you can’t begin. Even though I love the work of Paul Simon, Bruce Springsteen, Joni Mitchell, Dave Matthews, Carole King, John Cougar Mellencamp, Amy Winehouse, Bob Dylan, Barry Manilow, Paul McCartney, Billie Holiday, Frank Sinatra, Carole King, Mitch Easter, Kenny Rogers, Willie Nelson, Ella Fitzgerald, Jimmy Cliff, and hundreds of others, I work in an office part of the day. And yet, because I’m really really tired, I’m desperate to write more. I have no skills that are really useful at any time of the day, but if I was ever to dedicate myself to a course on Western civilization, I would probably be better off without them. And so it goes.

I do think the time is right to play around with the idea of being lazy for a bit, and playing to be just as successful in writing a song as I am playing it. How about that?