Today’s guest blog post, on the topic of music vs writing, welcomes back author and musician (as you may have guessed) Paul Hurst.
Do authors and musicians share similar genes?
There has been much excellent descriptive writing about hunting predators. Jaws, Jurassic Park and the odd ‘zombie’ film for example. Even a very odd zombie film. Attending a local meeting of Society of Authors members, I realised where the writers had drawn their inspiration.
Experienced eyes followed the sandwiches as they were brought out, appraisals made and then a polite but rapid and efficient feeding frenzy reduced the grub down to a few shards of greenery left spinning on the serving trays. It was rather like watching one of those sped up time-lapse films of animals reduced down to a skeleton in seconds. I looked on with professional awe. Because, as a musician since the late 70’s, I’ve predated a fair amount of free scoff along the way and have noted the relish and enthusiasm with which my fellow musos latch on the interval largesse. It would be interesting to set up an eat-off between the two groups – perhaps a new Olympic sport. How about the 100-yard freestyle buffet?
And then of course the other comparisons came to mind. Remuneration, for one. Okay, so the elite few at the top of both professions get to wallow in splendour and luxury, whilst things are less rosy for those of us lower down the food chain. Swap the music reference for writing and see how apt these jokes are:
‘What do you call a musician without a girlfriend? Homeless’.
‘What do you call a musician in a suit? The defendant’.
‘How do you make a million pounds from folk music? Start with two million…’
Perhaps that is why both groups are eager to seize the opportunity for the free food. A conversation at a gig – ‘what’s the beer, Phil?’ Answer – ‘Free’.
So, for most of us then are chasing a passion, rather than the money – and we can use that to our advantage. There are cover bands who seek to be commercial, learning all the favourites and pumping them out to order, regardless of their own preference. But everything sounds the same, without the passion or the originality. Bands that work by constantly jumping on the current bandwagon rarely create an original sound. And if the performers lack passion, they won’t fool the audience. I’m happy watching amateurs perform Gilbert and Sullivan – even if it stretches them a bit too far – just so long as they are giving us their heart and soul in the performance.
Obviously it is vital to make sure you are delivering what the client wants. Although there are far better musicians than me, I do try and find out what the client actually wants and provide it. There are excellent musos who are so focused on the kind of music they want to play that they are impossible to use for most performances. Who pays the piper really does call the tune. Taking a folk gig because you can’t get the rock work you really want, and then giving it large on your electric guitar once on stage is not the best way to win friends and influence people. Turning up clean, tidy, sober and on time helps as well.
And, for me, that’s the trick. Find out what you want to do, then offer it to the people who really want it. In both music and writing, ability is no guide to reward (two words, Jeffery Archer) so don’t get hung up if your style does not currently mesh with a wide audience. Concentrating on reaching as many people as you can who like what you do, and don’t be tempted to sell out.
The problems come when we expect to automatically be able to do this 9 to 5, five days a week. It may be possible to achieve a full-time living at some point, but the chances of reaching this status will be greatly enhanced if we are lying to neither ourselves, nor our audience. So we’ll probably need an alternative source of income for now, to top up the shortfall. That, or a very understanding partner. Most of the regulars in our band regard the music as merely a paid hobby that keeps them in shiny new instruments, even paying for a recording studio in the garden.
Let me introduce you then to the option of Modular Economics, also sometimes called Portfolio Working. Musicians usually have no problem in admitting that they work as such only part time. They feel no shame in doing this, accepting the reality that the work they want is usually sporadic. Yes, I could earn more money by taking pub gigs, the heritage market stuff and all of the other low paid work, but I’d rather stick to the weddings, parties and corporates thank you very much. The free time can then be used for other specialised jobs that I also enjoy. Added together, it all makes sense – the different income streams not only add up to an acceptable income, but the work is all fun and there is a level of protection. If lose a hand, or am no longer able to drive for any reason, then there will still be enough money coming in.
One last point. I recently heard a call for writers to be given more protection, more help, more grants. For us poor musos, there is far less council-funded work about, even the corporate gigs quietened down for a bit. It’s all very much down to market forces now. I won’t go into the rights and wrongs of this, just note the reality. Whether we are dealing with stave or words on our manuscript, we all need to start from each end of the process and connect the two. How can we really express our passion, who will pay for that – and how much – and what kind of a plan B do we need to make this all a valid reality? And yes, free grub may well be part of the overall plan. Race you to the buffet.
Thank you Paul, I loved that, especially as I’m a big fan of buffets! Oh and the last audiobook I listened to by Jeffrey Archer (Cat o nine tales)… not great. 😦
Paul Hurst has run his own companies since the mid 1980s. Small, stable ‘niche’ affairs with the absolute minimum of overheads. Two of the companies cover his work as a musician and performer since the late 70s, and as band leader since the early 80s. Working through his business The Solutions Agency Ltd, Paul provides bookkeeping, accountancy, training and consultancy services to a wide range of small companies, drawing on his experience in banking, County Court, retail, management accounting, advertising, building, civil engineering, importing, engineering and now psychology as a student with the Open University.
If you would like to write a writing-related guest post for my blog then feel free to email me with an outline of what you would like to write about. If it’s writing-related then it’s highly likely I’d email back and say “yes please”.
The blog interviews will return as normal tomorrow with sci-fi fantasy writer Sarah Baethge – the one hundred and ninety-fourth of my blog interviews with novelists, poets, short story authors, biographers, agents, publishers and more. A list of interviewees (blogged and scheduled) can be found here. If you like what you read, please do go and investigate further. And I enjoy hearing from readers of my blog; do either leave a comment on the relevant interview (the interviewees love to hear from you too!) and / or email me. You can read / download my eBooks from Smashwords (Amazon to follow).