The Inquirer: Don't Fret–Help Is Near

November 29, 2017

After interviewing Victor Wooten for last month’s cover story, I recalled that there’s nothing quite like a long conversation with Victor to juice up one’s urge to self-assess. Vic exemplifies the optimal attitude for achieving a satisfying musical life—specifically, that success is best achieved within a broader context of discipline, balance, and curiosity, and that our inevitable failures to consistently live by these principles should serve to motivate further commitment, not perversely succumb to self-sabotage.

In trying to make a living off music, my life is so packed with multiple money-making hustles that I sometimes feel overwhelmed, overcommitted, and psychologically befuddled. But just as often as this self-image depresses, it inverts, and I see this diversity in its truer form: I pursue breadth in music because it’s actually what I want. I like what I do, but I am just bad at some parts. Vic spoke at length in our chat (some of which was edited for space) about the essential role his team plays in enabling his career. Yes, he’s more talented than most of us—but he’s much better at asking for help, too.

The pressure on a musician in 2017 is intense, and you needn’t be a professional, or even a musician, to relate (and suffer from) what contemporary life seems to demand. For pro musicians, certain income sources associated with the job, like selling records and doing sessions, are almost completely gone. Don’t take my word for it; it’s a complaint I hear from people that are making objectively popular music and are in the contact lists of top-shelf producers in big music cities.

If you’re trying to make a living off music, today’s reality starkly reveals the need to diversify your skills. For this reason, musicians naturally blessed with certain skill sets seem better able to thrive. Nobody told me, for example, that one way I could mitigate the paucity of traditional music work was to become a savvy lighting tech and video producer with a thriving YouTube channel. But, I feel like I should be doing things like that. We all see other people doing stuff and we think, Hey, I need to do that, too. But then we try, and perhaps we realize we’re not actually good at making cool click-baity YouTube vids. Then, since many of us are sensitive artist types with fragile, carefully curated egos, we might fall prey to shame, dysthymia, and a simmering undercurrent of general inadequacy.

A healthy framework for dealing with all of the above is not only possible, it’s not that hard to achieve. First, find inspiration through consistent curiosity. One example from my own life is that, having played bass now for 25-plus years and having been more intimately engaged with the “inner circle” due to my Bass Player job, my sense of raw, child-like excitement at the instrument is different now from what it was when I first started. I feel really familiar with the bass, not because I’ve mastered it, but because there’s little mystery left about how to get better. I crave new challenges, so being naturally curious about other things, I did something about it: I started getting into synthesizers and production. I discovered the same eagerness to explore that had always pushed my progress when I was younger. I encourage you to do the same—not necessarily in the way I did, but in ways that leverage your own interests. Play to your strengths, and find a vector in music that enables this goal.

Second, collaborate like crazy. Our struggle is not unique; all artists are contending with the same challenges, with only the specific contours differing depending on the medium. Dovetail your weaknesses with others’ strengths. Say, for example, you want to make an impactful video for your band’s latest song. Maybe you’re lucky and a bandmember is also a talented video artist, but it’s more likely you’ll try to DIY the project and end up missing the mark. Your need for pro video production is someone else’s opportunity, an opportunity they’re no doubt happy to have found.

In short, stay curious and never be afraid to ask for help.

Bass Player Senior Contributing Editor Jonathan Herrera is the magazine’s former Editor-in-Chief. An accomplished player, Jonathan is now a full-time musician and producer. His latest endeavor is Bay Area recording studio Airship Laboratories. Catch up with him at jonherrera.com and at airshiplaboratories.com.

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