I haven’t quite figured out how to explain what I do for a living.
Most occupations need no explanation or maybe very little, but that’s just not the case as a musician. Being a musician comes with the stigma (perpetuated mostly by movies, books, media and fearful parents) that artists are probably poor and starving, possibly lazy, maybe uneducated and certainly impractical.
Not the actual case. But since that’s the assumption and I’d prefer not to be thought of in those terms, it requires some explaining.
I think it comes from the foreign nature of an artistic profession to non-artists. If the primary exposure to musicians has been to the two polar opposites of Beyonce and that starving artist trope, of course someone making a blue collar living as a professional musician might be unsettling.
After I tell someone “I’m a professional musician, I play the drums,” they say “Do you teach?” Or when I get to the part in my explanation where I mention teaching they say “Oh you teach!” Like maybe I was being a bit deceptive when I said I play the drums for a living because that’s, you know, impossible and they figured out the truth like Lieutenant Columbo or Adrian Monk.
People. I’m not exaggerating this happens like clockwork.
It’s when they hear that I’m a teacher that they become relieved, even excited. They can now wipe the nervous sweat from their brow saying “Whew, turns out he’s on the conveyor belt like me after all.”
Full disclosure, I actually charge super low when I teach and its not my primary source of income. I teach to have a part in sharing music with young people. Music did a lot for me, great music teachers did a lot for me too and I’ve found a way to teach that fits with my life priorities. I don’t teach because I cant play (“Those who cannot do, teach” is another trope that’s got to go in every subject, not just the arts), or because I don’t make enough playing. I make enough playing, but I want to also be a teacher.
Anyway, once people hear “teacher” they latch onto that and suddenly feel very comfortable. I can see their posture normalize and their face un-scrunch. From then on the questions revolve around my teaching, not my playing, even though that’s not actually the focus of my profession.
This particular misunderstanding is just one example of many. I’ve just come to embrace the fact that this occupation is a bit hard to grasp if you’re not a part of it. We’ll always get questions, some accusatory in nature, because we’re doing something out of the ordinary. This used to really bother me but now I’ve come to understand that it’s just one of the costs of living a creative lifestyle.
Totally worth it.