By: Jessica Hopper
[Editor's Note: Are you a musician? Is your group having issues? Ask Fan Landers! Critic Jessica Hopper has played in and managed bands, toured internationally, booked shows, produced records, worked as a publicist, and is the author of The Girls' Guide to Rocking, a how-to for teen ladies. She is here to help you stop doing it wrong. Send your problems to her -- confidentiality is assured, unless you want to use your drama as a ticket to Internet microfame.]
Long time reader, first time writer. I'm a 39 year-old professional and father of a two-year-old. I've been writing and recording my own music for 20 years with very little to show for it other than a closet of unsold vinyl and a second bedroom full of synthesizers and guitars. My little boy sleeps in a crib in our bedroom because our second bedroom is full of the accoutrements of my music hobby. I am toying with the idea of putting all this gear in storage so our son can have his own bedroom, but that would pretty much be an admission that I am giving up and I know it would make me so unhappy. I devote maybe one or two nights a week to music so renting a practice space seems unjustifiable. How do I balance the dream of being a bedroom krautrock superstar with the realities of the lives of two full-time working parents?
"Dieter Zweite-Schlafzimmer"Dearest Dieter,
You are asking the wrong question. This isn't about balancing and there is no such thing as a Krautrock superstar, except for, like, whoever from Can is still presently alive. This is not about giving up on ambition, it's about scaling your dream to better fit your life. That room is a holdover from your pre-parental life, a relic of old freedom. As someone whose workspace became a playroom two years ago, I understand. But it's unfair to be all A Room Of One's Own when there's a little guy in a crib in your bedroom as result.
If you keep looking at this as "the kid" vs. "my expression of self" this transition is going to be really painful, especially since there is plenty of sacrifice involved in parenting a young child already, it's hard not to cling to things that feel totemic of the old life. It'll also make you resent what's happening rather than just seeing it as a transition. This isn't happening because you are almost 40 or your music is bad or that you are a failure. As parents the main thing we have to teach our kids is how to live right, just being "done" with music would make you miserable and hobby-less, and you don't want to example that to him. Your motivation here only has to be that you are seeking a reasonable solution that works better for everyone: you both need a place to play, essentially. So chew on that, because I am about to offer some radical advice.
First, your deadline is the new year. You are going to honestly evaluate all your gear, guitars, pedals et. al. and see what is the stuff that you use every time you make music. What's the crucial stuff? What's the stuff you use for sure once a month? That is the stuff you are going to keep. You are going to eBay/sell everything else because if you have been playing for 20 years, you know plenty of other musicians who would reasonably loan that item to you for a week if you need it to record. The goal is to get everything you need to create (save for a guitar) into two large suitcases/underbed storage thingers. No more. Call in some judicious help if you find you are being sentimental. If there is something you really cannot part with (a rare pedal or something akin) but never ever use, maybe think about a long term loan to a trustworthy friend.
The goal is to have a portable set up that you can drag out to the living room or some nook and then tuck back away when music time is done. I am thinking like a pedal board with velcro situation, but perhaps that wouldn't quite work for you--but that direction, of portability, ease and function. The money you make from selling your gear is going to be split three ways--1/3rd is a baby bedroom decoration budget (waddup, adorable Land of Nod rugs), 1/3rd is to facilitate any particular changes you need for your home studio going mini (I'm thinking you'll be going from fancy speakers to fancy headphones and software) and the other third is savings, because when you have kids that's how you need to roll. Pat yourself on the back for dadding up.
Round up all those unsold albums--you get to keep 10 copies. The rest get recycled. You can stand in the alley and mourn a little bit, wave a feather and say some words in honor of everyone's time and energy and hopes and young dreams. This is the ceremony for moving on to your new idea of success, one that is not based on money and record sales. Celebrate your freedom from that capitalist yardstick of success by reading Lewis Hyde's ESSENTIAL book The Gift: Creativity and the Artist in the Modern World, it'll reinvigorate your spirit and creative practice. Maybe your music making is now about how much magic you can pump out of your micro-studio, how much you can impress the other electro-nerds in your Soundcloud group. Set some goals. There is no shame in starting (or re-starting) small and keeping it small. This is going to be hard work, but if you can try to be fearless about letting go all this stuff (ideas and gear), I think you are going to feel a lot freer when you are done.