Dear AAP -
I just turned 33 and just finished up another Summer and Fall driving around the country and playing with my band. In the wintertime we usually stick close to home, try to hold down steady jobs and just practice and play around town. The thing is, I'm not sure that the summer of 2014 will be, or should be, spent the same way. We've been doing this, with this configuration of the band, or over six years. Do we have "a following"? I guess so, in a few towns. If we post a new track on our website, it'll get maybe 2000 listens fairly quickly, then not much more. This is the problem. We might be getting better as a band, but we're not getting any bigger. We are no closer to really supporting ourselves with our music now than we were in 2009, and really, any band that plays together for as long as we have has to get a little better, even accidentally. I am wondering when or if it is time to stop all this. - JJx
Dear JJx -
It is time to stop when the hassles and indignities start to outweigh, in your mind, the payoffs you're receiving. ...and by payoffs, I don't mean the elusive "big break" or whatever it is called now. I mean the only payoff that really matters: the FEELING you get when you're playing your music for an appreciative audience, even if it is the same size as it was 2 or 4 years ago.
There are a million rational reasons to stop any creative endeavor, most of them financial, especially when the ticking clock starts turning into entire calendar pages flying by. But when we're talking about creative endeavors we are almost always talking about something irrational - passion. I'm sure that, six years ago, you had a vision, or at least a hope, that you and your band would become more "successful" somehow... even though everyone told you what a long shot really "making it" as a band really is. Even though your own head told you the same thing... you pushed on in spite of the odds against you. Yes, you do get karmic points for that. Seriously, you do. ...but that might be all you ever get. Can you be happy with that?
You have to sit quietly and re-examine (or perhaps examine or the first time) exactly why you started down this path in the first place. Was the singular goal to sell a million records? Or was it to just see how far you could take it? Maybe this is as far as it could be taken.
Ask yourself this: Are you talking about quitting this band, or are you talking about hanging up the whole attempt to be "a musician" first and foremost? There are a zillion great musicians in the world who've never made their living playing... just as there are a zillion writers, painters, sculptors, chefs, app designers etc etc etc who are great at what they do, but might never make that big score. Heck, I've been writing this blog every week for five years... and my audience is pretty much the same size as was 2 years ago, and the last time I checked, my "income" from google adsense is up to a whopping $8.00. total. for five years.
...so clearly, I'm not doing this for the money or fame. I'm doing it because I like to do it which is pretty much the reason I do all of my other writing too. Do I hope for some pay-off from some of it, eventually? Yes, of course, but I also know that none of that is a given. The odds are long when it comes to solid financial success for any creative endeavor. ...but you can tell a 20 year old that fact until you're blue in the face, and all they'll be thinking is: "Well, I'm more talented than that old hack anyway" ...so all you can do is shrug and wish them luck.
The cliche is true: You had better enjoy the process because that alone might be your only payoff. But yeah, I get it - being in a real band requires a 100% commitment. You can't just do it "on the side" etc. You have to decide if you're "in" or "out" ...and it sounds like you haven't quite decided you're "out" yet, for the simple reason that you asked. Trust me on this: When you're really ready to quit, you'll know it and - no one will be able to talk you out of it.