The Life of a Modern Musician
In modern times, it seems that the life of a musician and, indeed, anyone in the creative arts seems to lead to an inevitable downshift in wages and, in many cases, social status and career choice. Modern aspiring musicians are often laughed at and judged as irresponsible dreamers, and especially in the rock and metal communities that I myself frequent, it’s hard not to see why.
Within only the month, two major figures in metal were ejected into the spotlight for what may be their final times as easily-avoided mistakes quite possibly end their careers.
Only four days ago, popular guitarist Lucas Mann, famous for playing for metal artists Rings of Saturn, was dropped by Nuclear Blast, taking the rest of the band with him as well, for allegedly threatening the label with making public statements “condemning Nuclear Blast in the strongest terms possible” if they wouldn’t comply with some of his personal terms.
Only a few weeks beforehand, on March 16, former Cannibal Corpse guitarist Pat O’Brien was sentenced to time served, as well as probation and a very large fine for an assault and burglary committed in 2018.
With these incidents entering the public eye so close together and so recently, more and more people appear to be putting musicians, especially those who would be considered “local,” into a negative light.
This is being compounded severely by the resurgence of live music. During COVID shutdowns, there was wide debate about when it would be safe to continue performing shows again, and now that the time is here, there are still a large portion of people who feel uncomfortable, even with enforced vaccinations, testing, and masks.
The final point to make here is a rather simple but difficult truth to hear; music has become essentially worthless. Despite the fact that musicians need to study and practice for several years before they can reliably release material, the ease with which anyone can find music online has rendered any song, album, artist, or genre individually rather unnecessary. This phenomenon has become akin to gaining a PhD in a field that no longer exists. There is no style of music that cannot be found in bulk with a few keystrokes or even a simple voice command, meaning the supply far outweighs the demand.
But, there is a silver lining; live music. Despite the current global situation and attitude toward live shows, modern musicians can still count on people coming out on a Friday night to have a great time and in doing so, contribute to ticket sales, drink sales, and merchandise purchases.
Analyzing the current state of affairs in this way, it seems rather clear what needs to be done — any musician who still wants to make a living must become not only a musician, but a true entertainer.
In recent years, music has become more and more of a contest on technicality — who’s more flexible, who can play more styles, who plays faster? But in doing so, most musicians seem to forgotten that their most important job is to be entertainers. All the technique in the world won’t help you if you’re boring to watch and interact with, and being too good on stage may even inhibit your ability to multitask.
Exmortus is a fantastic power-thrash metal hybrid out of California. They are one of my personal favorite bands, and I’ve even had the good fortune of playing with them a few times myself.
If you ask any musician who’s familiar, they’ll tell you that Exmortus is by far one of the best, most technical bands around today, capable of effortlessly pulling off feats that other musicians would find too advanced to even attempt.
Exmortus is semi-popular, having toured with some bigger bands fairly consistently, and headlining some smaller tours as well, and they deserve a lot more, but the fact remains that they’ve been playing for nearly 20 years and yet, somehow, most people still haven’t heard of them.
Why is that?
A band of such ability should logically be rather popular, but they’ve largely fallen victim to the same problems every other musician is facing these days — despite massive amounts of skill, people just don’t care about that as much anymore. In an age where YouTube can show you whatever you want in a few seconds, people don’t like going to shows to watch you shred anymore, they want to have fun and engage with real personalities.
In order to go forward, we musicians must accept the fact that we need to work on our stage-presence and our abilities to entertain rather than new techniques all the time. Personality is what sells music now.
My name is Ian Myrick, and I am the drummer for Thrash Metal band NeverFall from upstate South Carolina, as well as a music teacher of guitar, bass, and drums, self employed under the name Myrick Music Mastery.
What I’ve said here today is simply meant to represent my own observations as a touring, recording, and teaching musician within the modern music industry, and is not meant to be disrespectful in any way. I am a fan of all of the artists named above, and would never mean to disrespect them.