On Following Dreams, OR: Wisdom(?) from Pig Destroyer
There’s this headline from The Onion that I love because it is un-comedy: “Find what you love: do it on nights and weekends.” People need to do what they love; that is not to say that everyone will make a living with what they love. Do what you have to in order to pay your bills, but don’t let that stop you from sharing your talent with the world. Should people full-time, full-throttle pursue their passions? In particular, should your friend fully focus on the drums and pass on other studies?
Well, I don’t know.
I have some questions.
First of all, if you’ll pardon my being blunt, how good is he? There’s “my friends are very impressed,” and then there’s “my band teacher says I’m good,” but let’s face it: if you’re talking about pursuing a career in music performance, neither of those will necessarily cut it. “I worked up to section leader my senior year” is different from “I made all-state band for three years running.” What level of skill has he obtained?
Second, what does he want out of life? It’s entirely possible that literally the only thing he wants is to drum. That makes it easy. But when contemplating a career in a field that’s a tough nut to crack, requiring skill and effort and luck, it’s important to be honest with oneself. How important is it to your friend to have a nice new car? Own a home? Have kids in the next ten years? None of those make a career as a drummer impossible, of course; getting stuck in either-or thinking is logical failing. But work in a creative field is not necessarily the easiest path to creature comforts or stability, and I don’t use those terms mockingly: there are several reasons I became a teacher rather than pursuing creative writing my whole life, and I’d be lying if I said a stable job with good insurance wasn’t one of them. I have no regrets. Before anything else, I wanted a home with a family I could support, and I have those things. Sharing a studio apartment with a roommate and hoping I could sell a story to make rent? I wasn’t interested.
Maybe your friend is. Maybe splitting an apartment with roommates/bandmates through his 20s, maybe spending a lot of time on the road, sounds fantastic: there’s a romance to that life. Maybe if he gets to play gigs a couple nights a week he’s totally cool with waiting tables, because those gigs make life worth living. Lady Gaga has a tattoo of a Rilke quote that translates to, “Confess to yourself in the deepest hour of the night whether you would have to die if you were forbidden to write.” Is that how your friend feels about playing the drums?
Playing the drums would not be forbidden, of course: not if he majored in something else, not if he got a 9-5 office job, not if he waits tables… he can always play the drums, and regardless of his life path, I hope he does. What if he pursued music education, and teaching the drums to kids was part of his life? What if drumming is a side gig? On the other side of things, will he always wonder if he could have “made it” if he hadn’t gotten bogged down with X, Y, and Z?
One of my favorite essays I’ve ever read is called “Into the Darkness” by David Rowell, which The Washington Post published in 2009: the author spends a week with a grindcore band called Pig Destroyer before they play Maryland Death Fest. It’s a wonderful read about what metal means to people, and what Pig Destroyer means to the people who play in it. I’ll throw in a few excerpts…
They are also quite successful, considering the band's part-time status. Pig Destroyer has sold nearly 100,000 albums, and it earns about $20,000 each year from merchandising, album sales and live appearances, which, when the band isn't playing a festival, are generally in front of crowds of 300 to 800. Though the band has, over its 12 years together, performed in such far-flung countries as Japan, Australia, Germany, Belgium, Mexico and the United Kingdom, it plays only a handful of shows a year because its members are fiercely protective of their lives outside the band. Hull, for example, is the devoted father of two small boys and a frequent volunteer at his older son's school. He had been working on his PhD in physics at Boston College before eventually abandoning it. Now he works for the Department of Defense, though that's all he can tell me for security reasons…
While in Boston, he joined a metal band with a name that can't be printed here, and recorded a CD with them, but he stayed for only a couple of months. "I couldn't take off and do all the touring that they wanted to do," he said. But that wasn't the only problem. He began to realize: "'Hmmm, I'm the only one with a credit card. I'm the only one with the ability to rent a car. I'm the only one with any sort of education.' A lot of things were starting to come into focus. And I thought, 'I'm not sure I want to follow this path...This is fun, but I'm eventually going to want to have a family. I eventually want to be comfortable. I want to have a future.' "
He got tired of life as a teaching assistant making $12,000 a year, he said, relocated to Washington and started up his career. He was working at Lockheed Martin in the IT department, which, he said, put to use his skills as an analytical thinker, when Pig Destroyer started up in 1997. From the beginning, Hull saw the band as something on the side to a fuller life. His main interest was writing and recording, rather than performing on the road…
Hull enjoys the careful balance he has set for himself. "I like being in my own house, and I like having my family around. On the road it's like: 'Where are we going to find ourselves tonight? Oh, no hotel? Okay, we'll just get back on the road. Who's going to drive?' It's just an endless array of problems you have to solve."
When Pig Destroyer does play a show, the preference is for weekends, which lets Hull save as much vacation time as he can for his family.
"Ultimately, this is not a career," Hull said of Pig Destroyer. "Bands typically fall apart after a while. And then your ability to want to continue to do this sort of wanes, and then all of a sudden you're stuck in a position where you've professionally chosen to do this for your livelihood, and all of a sudden you have to do this, and it's a job. That's why we choose to keep a lot of the pressure off. That's why we don't tour so much. All of that just tears people apart."
I don’t know your friend the drummer any more than I know the guys in Pig Destroyer. I don’t know what sort of drumming he wants to do, or what other interests he has, or anything. I don’t know what his life goals are, or if he even knows for sure what they are yet. What I am certain of, is that figuring out one’s life goals, and finding one’s way toward those things that truly matter – whatever they are – is an essential condition for happiness. There’s an opportunity cost for everything. Go in with your eyes open. Talk to people in your prospective field. Think: what life do I want, and what am I willing to sacrifice for it? Figure out what is most essential for your happiness, pursue it, and remember there is more than one way to skin a cat. Or destroy a pig. Whatever.
Drums are cool
Sometimes procrastination with something else can lead to other doors we didnt even know exist until we tried something else out. Also learning multiple things at once can be a challenge but it can also be a broadening experience too. Maybe while the drummer learns something else still teach drumming to someone who might be just as passionate as the drummer is. Hope this advice is solid and can help. Your friend will find their way with or without the advice :) Your also a great friend for asking for advice for this drummer friend. Your cool too.
Hope This Helps!
I myself have not yet had to make the decision of if I want to stay in music or continue onto a different career, but if music is something that makes him happy I believe he should stay with his dreams.
Yet I do think It would be helpful to study something else as a backup, perhaps not something major that comes with too much work, but something that he enjoys and won't task him greatly. It would be a good fall back if being a drummer falls through and when he has free time it would be something for him to do.
To be brutally honest, its a bit hard to become famous or make a lot of money right away by playing an instrument and being a drummer might not always be the smartest choice, a backup job would also make sure he is making the money he needs to have the necessities needed in life. If he were to make a living as a musician that extra job wouldn't be needed yet would still be there to help.
So to wrap it up, I do not think it will interfere with his musical aspirations at least not in a over the top way, it could even be good for him although he doesn't need it at the time.
Music is changing, not everyone will like the drum forever. Some will love a piano and other instruments hence blend in and be familiar with other things. I would encourage the boy to pursue other things.
A song without a drumbeat is a story without words - possible but unlikely. Let your friend enjoy his aspiration. Is he willing to do gigs? Even the birthday bashes? Is that that the price of his passion? Would he be alright with doing just birthday bashes, forever?
Let him dwell on that thought. If it is, being a drummer might be great.
To beat or not to beat
That is the question...
There's a great interview with Anderson Paak on YouTube where he talks about his journey and commitment to being a drummer. Long story short, there was a point where he committed to treating it like a job and that ultimately helped lead him to success.
That being said, there is large variance in what people define as success. August 16th, 1962, drummer Pete Best was fired from the Beattles. You can read more about the story but towards the end of his life he realized that the Beattles "became a public commodity."
All this to say, make the best of the cards that you're dealt.
Your friend has, in drumming, what very few people have with things, time.
There is a fondness and a love that grows with that time, and it will always be there to love and support you back.
But there are other things to love, I encourage your friend to find them.
Walk hand in hand with the people, places, and things you fancy, for with them, you are never truly alone.
Arnold [Politically Incorrect Last Name]
Arnie never had a plan B when he went to Hollywood before anyone wanted to see him in Conan the Destroyer (1984). The little drummer boy will surely regret not going all in on his dream. Anyone can play it safe, and do you know what anyone can also do? Die miserably.