5 Unexpected Careers Required to be a D.I.Y. Musician

I started playing music because that’s what my friends were doing. We used to draw comics together, but then I grabbed a bass guitar and said to my friend, “How does this work?” And I’ve been an overwhelmingly adequate bass player ever since.

Four stings?! How hard could that be?
Four stings?! How hard could that be?

While I expected a learning curve and to eventually be required to know what a “chord” was, I didn’t expect the other responsibilities. This doesn’t hold true of all musicians, but most wear quite a few hats. Sometimes they’re of the leather cowboy from hell variety, sometimes they’re the hat of an entire other occupation.

1. CARPENTER

I’m not sure how knowing what a joist is helps my licks, but I do. In the course of building up practice spaces and prepping tour vans, I’ve learned quite a bit about carpentry. For instance, did you know you can totally break physics mind by spanning 15’ of space with a 2×12 support? Sure, load it up with 100s of pounds of gear, no problem! We call that a viable loft space, but in the real world of architecture, that would be called “breaking the law.”

IMG_2370
The ultimate test… do I die?

I know all about dove tail joints and t-nuts from rebuilding old cabs. I know about all kinds of wood for guitar builds, and I can spot particle board construction from a mile away. I’m not saying I can build a house, but I could totally build an awesome tree house. Go ahead, rebuild the bottom of a speaker enclosure an hour before show time. The panic builds character.

2. MECHANIC

Everyone should know how to change a tire. Some don’t, and I call those people stupid. Not everyone can change brakes, much less replace entire rotors and lube differentials a couple hours before hitting the stage. I’d rather pay hundreds of dollars, maybe thousands, to have some grease monkey pull this off. But that’s not always a choice, because usually when I open my wallet, flies emerge in a comical fashion.

Bonus: looking like a burly redneck.
Bonus: looking like a burly redneck.

There’s a basic set of skills that are very useful when you take a vehicle out on the road for an extended period of time. Know how to change your oil, not so much so you can always be the one doing it, but so you know the shyster in the garage has done it. Even understanding the basic mechanics of door locks is helpful when either your door lock breaks or your drummer has locked himself inside the van.

3. ELECTRICIAN

I had a broken amp. Amp techs refused to work on it because it was an unpopular solid state. I opened up and it looked like gobbledygook to me. Seven years later, I reopened it and fixed it. I had to learn how to fix that piece of shit so I could sell it to pay the rent I didn’t make after tour.

Now, not everyone has to become an amp tech. But understanding basic electricity principles is helpful to being a musician. If you don’t understand Ohms and matching impedance, you’re likely to have a broken amp (see above amp and me not understanding impedance matching). If you understand how magnetic coils work, you might be able to pick out better pickups for your guitar. If you know how to use a soldering iron, you can fix most problems that are caused by a dummy guitarist plugging in the wrong voltage to a pedal.

Once in awhile, it even becomes useful to know how to make a flashing brain or a laser chainsaw, but probably not that often.

But it should.
But it totally should.

4. TRAVEL AGENT

Quick, where is Houston in relation to Austin? If yer Texan, you don’t give a shit because you think you’re a bad ass anyway. If you’re a touring musician outside of Texas, you need to know. A GPS device will guide you there, but knowing basic geography is important. Tour routing can make or break a tour and it’s important to know how to travel smart to save money… and occasionally arrive on time to a show.

Airplane tickets can also make or break a tour. Do you know when airline travel is cheapest to Europe? Missing your window by one day can cost thousands. Do you know the cheapest airports to fly to or which ones are less likely to ask questions about your “business”? Sometimes, I feel like I should be in a business suit sipping martinis when I start talking about terminal hubs and flyovers. Unfortunately, I’m a schlub in steerage because I know the cheapest airfare. I hate to fly, and it shows.

Fuck you, plane. I crush you!
Fuck you, plane. I crush you!

5. DESIGNER

Yeah, I went to art school. That’s where I learned to paint “with feeling.” What a crock of shit. My art degree is nothing compared to the skills I learned just making band merchandise. I didn’t know HTML, but I had to learn how to make a website back in the ‘90s when we realized this “Internet” was more than a fad. I didn’t understand halftones or textiles until we had to make shirts. I didn’t know anything about printing or layout until we had some low budget releases coming out that we didn’t want to look like shit. They did, but at least then I could blame myself.

Is it my fault there's actual shit on the cover? Don't answer that.
Is it my fault there’s actual shit on the cover? Don’t answer that.

Believe it or not, laying out some CDs actually got me a couple jobs in the real world. Sure, I told them I understood the entirety of printing and the whole Adobe design suite, but I was LYING. Still, the leg up I got from doing it myself allowed me the foot in the door and to learn on the fly. Now I’m one of the top designers in the Bay Area and my skills have bought me this waterfront property in the San Francisco Marina district (more lies).

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