Making a Living in Music. Or Not.

By BOB WIRE

Rusty came home from the library the other day, and announced that he’d checked out a book just for me.

“Excuse me, but don’t you mean the LIE-berry?” I asked, trying to derail his fine public school education with some good ol’ southern Idaho pronunciation.

He ignored me, and handed me the book, entitled “Making a Living In Your Local Music Market.”

After I stopped laughing and wiped the tears from my eyes, I told him that no one makes a living at music in this local market, except for Tom Catmull and Russ Nasset. And I don’t think either one of those cats is shopping for new digs in Mansion Heights.

Like thousands of other Missoulians, I have created several different income streams that come together every month at the Credit Union income delta to form one vast but shallow income swamp.

This swamp is quickly drained each month by insurance payments, increasing grocery bills (unstable petroleum prices are driving up the cost of fried chicken gizzards, for instance), periodic trips to my doctor to confirm that the little wart behind my ear is not cancer, and postage stamps. The resulting muck of small change and crumpled dollar bills is enough to keep me in guitar strings and Pabst Blue Ribbon.

Barb, whose grown-up job provides a single income stream that is more of a river, and large enough to require highway bridges, covers the heavy stuff like the mortgage and utilities and all our clothing and non-gizzard food. But we’re doing alright, and the struggling years are behind us.

But to think that I could actually make a decent living from just music?

Technically, it could be done. I could cultivate a clientele of music students who would pay me for lessons. I could play solo or with my band several times a week. Busking on the streets of Missoula could raise some daily cash. I could write some jingles for the radio. I could license one of my songs for use in a movie or TV show. Or I could buck the longest odds of all and have one of my songs recorded by a Nashville superstar.

Let’s explore these possibilities, shall we?

Bob teaches the finer points of guitar style.

Music Lesson #1: "Okay, Shane, this is what we call a B minor chord. Hey, are those tennisshoes?"

First off, music lessons.

Well, let’s just say my own musical education is somewhat sketchy, consisting of a pocket book of musical terms, a 1962 edition of Mel Bay’s Guitar Basics, and a yard-sale book entitled “Ronnie Raccoon and Teddy Turtle Teach Your Second Grader How To Read Music!”

Which is not to say I wouldn’t have something to offer a guitar/vocal student.

First lesson? Let’s look at the shoes. Are you playing guitar in sneakers? No one will take you seriously. You must wear boots.

Second question: Do you know the intros to 10,000 songs, but no entire songs? Get out. Do you play with a ton of reverb? Well, unless you’re Duane Eddy, turn that shit down. Too much ‘verb is bad for the kids. Do you play a Charvel or Jackson or ESP guitar with pointy parts that could draw blood? Move to Los Angeles.

For vocal students, I could offer the following wisdom. Do you do extensive vocal warm-ups before a gig? Yeah? Then do that shit in the car. It drives everyone nuts. If you cannot do a throaty tiger growl like Roy Orbison, then I will teach you. It involves eating lots of yogurt.

Would you like to learn to sing country style? Watch several episodes of “Dukes of Hazzard,” and sing like they talk. Only through your nose. Also, a successful singer needs good breath control. The only thing I know about breath control is that breathing is good. Always breathe.

So I’m not anticipating any teaching gigs.

As far as playing live, the opportunities in Missoula are limited. I’m not willing to play Top 40 country, because most of the popular stuff out there now is reprehensible dog shit disguised as country music. Nah, the best stuff was written 40 years ago. So I play a little of that, and a lot of originals. There are only a handful of bars that support original music, and at pay rates that haven’t changed since 1974, we’re not breaking the bank.

Solo gigs? I do a few here and there. But I need to pay more attention to the venue. Last summer found me playing “You’re On My Shit List” to a mortified group of happy hour enthusiasts on the deck at Shadow’s Keep, a pretty upscale joint.

In order to make a good chunk of money playing live, a musician has to play 8-10 gigs a month or more, which would involve some travel, and the risk of overexposure. Seeing as how overexposure is already an issue for me when I water the backyard in the buff (the neighbors have all bought curtains), and I’m way past the point in my life where I want to drive to Two Dot all night with three other sweaty drunks and come home at 5:30 a.m. with $45 in my pocket.

I would drive to Evaro, though. What are the hours?

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Wanna laugh ’til your sides hurt? These ought to do the trick: Growing Up Is Hard to Do (When You’re Already Over 40)Who Will Save Rock ‘n Roll?, and The Guitar That Saved My Soul.

   Check out all of Bob Wire’s posts in his blogarchive.

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Bob Wire in the Wonder Years.

Think of it as Gonzo meets Hee Haw: Missoula honky tonker Bob Wire holds forth on a unique life filled with music, parenthood, drinking, sports, working, marriage, drinking, and just navigating the twisted wreckage of American culture. Plus occasional grooming tips. Like the best humor, it’s not for everyone. Sometimes silly, sometimes surreal, sometimes savage, Bob Wire demands that you possess a good sense of humor and an open mind.

Bob Wire has written more than 500 humor columns for a regional website over the last five years, and his writing has appeared in the Missoulian, the Missoula Independent, Montana Magazine, and his own Bob Wire Has a Point Blog. He is a prolific songwriter, and has recorded three CDs of original material with his Montana band, the Magnificent Bastards. His previous band, the Fencemenders, was a popular fixture at area clubs. They were voted Best Local Band twice by the Missoula Independent readers poll. Bob was voted the Trail 103.3/Missoulian Entertainer of the Year in 2007.

You can hear his music on his website, or download it at iTunes, Amazon, and other online music providers.