Opinion: Finding Focus with Wes Brooks

By WES BROOKS,

Grab your preferred listening device and find the title track from from Paul Simon’s 1975 solo effort, Still Crazy After All These Years. I don’t think his full bio is necessary here, but I will verify that I do mean that Paul Simon. The songwriting half of Simon & Garfunkel. The author of such iconic songs as “Bridge Over Troubled Water,” “Sounds of Silence,” “The Boxer,” “Cecilia,” and “Mrs. Robinson.”

Trivia: Did you know Paul Simon has an identical twin brother named Ed? Quite the accomplished musician himself, Ed Simon toured with Simon & Garfunkel a few times but ultimately chose a different path. He founded the The Guitar Study Center which would become part of The New School.

I chose this particular song for a couple of reasons. First, the topic I chose to tackle this week begged that I utilize all the concentration all the… uhh… focus I could muster. I needed a track that’s mellow.

The Fender–Rhodes electric piano is about the mellowest sounding instrument ever created, and this week’s track is bathed in it. Second, some of what I’m going to share might read like I’m verbally shaking my finger at you—I am not. I’m just offering a perspective you may have never thought to consider.

Before I go any further, let me offer the following spoiler alert to any of you who have ever spent any time in a band—from this point forward, there won’t be anything you read that you haven’t already experienced, talked about, thought about, and/or considered.

Sorry.

You know that musician/band you hired to perform for your private party or wedding reception? Well, regardless of what you think about the deal he/they gave you, if they entertained you and your guests, you got them for a bargain.

There’s a bold statement, Wes, and it sounds a little greedy.

Okay, that’s a fair reaction and I understand it, but let me offer some perspectives you may not have considered.

I play guitar, and even though I know that I’m a mediocre guitarist at best, I love it and I know I was born to do it. It probably appears to most that I know what I’m doing, and some of you have even been incredibly kind enough to verbalize as much. However, if you asked an accomplished guitar player to critique me, I’d be thrilled if he came back to you with “…meh… he’s okay.”

Seriously, I’d be thrilled.

As far as guitar playing goes, I know I have limited ability, but I have heaping truckloads of obsessive-compulsive desire. And regardless of ability, so does every other musician who charges for their efforts.What does that mean? It means any recognizable talent/skill you may have spotted in us came with ten times the work you may have imagined it took to attain… and that’s just a small fraction of what we musicians take into consideration when formulating the fee for our services.

25-plus years of playing music semi-professionals has led me to infer that most hiring parties consider the following when imagining how much a musician/band will charge: are they any good and, if they’ve never seen you perform, how many people can verify that they’re any good?

The next time a musician/band quotes you their price, I respectfully ask you that you consider a few things before you recoil in shock or give them the stink eye.

First, please know that unlimited access to alcoholic beverages and food are not compensation. If such an offer is accepted, then you can bet you just invited some college-aged strangers to come get drunk and fed and make a lot of noise while they do it. Food and beverages are nice courtesies to offer, but most experienced bands got that out of their systems when they were in their early twenties, and beer and pizza aren’t accepted as currency when we’re fueling our vehicles for the journey home. 

Assuming arguendo, I’ll offer this example: Let’s say a band quotes you $1200 for three hours of music. You may ask yourself, “how in the world could they ask $1,200 to play music for three hours?” I would offer that, yes, you’ve asked them play music for three hours, but you’ve asked them to work for eight to nine hours. And that’s not really taking into account that they may have traveled hours to get to you.

I’ve always half-jokingly quipped that I don’t get paid to play music, I get paid to be away from my family and haul gear. Those three to four hours on stage playing music are always a joy and a gift.

However, before considering the time spent actually getting to and from the event, consider the hours spent loading the gear into the vehicles, unloading it at the event site, setting it all up, and then doing all of that in reverse when the performance is over.

Last, if that band is confident enough to require that level of compensation, it’s a safe bet that they’ve spent years learning their instruments.

More importantly, they’ve spent years honing their skills with other musicians. I mention this because any musician will tell you that being great in the living room means diddly if you’ve never played on stage with others.

I hope I’ve not given you, the reader, the impression that we musicians are chronically short-changed, because nothing could be further from the truth. Many of the hiring parties I’ve encountered are quite generous and some have even offered a gratuity. For the most part, it’s not about the money.

I don’t know of any musicians in the Pine Belt who haven’t played for free when charitable organizations come calling—it’s an honor to give back in that way.

Ultimately, we do it because we love it, and personally, I’m still humbled every time I’m hired to play. However, Paul Simon explains it best when he sings…

 

I fear I'll do some damage

One fine day

But I would not be convicted

By a jury of my peers

Still crazy after all these years

Oh still crazy

Still crazy

Still crazy after all these years

 

When he’s not rocking his socks off, Wes Brooks spends his days as the Development Coordinator at the DuBard School for Language Disorders at The University of Southern Mississippi.

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