I remember back in 2000 turning to the drummer on a particular gig and saying, “Dave, I just want music to be fun again.” I had just finished what, at the time, was the busiest year of my playing career (and by busy, I mean 398 live gigs in 365 days, not counting recording sessions), and was not enjoying the music I was playing on about 95% of the gigs (possibly more). Most of the “audiences” weren’t appreciative, and I found myself going through the motions. Even though I had serious chops from playing all the time, I wasn’t saying anything musically. When I was in the car, I wouldn’t even listen to music, and when I was home, I didn’t even want to look at my horn. I had no life outside of my career, and the only non-business trip I took that year was 3 days in New York to try to save my relationship with my girlfriend at the time. Dave responded with, “It’s because we just care too much about music.” That’s when I decided that in order to have a better quality of life and stay in music, I was going to have to make some changes.
At the end of the summer, I started teaching music part time at a community college (a gig which eventually became full time 5 years later).
My buddy, fellow saxophonist Gary Gould said to me, “There is tremendous power in the word, ‘No.'” So I started to be more selective with the gigs I took. I also started making time for more important things like family, friends, baseball, and golf.
In 2005, a month before I became full time at my college gig, I was on the road with a band in Boise and another friend, Mark Seraydarian, who was one of the other saxophonists on the band told me about a revelation he had while driving home from a low-paying big band gig: he realized that any time he took one of those big band gigs, it was taking time away from his wife and kids. It was then that he came up with 3 criteria for accepting gigs. The gig had to either: 1. Pay enough money to make it worth his time, 2. Give him plenty of improvised solo time, or 3. Provide a great hang factor, either with lots of good friends or lots of top-notch musicians. If the gig offered to him did not meet at least one of his criteria, he wouldn’t take it. That day, I adopted his policy into my career.
Fast forward to today: I still do about 250 live gigs a year on top of my teaching schedule, but I pick and choose what gigs I play and I enjoy roughly 99% of them (can’t be perfect–once in a while, I take a gig that I regret later). Music is fun again. I actually listen to music in the car again, and derive tremendous pleasure out of practicing. And I have noticed a significant amount of growth in the past 7 years as a result of being able to enjoy what I do once again.
Don’t let the business defeat you. Create a plan on how you can get back to the point of liking music again and then implement it. It may take a while to come to fruition, but it may be far better in the long run than getting out now.