Peter Northcote......Nov 27th 2001
WHAT ARE YA GONNA DO IN 5 YEARS? 5 YEARS WHEN YOU GOT A WIFE & KIDS. WHAT ARE YA GONNA DO THEN... PLAY YA GUITAR?
Someone actually asked me this once. At a gig. At the bar. A very valid question at the time. I was in my early 20's and working as a salesman and guitar teacher at a suburban music shop. Occasional gigs with a cover band or at the wedding reception would be a bonus ... if we got paid at all. The break up of a relationship with the love of my life, Linda, had shattered me but also made me determined. She honestly believed I would end up being a looser. Another broke muso struggling to find the next gig.
Hey, I was that already! I lived with my brother and his girlfriend and he would constantly help me out with rent, cigarettes and food. My best friend and now a wonderful teacher, Frank Burgo, would pick me up in his car on gig nights, help me load in HIS amp and HIS guitar and hang around until the gig was over, or go away and come back when the gig was finished to pick me up. I owe a lot to Frank and Tony.
But I wasn't going to let some gorgeous woman I hadn't even slept with yet (yep Ö she wanted to remain a virgin till she got married ... god I must have been in love) win this little tiff. A loverís quarrel. Then on my 21st birthday she left a note on my pillow saying she couldn't love me anymore. She married an electrician the following year.
So if you ask me if losing Linda was a motivating force in my endeavour to succeed in the business of music, I would have to answer YES. (It also helped my sex life considerably.) But no matter what emotional motivation you may receive, the universe will never miss an opportunity to show you how to grow. How was I going to be in 5 years and would I ever find love? What part would music play in my life?
I didnít really have to think about it much. I just went for it. I loved playing guitar. I still do. It exhilarates me. But I wanted to be respected, if not by my peers, at least by my girlfriend! So how do you do it? Succeed in the music industry? Itís different for everybody. But for me I figured I could make my one and only asset (guitar) my business and my lifeís path. Hell, I loved it. It was the only thing I could do well. (Although Iím sure a few producers around town would debate that.)
Simple observations of successful people, companies, organizations will show you what the basics of running a business are. Be on time. Dress appropriately. Learn all the songs on the tape. Note for note. And even if you cant play great yet, make sure you sound good. Have good gear. Be a nice, friendly person to be around. Have a positive enthusiastic attitude. Just be professional.
Itís interesting in hindsight to see that is still all I strive for do today. I played in lots of cover bands in my 20's. I still do them today. Cover bands are the best training for a session musician. You get to play all styles especially modern top 40 material. Just whatís needed for commercials and albums today. So, I started working in a band led by Clive Harrison. Bass player wiz who played on just about every album and jingle in the 80's. Artists from Melanie (USA) to Richard Clapton to The Little River Band. Clive introduced me to session work. He recommended me for the gigs Ken Francis (fabulous guitarist doing most of the work around town at the time) couldnít do. It just grew from there. Mostly word of mouth.
Some people say that to be successful you must either perform lewd sexual favours on your knees, be in the right place at the right time or rip people off till you have enough to squash everyone in your path. I refuse to believe that these paths are going to lead to lasting success, in any form. Be it financially, emotionally, physically, or spiritually.
I chose and continue to choose to give a quality service, and yes it is a service. Somewhat similar to an electrician. (sic). If I roll up to a gig or a session late, in my shorts and thongs (so I can get to the beach as soon as Iím finished), with one guitar (week old strings) and an amp that rattles (and only has a 1x12 speaker), then how would I sustain any longetivity in the industry, let alone success in any area of my life. Iíd hate my life. Now Iím not saying that Iíve never been late, swimming is bad for you, Strats are not versatile and a 12-inch speaker cannot sound fat. But if I want to be respected and be able to make a good living out of music (so it can pay for my guitar and gadgets habit) then I had better get my shit together.
Gees I love what I do. I donít ever feel like Iíve been hardly-done-by. Sure, I sometimes feel like a victim (and an idiot). I mean last month I left my Maton Messiah in the back of a taxi and havenít seen it since. But I know that Iíll just carry on, buy another guitar and continue to love my life and what I'm doing. The poor barstard that kept the guitar has to live with the fact that he didnít do the right thing and give it back. He saw it as a good score. And he may occasionally have ďgood scoresĒ. But heíll always be looking for the next few hundred bucks.
Most people donít get it. Itís not about getting. Itís not even only about giving. They are the same thing. Giving is receiving and visa versa. If I give you a present we both feel good about it. I appreciate and acknowledge how fortunate I have been. But I also acknowledge that unless I continue to give a quality service, I will just fall into the role of a victim whose only saving grace will come when everyone wakes up to themselves and realizes I deserve better.
I donít ever want to wait for the phone to ring. I donít want to ever have to do a job because I need the money. I love what I do, I always have. Thatís why all the guys I worked for in my early years at the reception centres kept calling me back. Thatís why the guys I have worked with for 20 years still call me to work for them, in whatever capacity that may be. Studio, live or as a consultant.
I would go to the Italian weddings early enough to fit in 30 minutes of practice. People recognize and applaud good service, and are sick and tired of it being lousy. Have you called any banks or telephone companyís recently? This is, in part, the reason why the live scene is dying. You see money has nothing to do with it. It has never been about money for me. I have done and continue to do gigs for nothing just for the opportunity to play. Iím willing to loose 8 hours of sleep just to get a few good moments of productive, creative music in. Iím willing to cart a quad box, an amp, a rack, a pedal board and 4 to 10 guitars to every gig. (I see it as exercise) Iím willing to dress in whatever is appropriate for the job and approach the gig with the professionalism and respect that I would expect if I were the employer. Strangely enough I make a fantastic living doing what I do. Not because I am a better guitarist than the rest and not because I suck up to the right people, but simply because I love what Iím doing.
The industry in Australia is small, incestuous and has a good memory. One has to remain diligent, humble and honest to be able to make a good living. We have to be very careful of what we say, do and think. What needs to follow is a re-evaluation of our approach to our work/career. We need to establish a more abundant attitude towards ourselves and others. By that I meanÖthere IS plenty of work out there, (and don't be fooled by the general consensus) and plenty to share around - to the right people. But we have to also change our views on the way we perform our duties, the way we present ourselves as, not only musicians, but as professionals.
The one saying that sticks in my head whenever Iím working or even if I see someone unhappy in their job is ÖďLove what youíre doing until what you love to do comes to youĒ. What does that mean?
Well if you are in a job you hate, how would you ever expect to succeed? On the other hand if you were to change your attitude (i.e. leave the small amp at home and take the big rig to every gig, make sure you are on time, warmed up to play well, have the songs learnt and prepared for any changes, not complaining about the quality of the gig, cash on the night, lack of free drinks, and become totally accommodating to the people around you,) you might just find you gain a reputation as a consummate professional and may even get more gigs and recommendations for better ones. In fact I guarantee it.
You are never a victim of your circumstances; you are only ever a victim of your attitude towards your circumstances. Hell, you might as well love what youíre doing now. Itís much less painful. You never know what opportunities may come your way. So be prepared. So prepared that youíll know what to do when ďwhat you love to do comes to you.Ē And if anyone asks you at a bar one night ... ďWHAT ARE YA GONNA DO IN 5 YEARS?Ē Ö Just tell Ďem Ö ď Iíll be playing ma guitarĒ