** Back in 2012, I submitted an article to Men’s Health for consideration but never heard back. Here is the article in its entirety. Thank you to friends and published authors Patrick Kennedy and Max Klau for their insight, ideas and expertise in reviewing my submission.**
The Beatles!! Billy Joel!! Elton John!! Patrick DeCoste?? Hi, I’m Patrick. Like the three before me, I’ve played Shea Stadium. Attendance on record that day was 51,7495. Granted I wasn’t there to perform a full-length set but I did land the coveted Star Spangled Banner gig. One minute and 16 seconds of U2-inspired instrumental guitar licks (and a virtually guaranteed standing ovation!).
Like those around me, my life consists of working full-time, family, mortgage and car payments. But once the clock hits 5pm, I morph from office drone into semi-professional rock guitarist. I may not be running to the John Varvatos store in NYC or Kat Von D’s Hollywood tattoo shop while trying to hang on to those fleeting moments of rock stardom – but I have managed to fit a few hours of guitar into my daily life.
Not just practice time–stage time. My guitar and I have had some unique experiences over the years, from the Shea Stadium gig to toiling in the orchestra pit for the Broadway musical, HAIRSPRAY.
It wasn’t always easy, and not everything went as planned. My music-biz experience has consisted of rejections and mistakes. However, I have scored a few important call-backs. I’m no Eddie Van Halen, any more than my Sport Management degree makes me Theo Epstein. (I’m a grant manager for a major university in Boston as my day job.) But those shortcomings only make me work harder.
GOING BACK TO THE BASICS
With no less than 50 hours of my week dedicated to working for “The Man”, how did I go from bedroom to ballpark? A quick rehash of the ABC’S:
Ability: No good job can be achieved without skill. Take the time to hone your craft a day at a time. Read, listen and communicate with those in your field. Ability breeds opportunity, which breeds networks, which breeds opportunity, which breeds networks – you get the idea.
Balance: Finding “me” time can be as hard as finding time to dedicate to those things you have to do (you paid the phone bill this month, right?). But that doesn’t mean it’s any less important. If you can commit 45 minutes to the gym three days a week, why not dedicate that same time to your craft?
Commitment: After allocating time for achievement, you now have the ability to go for it. Write down goals (long term and short term), time frames and start making it happen. Stick with it–you owe it to yourself.
Sacrifice: With love comes misery. Expect that you’ll hit some road blocks and stumble along the way, and know you’ll be giving up some nights out with friends or lazy evenings watching TV (pro tip: $8/ month will get you instant access to almost all of your favorite shows). Moving forward will only make the rewards that much sweeter.
LANDING THE GIG
Scoring stadium gigs and orchestra pit forays don’t happen overnight nor did it happen without its up and downs along the way.
After sending my demo off to most (if not all) professional sport teams from Maine to Pennsylvania, I had my share of rejections. One front office wise guy went so far as to say he was protecting me from getting booed by not booking me. Typical protocol included getting the contact info through the team’s website, mailing in a demo package and then never hearing back. Every once in a while you’ll get the “Don’t contact us, we’ll contact you” postcard, even more rare is actually getting booked.
In 2010, I was approached about being the guitarist for HAIRPSRAY during its three-week run at the Cape Playhouse in Cape Cod (“where Broadway goes to summer”). I couldn’t read music, could barely play by ear, and couldn’t improvise. I played at bars in bands–not at theaters in orchestra pits. With only three months to learn skills which takes years to learn, I had to find a balance between my full-time job, family and being the best musician I could be.
Comparing a theater gig to a club gig is like comparing a pick-up basketball game to joining a league: same skills, but more rules and higher stakes. I quickly had to master skills like volume control, page turning, and “vamping” (repeating the same notes over and over until a set or wardrobe change was finished and the show could move on).
I took my first guitar lesson in 15 years. I didn’t know the first thing about HAIRSPRAY, so I immersed myself in the musical–movies, bios, sheet music, iPod music lists on repeat. I worked HARD, and I pulled it off because I believed and was believed in. Before the first note of “Good Morning, Baltimore” was played, there was no one more prepared than me.
As my three-week run in the orchestra pit for the Grammy-winning, Tony-winning musical came to an end, I began to fade. I was still working my full-time day job-during it’s busiest season!-while playing eight three-hour shows a week and commuting over 200 miles a day. The brutal schedule took its toll but the rewards far outweighed any negatives.
WHAT I’VE LEARNED ALONG THE WAY
After the gear is packed and the bar is just a room full of empty bottles rolling around the floor, the ride home allows me to reflect. What went right, what went wrong? What’s next? Through reflection, you can accurately access your positioning and plan for the future.
Dreams vs. Reality: playing Guitar Hero on Xbox doesn’t make one a guitar hero, just as playing Monopoly doesn’t make you a banker. Take the time to work and hone your craft. Accept the rejections while making adjustments along the way.
Opportunity vs. Entitlement: No one wants to work with someone who feels they deserve something. Be humble. Work harder for less. Giving someone an excuse to not hire you is never a good career move.
Start small, think big: I labored in the Boston “open mic” scene for years. That meant late nights performing between the old guy who wanted to be the next Paul Simon and the sorority girl doing Alanis Morissette covers. Being a small fish in a big pond allows you find your niche, brand yourself and build momentum while collecting small victories along the way.
Remember that trip to Paris? Or those college parties? They happened because you were there. You make the choice to go for it. Make that your mantra–-do it. Do it now.
MAKING IT WORK FOR YOU
Personal goals are labors of love. You do it because you love it. I can’t make mortgage payments on the 33 cents I make off each MP3 download. Nor can I afford a week-long tour in half-filled bars, 11 p.m. set times or numerous trips to studios for recording time.
What I can do, however, is throw my acoustic guitar in the back of my 2-door Honda Civic and head out to the neighborhood bar to entertain for an hour. My man cave (i.e., my allotted space in the back corner of my basement) allows me to record music on my laptop to distribute online.
Make your craft work for you. Let your enthusiasm for your art shine, and enjoy the satisfaction of knowing that you’ve found a way to pay the bills while still cultivating your passion and sharing it with the world.
Armed with tips and tricks to start making your hobby work for you, those “what if?” questions should hopefully become “why not?” Be inspired. Be grateful. Be opportunistic. Be who you wanted to be. Fight through the adversity. Do it.
Every day I look back at what I’ve accomplished and feel the thrill of satisfaction. I also see how the work I put in yesterday sets me up to achieve even more tomorrow.
How do you want to be remembered? How do you want to be perceived? One thing is for sure: sitting there won’t get you where you want to be.
Get up. Plan it. Do it….and enjoy the ride along the way.