I met Aaron Kusterer back when I was touring with my original pop/rock group Watching Judas. We instantly clicked since we were both from the St. Louis metro area, had a deep passion for music, and were one of the few guys that played rock music for a living in a secondary market.
Aaron's very much what I aspire to be as a musician. He's takes his craft obsessively seriously (that's a compliment in my book), he's good at marketing himself, and he's managed to successfully wear a bunch of hats over the years, including everything from lead guitarist to band director. He currently plays guitar for the U.S. military in the Pacific region, but does a ton more awesome things than just that. Check him out at www.aaronkusterer.com. Without further ado, he's his thoughts on being a full time musician:
Growing up, becoming a full-time musician was a fantasy attained only in my dreams. In my head, I had envisioned playing with Whitesnake and having a ton of hair. Let me emphasize that it was truly just that . . . in my head. While for a time, I had a good deal of hair (about half-way down my back) and I played some guitars reminiscent of the hair metal era, it just wasn’t meant to be. Not in the way that I had hoped anyway. Seasons change, attitudes change, eyes that were shut eventually open. Here I find myself 10 years after cutting my hair, a full-time musician performing and recording many different types of music to support my family. Along the way, there have been plenty of lessons learned and there are more every day that I must absorb in order to keep moving forward in my work. Here are just a few that I deem most important:
1. You may have one vision in your head, fate may have another
The basic idea here is that you might see yourself succeeding one way as a musician when in reality, the powers that be might have another idea. Just because you are really good at classical guitar, does not mean that you are going to follow in the footsteps of Andres Segovia. You might follow, but then again you might not. Those abilities can be utilized in many, many different aspects of the arts and you should never limit yourself to just what is in front of you. My mother used say, “Don’t put your blinders on!” For the non-equestrian types out there, blinders are what a horse wears to stay focused on the road ahead. You need to be looking to the left and the right, not just straight ahead. Doors may close, but a window may shatter when you least expect and you need to be ready to dive through it.
2. Flexibility and versatility are the keys to the musical universe
If there is one thing that is certain in the world of music, everything can change at the drop of a hat. Keys change because vocal ranges vary from person to person, grooves change to liven up an otherwise dull melody, tour line-ups change because someone tears a bicep, and the list could go on and on. Maintaining a flexible persona and working at being musically versatile will do wonders for your career in the long run. Be able to play (at a high level) in multiple genres. Learn to adapt and morph around set changes, stage changes, personnel changes, etc. Ultimately, be a team player . . . on as many different fields as you can possibly manage!
3. “Hater’s gonna hate, hate, hate . . .”
Regardless of what your feelings are towards Taylor Swift, her lyrics in the chorus of “Shake If Off” are right on the money when it comes to the music industry. You will have haters. If you haven’t ran across one yet, just wait. On top of that, you’ll have wet-blankets, leeches, dictators, and pretty much every other form of distasteful person cross your path at some point. As hard as it can be to deal with these folks, you have to just move on. The really unfortunate thing is that they can come in the form of friends and family. Despite that fact, they will only hold you back if you keep them around.
4. There is a lesson in every situation
You will find yourself in many different situations. Some will be awesome and others will be horrifying. Both contain valuable lessons that you can choose to either grow from or ignore. More often than not, the horrifying situations will teach you the most (what not to do, how not to lead, how not to behave, etc.). The smarter you leave a situation, the more beneficial it will have been to you.
5. Have fun!
Why do we play music? Hopefully, because we enjoy it. Music provides a big box of crayons to an otherwise dull, colorless existence. It evokes all sorts of amazing emotions. Regardless of the haters in #3, or the horrifying situations in #4, you must have fun. It doesn’t matter whether you’re a pro on tour with Kenny Chesney or you’re playing solo cocktail gigs, if you’re not getting some enjoyment out of what you do, then you’re doing it wrong. Not every gig will be amazing, but that is okay. Enjoying the fact that you are playing is a very important part of being a full-time musician.
Well, there you have it! The top 5 things I’ve learned as a full-time musician. Hopefully, this helps you succeed and grow in your musical efforts regardless of the level at which you are currently working.
Do you have more tips? Please share your thoughts in the comments below!