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Is Being in a Rock Band a Bad Career Choice?

Sometimes I come across pretty funny things online. Last night, I stumbled upon a forum where someone was asking if it was a wise move to choose "rock star" as a career path, much like doctor or ditch digger. I'm not sure you pick "rock band" or "rock star" as a career. Both are sort of the antithesis of a career. After all, most musicians say they joined bands to avoid working lame jobs in the first place! Still, to say success is less than guaranteed in the rock world is probably overstating expectations. Fact is, not very many people make enough money off music to live comfortably. Also, I think if you have to ask if it's a smart career move, music for the long haul probably isn't for you.

Let me be clear: I'm not mocking the poor 18 year old who started the thread. He even mentioned dressing up like an 80s rocker which sort of made my heart soar. Most people gave the kid some great advice: stay passionate about music, but stay in school and get a job, too. Quite frankly, I don't know what I would tell someone that came to me specifically for advice regarding a full time career in music. I'd probably tell them to go to dental school. I have said as much when people have told me they want a career in print/online/television journalism. After all, dental school is just a few years above regular college, the hours are decent and the pay is good enough to allow for multiple rock n' roll vacations.

I don't meant to sound negative here. The fact of it is, the people who make it in music break all the rules. They live on stale bread and cigarettes, put endless miles on an already worn out car and travel across the country, playing for anyone who will listen. I certainly don't have the cojones to make it as a rock star. Then again, I don't have the talent either. I guess that's why I admire my favorite musicians so much: they never asked how. They just did.

Reader Comments (17)

I would love to be in a rock band... I think most people who come to your site would. But like you, I doubt i'd have the determination, and I certainly don't have the talent. The rockstar is a rare breed of person, and one that seems to be getting smaller and smaller.
January 26, 2010 | Unregistered CommenterLucifer
I'm gonna go for it and thats all im gonna go for. It's my passion and not to sound self absorbed but i think i mayyyyyyyyyyyyyyy have the talent. but rockers out there dont give up! we need you more than you know!!!
January 26, 2010 | Unregistered CommenterMotleyCrue666
Hey, boyz, I got news for ya, you don't necessarily need oodles of talent to be a successful rockstar, case in point, Poison!

What you need are IDEAS and pretty solid songwriting, even if your songs are stupid and simplistic, because that could actually help, case in point again, Poison!

Go get 'em, MotleyCrue666! I look forward to hearing your tunez soon!
January 27, 2010 | Unregistered CommenterMetalboy!
I meant the demographic was getting smaller and smaller.... Not the rockstars themselves. That would just be strange.
January 27, 2010 | Unregistered CommenterLucifer
Thanks Metalboy! and ive got some good ideas so ill see what i can do!
January 27, 2010 | Unregistered CommenterMotleyCrue666
Interesting post, Allyson. I agree: if someone is worried about rock music as a "career choice", then it's probably not for them in the first place. At least in my experience, you have to attack rock like you have no other options and you'll die if you don't make music... because anything less than that and you'll wake up one sticky, cold morning (after sleeping in your car and spending your last dime on a set of guitar strings and a frozen burrito) and wonder what the hell you're doing with your life.

I love Poison to bits, but I'll actually side with Metalboy a bit on this one. It's not talent that keeps Poison in paychecks: it's their steadfast refusal to ever lay down and die. I've known plenty of musicians with talent to burn, but they never "make it" in any tangible sense because they simply don't see music as a matter of life or death.

A few years ago, I worked with a guy who was reaching the end of his tour, and who admitted to me that he hadn't seen his daughter in 18 months!... The first question for any budding rock star should be: exactly how much ARE you willing to sacrifice for this "career choice"?
January 27, 2010 | Unregistered CommenterKiki Chrome
Excellent gemz of wisdom, Kiki.

Sobering and stark.

You should write a book, or at least start with an article, even if it's just a post somewhere, about the harsh realities of Rockstarz believing in their dreamz.

P.S. And I love Poison to bits, too, but I know how to call a spade a spade and theze guyz are more of a guilty pleasure when you get right down to it, at least for me...
January 28, 2010 | Unregistered CommenterMetalboy!
Oddly, though, the lyrics of my favorite Poison song, "Cry Tough", kinda sum it all up pretty well, too! And, of course, the music of the song is totally awesome, as well!
January 28, 2010 | Unregistered CommenterMetalboy!
Picking "Rock Star" as a career is a bad choice to start off with. You don't really have a say in if you're going to be a rock star, or have any success. The music industry is the worst industry to be in, it's full of liars and backstabbers.

Wanting to be a professional "Musician" who's respected by your peers is how it should be looked at, not a "Rock Star". If you do it for fame, money, and to get laid... you're doomed! You have to do it for the passion and love of music, and your only goal should be to be able to make a modest living out of it. Any success you have after will just be an added bonus.

Becoming a "Rock Sar" is like playing the lottery, and you basically have to be in the right place at the right time, and know the right people.

Rock stars existed in the 80s, when they sold millions of records, lived in mansions, drove exotic cars, and partied hard. Unfortunately, the real "Rock Stars" these days are hip-hop / rap stars for the most part. They're the ones with the big mansions, yachts, and private jets.
January 30, 2010 | Unregistered CommenterDick
One more thing, if you want to make money and have security of any kind, stay in school and get a degree. You're one in a billion if you successfully make it in the music business!
January 30, 2010 | Unregistered CommenterDick
Good points, Dick...

It's like my ex-lead guitarist's nephew. The kid's 17 and a total shredder. I've been tellin' the kid, "Hey, man, you got what it takes to be a total rockstar!", not thinking that it really is a concept of the past.

Or, at the very least, the reality is you could count the number of new "Rockstars" that really rate as such on one hand...

That's why the kid told me that, while he wants to form a band and write and play originals, he's thinkin' of going to Med School!

The kid's right. As much as I'd love to see the kid form the next Zeppelin, look how hard that would be, when the closest thing to that out there are bands along the lines of Steel Panther, parodies at best.

Then again, a perfect example of a rockstar is that dude, Josh Todd, from Buckcherry, or how about Justin Hawkins? Regardless of the fact that he crashed and burned, he still became a millionaire. And Josh Todd is a millionaire.

Yeah, it's a rarity but it can still happen.

Still, you are right overall, Dick. Better to just be passionate and believe in your music. However if "Rockstar" is part of the image you want to project as part of the schtick of your band, more power to you, as it tends to lend quite a bit of humor and energy to a band's image and stage show.

You can be earnest in your passion, commitment and belief in yourself, but if it's real Rock'n'Roll you want to play for gosh sakes don't foist any self-righteous, serious, "earnest" message on me. Then you'll just wind up being another Creed, devoid of any humor or irony.

Then again, if you want your band to be a total borefest like them or, say, Daughtry, then by all means do it. True, those are but two acts that can serve as examples of the kind of mediocre, homogenous "Rock" so prevelant todaym but there sure as h*ll is a market for it. They might all be millionaires but it ain't real Rock'n'Roll they're playin'.

And these types of "earnest" characters sure as hell don't qualify as Rockstars, that's for dang sure!

Rocksnores, more like.

p.s. Young bands who probably don't have barely a dime but sure seem like Rockstars to me are: Wolfmother, Papa Roach, Miss Crazy, Wigwam, Million Dollar Reload, Towers of London, Hot Leg, Wednesday 13, Dirty Penny, Vains of Jenna, Loud'n'Nasty, Gunfire 76, Bullet, 77, Stone Gods, Big C*ck, Wildstreet, The Last Vegas, Crucified Barbara, The Donnas Airborne, Mad Margritt, Big Elf, Crazy Lixx and Babylon Bombs among others. Actually, that dude, Andrew Stockdale, the leader of Wolfmother, is probably a millionaire, since he writes all of their material, owns the rights to their name a la Axl, and just fired the rest of the band and replaced 'em (also a la Axl). And some people claim Wolfmother's new album, "Cosmic Egg", is better than the first! Stockdale is the perfect example of how someone can be a smart businessman and be a total "Rockstar" at the same time!
January 30, 2010 | Unregistered CommenterMetalboy!
the original question was whether it is a [good] career choice to be 'in' a rock "band", but somehow the posts turned into whether it is a good career choice to be 'a' "rock star"...

I substituted the word 'good' for 'bad' in the original question as allyson is sometimes pessimistic in her spatterings. But, my resounding answer to both questions is an unequivocal, "Yes".

before I answer why, I first want to say how saddened (NOT DEPRESSED, god-damnit!) how some of the posters automatically equated financial success as the be all and end all of "succeeding" in this business. for instance, you couldn't pay me enough to be axl rose or eddie van halen, but you could pay me cost of living expenses to be david lee roth or sammy hagar- but I do live high on my hog anyway, so it's more than minimum wage :]

being in a rock band or even living as a rock star is about a way of life. in some respects, it's bucking the system, other respects it's having the most fun in situations. There is no 'holy bible' that 'teaches' you how to do it. you do it because it feels right and more importantly, it's the right thing to do.

Roth left VH in order to get a bigger piece of the pie. he wanted 90% of the royalties versus a 'measely' 25% (shared equally with mike, eddie and alex), but that pot of gold wasn't worth it in the long run. see, it's NOT about the money. But, before Axl starts jumping on this idealistic bandwagon, he made it about money long before his self-proclaimed martyrdom; in that he refused to sign any sort of contract unless he was the primary earner. VH didn't do that. Poison didn't do that. In some cases, that's ok (cinderella, bon jovi for examples- if you have the talent; not hutz pah), (but what JBJ did to skid row's contract is just pure greed!)

Anyway, getting back to the subject at hand. being in a a band or being the 'star' of that band, has less to do with money, acolades, or fame. While those are nice to have, it pales in comparrison to fulfillment, commitment and enjoyment. Both JBJ and Roth have (eventually) determined and said that unless you're creating the music for yourself first, it doesn't matter the ticket sales, the chart position, or the units sold. When you worry about those statisitcs, you're pandering to the public and the media and then, in those terms, it doesn't mean the long run
January 31, 2010 | Unregistered Commenterfletch
Fletch! Geez, we agree!

It ain't about the money, it's about attitude...

And talent, ideas, and originality (though, not necessarily, completely, case in point: Poison), but it should never be measured solely on how rich you become, which seems to be what a lot of people base everything on over here on BBG!

No, it's about artistic vision and integrity and that intangible "it" that makes someone a "Rockstar" or as you have pointed out, "in a rock band" being a good career choice.

I think the idea about this becoming about "Rockstars", is that someone noted that because there really hasn't been a great sustainable original Glam Metal band around for any duration of any real length, certainly not even coming close to the length of the genre's total existence, that there is really no way to determine if there are any Rockstars out there today, kappish. Maybe not, dunno.

But, it's never been about how much money people make. One of the great unsung Rockstars, Donnie Purnell, who's now a virtual recluse, says Kix never made a dime. Yet, he's no less the Rockstar because he didn't get rich. We know why he is a total Rockstar, actually. Just look at the vidz and you'll see why.

But, hey, Fletch, you're our resident Rock'n'Roll detective, and you, my friend (may I call you that?), have absolutely solved the case and nailed it on the head in the above post.

I've figured out who you are! You are either in law enforcement or a member of The Dream Police!

I'll be ready for my M3 interrogation when you are, bro!
February 2, 2010 | Unregistered CommenterMetalboy!
MB: nah...I'm just a singer in a kickass rock and roll band
February 2, 2010 | Unregistered Commenterfletch
Heh heh, I'm glad I stumbled back here in my stupor. %)

Thanks for the compliments Metalboy, but you're more psychic than you know...

My blog is
and, yeah, it's often about living in the business end of show business (and all the hard work and dead relationships that come with the territory)... :)
February 3, 2010 | Unregistered CommenterKiki Chrome
rock star is a flat out dumb stupid choice for a career.
I have a friend that has a 12 year old that plays guitar for about 5 years a loves it, great to have a hobby...but he actually plans on that as his career. The Mom does not guide her son to focus on school as a priority. the kid does other bad stuff has no work ethic or manners so maybe rock star is his best bet
August 14, 2010 | Unregistered Commentercindylou
I really want a career in music. My ultimate dream is to either join or form a band who is to be famous. I want to spread my thoughts, and my ideas through music, much like John Lennon. My friends tell me that it is unrealistic, and that I should pick a career with a degree like everyone else. I know I can go to college for music, but waht, I'm not sure. But I keep telling myself not to let anyone crush MY DREAM. You only go around once in this wonderful life, so just as Sinatra said it, "I did it my way". And that is definitely what I'm going to do.
January 13, 2011 | Unregistered Commenteraerod24

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