10 Things You’ll Never Understand About Musicians

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We musicians are a unique breed of human. Whereas happiness to you is settling down with a family in the ‘burbs, happiness to us is an excellent monitor mix. We’re easy to please. Within reason.

If you ever wondered what makes us tick, here are 10 idiosyncrasies that will hopefully help you understand why we chose this elusive and unstable profession.

1) We Aren’t In Music To Get Laid

Well, most of us got into music for that reason. I know I picked up the guitar in high school because my girlfriend swooned a little too hard for my best friend when he serenaded the party on his guitar. But those of us who have stuck it out past the infatuation stage and have settled on making this our career are actually very serious about our art.

2) Not Being Famous Is Actually Ok For Us

There are many more reasons to be in music than money and fame. Like, doing something we love for a living. Fame may come as an occupational hazard, but it’s not the end game or the goal. Musicians whose goal is to be famous have all the wrong intentions and will fail.

3) We Are Artists. Artists Are Weird

Ever wonder why we’re the only ones at Thanksgiving with weird hairdos, ‘scary’ tattoos and wearing clothes that seem a couple sizes too small for your tastes? It’s because we are artists and like to express ourselves creatively in every aspect of our beings. Hair style and clothing are just a couple of those ways. Want to know some others? Be careful what you wish for.

4) Music Isn’t A Dream. It’s A Way Of Life

The “dream” of music was, sure, a dream for us when we were adolescents, just like being an astronaut was for you. But, for us, it’s not a dream anymore. It’s a reality.

5) Just Because You Haven’t Heard Of Us Doesn’t Mean We Aren’t Successful

Don’t ask “So are you trying to be a musician?” or “When am I going to hear you on the radio.” It’s insulting. It belittles what we are accomplishing. Success for us is the same as it is for you: making a living, supporting the lifestyle we want.

+12 Things You Should Never Say To A Musician

6) Don’t Hate Us Because We Do Something We Love

That’s the only reason we’re in music. Because we felt we deserved to be happy. And we’d rather spend 10 years struggling doing something we love than 40 years financially comfortable doing something we hate.

7) Keeping Time Means Something Very Different To Us

We’re awesome at counting to 4. Even 6. Sometimes, we can get all the way up to 12. But let’s not push it. We’re great at keeping time with our music. However when it comes to appointments, keeping time is as hard for us as listening to Nickelback. I don’t condone this. And I’ve fought it my whole career. But for some reason, musicians, more-so than any other profession, have a hell of a time showing up on time.

8) There Are Many More Levels Of Musician Than “Starving Artist” and “Chart Topping Superstar.”

American Idol has given the world a skewed view of what it takes to be a professional musician. The average Joes and Sallys believe that everyone goes from barista to superstar thanks to The Voice and American Idol’s backstory montages. Believe it or not, there are thousands of musicians around the world with very substantial fan bases touring packed clubs who aren’t superstars and aren’t starving.

9) “Listening To Music” Means Something Very Different To Us

You know why you never see musicians “listening” to music through laptop speakers, or gasp!, iPhone speakers? It’s because that hurts our soul. We know what went into the production of creating that piece of art and want to appreciate, respect and enjoy it through our headphones or immaculate (car) stereo system – when we can afford that. Some people go to church to get spiritual, musicians put on headphones.

10) You Can Take A Musician Out Of Music But You Can’t Take The Music Out Of A Musician

Wonder why your kid’s school principal has been trying to keep the staff band together for the past 17 years? Or why your co-worker Angela wants to go to Karaoke every Tuesday? Sober. It’s because life events forced them out of their true calling. They may not be pursuing music professionally anymore, but they will never cease to be musicians. Ever.


Photo is by BeenThereDoneThath from Flickr used with the Creative Commons license

55 Responses

  1. Bill Thurman

    Hey Ari!

    Very good and listed well. I’ve been saying most of these things for years – mostly to people who don’t understand and never will. Again, very good! I’m glad we are “brothers in music.”
    Bill Thurman

      • Linda

        I have a very good repertoire of music but I get so stressed playing (piano) in front of people.

  2. GGG

    oh please god no.

    Buzzfeed-esque articles about how your life/job/whatever is special/harder/more interesting/better/whatever are the worst things on the internet.

    • Anonymous

      especially when they’re chock full o’ sweeping, ridiculous claims that not only create stereotypes but pander to those who hang their hat on them.

      This looks to be A page from Ari’s journal, or perhaps his slam book….

      • f-u

        Couldn’t agree more. Some people try oh so hard to make themselves appear as these little beings of unorthodoxy and specialness, not realizing they’re only creating and perpetuating a worse kind of conformity into which all these seemingly non-conformist ideas fall into. Worse, I’d say, because this conformity presumes to possess some notion of truth (i.e. a TRUE musician isn’t all those things, he/she is all of these things instead), and thus excludes the possibility that those musicians, who fall outside these categories, are not “musicians”, and as such, don’t matter to issues that concern true “musicians”. This is the politic of marginalization and exclusion which sees those with potentially good ideas being excluded from discourse on the basis of some concocted notion of membership.Thanks for playing up the stereotypes Ari, I’ve never been happier to call myself something other than a “musician”.

        • Alex

          I think that’s wrong. I’m a musician and I agree with most of the list (except the one about keeping time).

        • Z

          The carefully approached method in your reply leads to suspicion in your attempting to debunk and discourage individual thought and expression. One with a mind of their own would be well beyond the capacity to comprehend unto themselves that those ten descriptions are only a few of the things that embody what an artist or musician may be. Only a conformist mentality would be in danger of mistaking this post as otherwise. Or another way of putting it…GROW-UP…

          Just leave people alone when they are happy. Savvy…

          • f-u

            I think all replies should be carefully approached. Why bother writing something you haven’t thought through as far as you can, with the exception of course that the reply seeks to find completion in the answers of others. I’m assuming your reply falls into the latter category.

            I’m not at all debunking or discouraging individual expression: note that nothing expressed here, or elsewhere written by myself, expresses any angst or contempt at the thought of someone doing that. Let me slow it down for you:

            In trying to articulate his own specialness, Ari has created a category of identity called “musicians”. Now, what he’s doing is defining that identity with a list of things which, supposedly, he would know because he claims to be one. In doing so, he creates this exclusivity. See, the exclusivity is a possibly unintentional by-product of Ari trying to make musicians out to be some special case of human personality which needs to be understood in a very special way, or else, not understood at all. His expression is no longer one of unique selfness, but one that looks to establish a precedent for belonging to a group, essentially rules for conformity and belonging. Arguably, this is worse than that conformism that Ari is looking to fight, because this one is not only prescriptivist, but comes from the mouth of someone who self-identifies as such and therefore has, to some, some shred of recognizable eminence in the public sphere.

            So you see, here you’ll find only that discontent which finds itself emerging at the site of some prescriptivist be all and end all of knowledge about a group it supposes to be the being-all and all-ending all-knower of. My contention, also, isn’t that this list is just some “incomplete collection of things that might or might not describe musicians but certainly describes who I am” (note the more accurate potential headline option here), it’s because this list certainly doesn’t wish to be perceived as such a reflection.

            If this is the kind of contention that you would argue perpetuates conformity, you simply don’t understand what is being read. So try again.

            Contention is the stuff of innovation, self-expression, and mutual development. If you can’t see that, then it seems you have “grown-up”, and I’m glad that I haven’t.

            If people are happy because they’re dumb, I won’t leave them alone.


        • Lance

          Yeah don’t give me a list of what is is to be a musician we come in any form you could imagine!

    • Esol Esek

      The only thing worse than an emotive columnist is a sour, pathetic critic who’s only contribution to life is acting superior. Sophomore – wise fool. You define it in spades.

  3. Trey McGriff

    Thanks so much for including this topic in Digital Music News! You are so right about everything and even though being a musician is such an unstable profession it is just so much fun no matter what age we become. I also listened to your new album and am very impressed with your work. Many congrats on writing all the new songs and I know you’ll gain many new fans, because your songs rock! Way to go!

    Trey McGriff

  4. Cosmic Starfish

    “They may not be pursuing music professionally anymore, but they will never cease to be musicians. Ever.”

    Much appreciated Ari.

  5. FarePlay

    Ari, cool. Things haven’t changed all that much since I managed club bands.

  6. Anonymous

    sounds a wee bit pretentious…

    A musician not willing to listen through laptop speakers or a smarthphone speaker or anything else their CUSTOMERS listen through is simply not a true professional and perhaps thinks they are a bit more special then they are, again, super duper pretentious…

    Without knowing how your music will and does translate on those and all speakers shows a total lack of professionalism and care for the art and the music and is a disservice to their fans and customers…

    • Versus

      Is being “professional” supposed to a term of approval or disdain? I can never tell.

      Pretentiousness = the nature of being human.
      Anyone with an opinion, aspiration, goal, or dream is “pretentious”, i.e. trying to be something they are not. So being pretentious is a good thing (assuming the goal is a good one).

      • GGG

        Pretty sure the word pretentious exists for the sole purpose of being pejorative.

    • Mr. Producer

      Dear Anonymous. I think you missed the point about musos NOT listening to music via little iPhone speakers (or whatever). It’s not being elitist at all – during the mixing process of any recorded music, the engineer listens to the “product” on a variety of speakers ranging from high end to absolutely awful. Musicians who put their heart and soul into creating music simply have too much respect for the effort involved to simply listen through any medium which does not do some justice to the finished product. You wouldn’t look at the Mona Lisa through a red filter – in a room lit by one candle!

  7. P

    Pretty solid list. I would add #11) Don’t think we don’t like you or value your friendship if we can’t hang out for weeks at a time. We’re busy. Especially if we have to work 40-50 hours in a day job ON TOP of doing our music thing. Rehearsals, songwriting, production, and personal practice eat up a lot of time. And when we do see you, if it appears that we’re going to fall asleep at any given moment.. that is normal. We’ve skipped many hours of sleep over the past few days, weeks, years, and decades.

    Let me tell you one thing though, working in the music industry and being a musician can butt heads with one another. You see how the business side works, and it makes you re-evaluate how or why you’re doing things. When you see why one band or artist gets popular, and HOW it happened, it can be a little discouraging. And that’s all I’ll say about that.

  8. Versus

    #11 Do not ask us to “share” our music with you for free unless you also work for free.

    • kkks

      I’m a musician and I disagree with all of this. What a crock of shit!

      • L-KIN

        So, which side of the “starving artist” and “chart topping superstar” are you? Bc if you are either one and you don’t know any in between, you are either a music lotto winner or are not a “musician”.

  9. Anonymous

    Most of the musicians I know are all about managing their time and showing up when scheduled. Most of those who don’t are dicks.

    Ari, don’t show up late for Anne-Sophie Mutter or you will not be seated.

    • Anonymous

      a paid ticket?


      far too long these peoples egos have been super stroked and they think they are something so fucking special its unbelievable… hey guess what, shes gotta pull up her skirt and her panties down and plant her white ass on the toilet seat, all hairy with hemorrhoids likely and squeeze feces out of her ass, hopefully 3 times a day, just like everybody else… If im the one paying her fucking subsistence then certainly i call the shots….

      id arrive late then take the stage and make sure to be as ignorant as possible… Music biz and its players has and have no honor and no respect and none of them play fairly and therefore doesn’t deserve to be given any…

      Of course i would never do that, but man oh man, these people are far too narcissistic and egotistical for me to ever enjoy getting into…


  10. Michael Lyon

    Bravo Ari. I agree with everything on this list, except for #7 …I’m usually always on time lol. Keep up the great articles 😀

  11. Nicola

    Brilliant article Ari. Sums musicians up to a tee. The part about time keeping made me laugh out loud. So true!!!
    Nicola Milan

  12. Willis

    Great list…if it were accurate. There’s so much wrong with it, I won’t begin to address the points. Where did this information come from? Who made it up?

  13. t wilson

    Ari, as it goes for musicians, so it goes for journalists&writers……..if someone doesn’t get the point,it does not mean you didn’t make one…….keep it going……………..

  14. TonsoTunez

    The list is pretty accurate … That’s why artists are so easily scammed, ripped off, taken advantage of and used. Reality it, exciting, creative, amazing talent: 10%. Business acumen – or the shear luck of finding someone honest who will provide it to you: 90%

  15. Emanon

    12 is 4×3 or 3×4. Counting to 11 or 15 is something else, see bridge of Unbroken Chain. As a classical and rock musician, I’m on time to classical rehearsals (union clock, afterall), and late to band practice. I don’t have weird hair or tattoos. This article applies to some subset of musicians that fit in this box.

  16. Anonymous

    You know, I like a lot of your articles, but stuff like this is just irritating. I’m a musician, it’s what I live for. My music is weird and dark and often inappropriate. I’m also a mother and a preschool teacher. I like to dress professionally and somewhat conservatively. I show up where I’m expected, on time. I sell some music, but I also share it with my friends and family for free. Most people I know are not musicians but they get what I’m doing with my life and why I do it. It doesn’t take a special artist mentality to understand.

    Also, when I want to listen to music, I go out and find music to listen to. It just isn’t the same anymore if it’s not live. Does that make anyone who listens to music directly any less of a musician? I don’t think so.

  17. austinjonesband

    Good stuff Ari, all true!
    I think the more successful musicians are better at keeping track of things, it’s something I’ve had to work on!

    Austin Jones

  18. Jason

    Being chronically late is just arrogance, laziness, and disrespect for other peoples time. If you need to be somewhere at 5pm and you know it takes 20 mins to drive there a kindergartener can figure out they need to leave at 4:40. Quit hiding behind “I’m an artist” and show up on time.

  19. Grexguitar

    We’re not in it to get laid is the very first thing?!? What a stupid crock of shit read this turned out to be, obviously written by a wanna be hack. Fuck off.

  20. Bruce Haley

    Outstanding article. The only possible exception/amendment that I would offer to it, is for cats like myself who can’t and won’t ever stop loving the playing, performance and creation of music, but DON’T necessarily want to sacrifice or forsake the other things that are important to them in their lives (family, home, etc.) for the sake of that inner, spiritual calling. I’ve spent the past 40 years coming to terms with that dichotomy. Spent too many of those years thinking something was wrong with me! (It doesn’t HAVE to be “either/or”.) GGG, STFU. The author of this article is neither bragging nor complaining about musicians’ existences. If you don’t recognize that from this article, you have no business being here in the first place. Go troll elsewhere. -bandguy58

  21. Bradley Miller

    Musicians are a strange breed, indeed. It seems that we have super-sensitive souls that we try to numb by playing and listening to music. What I don’t understand is the self-destructiveness that encompasses the musician. Look at all the greats through the Times- from Mozart to Kurt Cobain. Live hard, die young is the motto. My creativity and talent thrived on chaos and self-destructiveness until it took it away, including my life, almost. And I certainly don’t know why the more one is whacked in the head, the more talented he is! I, myself, struggle to try to stay sober, and I have to take psych meds to main some semblance of “normalcy”. I cannot even fathom what that means. I would be happy to make my music impact a few people before my time ends here.

  22. Jerry A

    This is so right on!!

    On your humanity check above you won’t accept the correct answer.

  23. Maddy

    Maybe if you post this article for a 983 time I will read it!

  24. memaw

    I disagree with not having a family vs being a musician. I raised 3 children and still had a “career”. I suffer from COPD now( too damn many cigarettes )and don’t have the breath to belt one out or I would still be in a band (I am 60 yrs old) I have a great husband who didn’t mind feeding our children supper and putting them to bed while I was at a gig. You can be a musician and have a great career…there, my two cents !

  25. jr

    I think people are taking this list a little too seriously. I don’t feel it’s any more or less pretentious than anything else I read on the internet. Musicians who can’t show up on time don’t get hired end of story. Creative people can struggle with structure and schedules but we’re creative enough to find a solution. Amateurs make excuses, pros get it done.

    Music is a special path because it’s a vocation and a profession that requires all your faculties to work together at their highest level. It takes years to learn to play well enough to be able to function as a full time musician or even a part time musician. Music is an art form that takes more discipline and dedication to do well than most 9-5 jobs while paying less and guaranteeing nothing. It takes a certain type of person to be able to pull off this kind of life. Most of my favorite people are musicians, ever since I was a child I felt musicians had access to something most humans didn’t. I still feel that way.

  26. jr

    I don’t think musicians think they’re better than other people. Music has a way of humbling you, I’ve been playing professionally for 15 years now and I feel more in tune with the universe and other people than ever before. I want to give all of myself. I don’t care about being famous, I care about playing quality music that uplifts people’s spirits. There’s just no room for ego as you progress. In my 20’s I wanted and needed to make a name for myself so I could work. Now I just want to make a positive impact on the world through music.

    I like this article, lots of truth in there. The musicians that last are the ones that do it for the music, they’re the least selfish people on the planet. The music business can be horribly cruel but the real musicians are giving all they have every time they play because they love the music and they NEED to play it. If they have more fun than most people they deserve it.

  27. Story

    You should also put, Before considering to put us away for in your eyes im a civilian do consider the potential amount of money and influence I might have on the world in the future (say a million years from now if i succeed and exist or continue to breed or not, assuming we dont and more stupid people fill the world until its too late) for if you decide to treat me as a normal person without exceptions it may cause enormous unseen problems in the upcoming millennium.

  28. Linda

    Hi Ari. Great article. I’m a violinist, plenty of this resonated with me. I also happen to be really into words and languages, and I hope I’m not being douche-y by pointing out to that
    1) “more so” doesn’t need a hyphen
    2) A “principle” is an idea, belief, or concept, whereas a “principal” is the head honcho at a school. You can remember it because s/he is your “pal”.

  29. Jordan Sane

    This list is decent but far too absolute for me. There are musicians who are still in it to get laid just as there are musicians who’s main drive is to be famous. Whatever works to keep you inspired, believing, working and dreaming is equally okay. This is a good staring point for the lay-person but comes off as very narrow minded, snobbish and judgmental in a number of places which I don’t believe was the author’s intention. Beware of absolute/unbending statements if you want the greater community to agree with you.

  30. Emanuel Alfredsson

    Oh dear! Well…

    1) Of course it is. Music connects people and people usually are human enough to do crazy stuff under the influence of music, whether it’s rioting or making love. If you’re the master of it, you win this Darwin award.

    2) Fame comes in different sizes though. Being famous over just a dozen of friends is also an aspiration of fame.

    3) This is why we can’t have nice things, since POSERS are all over the place. The weird ones now are those who goes relatively unnoticed in their undiluted pursuit of inspiration.

    4) That’s a class issue. Some gives up just to have decent life.

    5) contradicts 2), you hypocrite. All I’m hearing between he lines is that you aspired your personal goal of fame and that’s it.

    6) Criticism on OVER-SATURATION in NOT hate. Guidance is NOT hate. Don’t be that unstable.

    7) If your musicianship affects your everyday life in a negative way, you probably shouldn’t be musician. At least not in 2014.

    8) Be AWARE of the present day challenges that we musicians face these days is a GOOD thing. It makes idea theft a bit more complicated and misunderstandings becomes a memory of the past. And again, this too contradicts 2), since an over-all positive reaction to a misunderstanding that your song and/or sound sounds like something on the radio means that you had an aspiration of fame in the first place. Make up your mind!

    9) Wow, you must be a rich pampered asshole. Only the best is good enough for you, hon?

    10) A casual may go to a karaoke night with their dignity intact. A “musician” don’t, however. We’ve got too many things on our minds when it comes to the performance. We don’t want to look like we’re too good for that, because that would be a tragic performance otherwise.