Someone asks what I do. I answer:

a) "I'm a software developer"
b) "I'm a fashion merchandising student"
c) "I'm a musician"

For me, all of the above are true. But which is the one I am most likely to say?

If you guessed (c), go to the head of the class.

(a) is what I do for a living. (b) is what I am doing in school. But (c) is who I am. It's how I see myself. And more and more, it's all I want to be.

When people ask that question, they're not usually asking who you are. They're not even asking what you do. They're asking what you do for a living, what you do for your primary income. Sometimes they will even phrase the question as "what do you do for a living." In many cases, what a person does for a living would also be their primary identity. But not in all cases. So really, it can be a problematic question. In my case, I appreciate what I do for a living because I like my job, I like to do it well, and I like my salary. But it feels irrelevant to me as an answer to a question about what I do, because asking what someone does is asking for at least a clue as to who they are.

Depending on who is asking, elaborating on "I am a musician" by saying that I play guitar and write songs for a rock band might earn me a dismissal. I'm not a trained musician. I didn't go to music school. I don't play for a symphony orchestra or even in a jazz combo. I can read music, but that's not what I do when I play rock and roll.

Saying you play rock and roll, unless you're at the level of someone like, say, Bono, is still somewhat akin to saying that you were an actor in Shakespeare's time. There's a reason the Globe Theatre was in Southwark, the disreputable south bank of the Thames. Even though rock music now rules much of the musical world, it's never going to get the respect that "real" forms of music get. (And thank goddess for that, because if it did it would cease to be rock music.)

Even though I have minimal formal training as a musician (do piano lessons when I was a child and trombone lessons in high school count?), I have a lifetime of experience. I have been playing and writing music since I was about nine. I have performed solo, in a duet, and in bands. I have played in original bands and cover bands. Original bands I have been in have had articles written about them and songs played on the radio. I have produced records.

My current band, Lisa's Hotcakes, is still a net consumer and not a producer of revenue. But we have been in existence for not even a year. We have played live several times. We have a show coming up next month and more in the works. We have just released our first recording, an EP called Love Hz, available as a digital download (not as cool a CD or especially vinyl these days, but still legitimate). We are a known quantity in certain circles around town, and slowly we are widening those circles.

I am more comfortable now with saying that I am a musician, or at least a guitar player and songwriter. It's not something I "identify as." It's what I am, because it's what I do. At times in the past, it has been more of a claimed identity than an actual one. It's all well and good to say you "identify as" something, but it's much better to actually be that something. There's a lot less 'splainin' to do. And the last thing I ever want to be is a poseuse.

Being a musician is what I have striven for, what I have worked for, and what I have achieved. But I am nowhere near done yet. I want the Hotcakes to keep doing better and better. You never know what will happen with a band, but we'll do our best. Beyond that, I want to expand my own musical horizons. I already write songs that aren't really right for the band, and I would like to turn that into a genuine songwriting career. That will require more writing, probably one or more co-writers to work with, and a lot of marketing. I would also like to produce music that is not my own. That will require even more work, possibly an internship and certainly a lot of learning. But the alternative is to wish that I had done all this. Much better to die knowing that you did or at least tried to do cool stuff rather than wishing you had.


ering said...

I studied engineering in college and clung tightly to the label of "engineer" far past when it served me. Right now I say my current job is a "cop" which is kind of amusing (at least to me). But at heart, I am a songwriter and singer and plunking bass player. :)

Coline said...

Hz, took a moment! LOL.

Ollie said...

This is such a great post. One gets this question all the time, and because I do a number of different jobs, study, and have 'hobbies' that feel like a part of me, the answer changes depending on who is asking it. Sometimes it feels duplicitous, but mostly it just feels right. We all do more than one thing.

For me it's tangled up with my queerness as well: for various reasons, I'm at varying levels of 'out' in different situations, so questions like "do you have a boyfriend", "what's your name", "are you gay" etc can have radically different answers. That makes me feel even more duplicitous! But it also makes me constantly aware of how nebulous and transient these things can be, and how important it is (for me at least) to respect that, and not be too strict with myself in representing my identity.

Thanks for the read, anyway - really thought-provoking.

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Andréa Hector-Brown said...

what's interesting, is that music and healing are the only things i do. i can fairly vouch that i am only a musician.

i don't make a living off it, i live because of it.

there is no monetary value you can put on it.