Wednesday, January 18, 2012

Music (Almost) Ruined My Life: Don't Let it Ruin Yours! Creative Work Can Be a Curse - Choose Your Career Carefully

Here I go quoting Confucius two days in a row: "Choose a job that you love and you will never have to work a day in your life."

Diana Ross also said something along the lines of, "You had better like the songs you sing, because you're going to be singing them for the rest of your life."

Know it. Learn it. Live it.

This post is about choosing your job, using music as an example. I use music because that is what I know best. It could also apply to food, design, cinema, or any of the so-called "Creative Arts." To paraphrase Diana; "You had better like the career you choose, because you're going to be doing it the rest of your life." 

Choose your career carefully. If I had know then, what I know today, I would have never chosen to work in music... Here's why...

I've worked in music, in one capacity or another, since 1978. While I will say that, when I first started, I think I loved music, now I can definitively say that I don't really like music. I don't want to sugar-coat this. It's the truth. I can't really say that I hate music. But, perhaps like an old marriage that has grown cold tired and loveless (and sexless), I have no interest in music at all any more. The fire that was once there has grown cold and lifeless...There rarely comes along something that really piques my interest and makes me take notice. I blame the industry (but what person wants to blame themselves?)

I think the last well known things that really caught my eye were, Fatboy Slim, Suede, Sex Pistols and Punk, and David Bowie (in that reverse chronological order). Music today, like cinema today, is boring as hell.

Bowie was the first to change my life...

All my life I've had a few very unusual talents. One is that, even though I can never remember anyone's name, I always remember their telephone number - or just about any number. I can remember numbers that are over eight digits long no problem in the world. I've been able to do that since I was a young boy. I can even remember, to this day, our family telephone number when I was 8 and living in Minnesota! I can also remember the lyrics of songs even if I have only heard them in passing on the radio a few times and even if I don't like them. I've also been able to do that since the mid-sixties when garage music was Top 40...

"You're pushing to hard, pushing to hard, pushing to hard on me.... Too hard..." Oh, trivia...

Seriously folks, I've always hated sobbing piano corporate trash like Billy Joel (showing my age here) but can still remember all the lyrics to a song like, say, "Uptown Girl" of which I've only been exposed to a few times and hated with a passion from the first time. Today, I can't say that I hate Lady Gaga (can't name a single song she has done), Madonna, Justin Beiber, whatever, and so on... (insert your favorite pop star's name here).... Because I've gotten to the point where I just don't care about them at all.

Most artists, if they have a clue, will want people to either love or hate them. People like me who don't care at all are their demise.

I cannot try go to sleep with any music on at all. I won't sleep. If music is on, as I try to sleep, the lyrics will pop into my head and I won't be able to sleep. Even songs I hate, I remember the lyrics. It is a serious ailment for which modern science has no cure, or even a name for. 

So, whenever I go to a restaurant or hear music, awake or when trying to sleep, I play a sort of "Name that Tune" in my head (Really, I can get most of them in 4 or 5 notes without a hint). It's maddening. So, if I try to sleep and music is on, my mind clicks into "Name that Tune" mode.. Then, if there is a song I don't know - well, forget sleeping for another hour or two. (And trust that I have a massive library of data stored in the noggin; from the 1940's until late 1990's.) 

I met a girl once who had a similar illness when it came to classical music. Since she studied classical piano since she was a 5-year-old girl and then practiced everyday, a few hours a day, and even went to a university and graduated with a degree in classical piano (?) If she hears classical music while trying to sleep, she sees the sheet music rolling past her head and will not be able to sleep.... 

Later on, that girl and I got married. She is my current wife. We don't listen to music at home unless we are having a party and guests are over.

Music has been a friend and a curse to both of us all our lives. 

Rodney Bingenheimer is a real DJ. Probably the last of a dying breed.
Rodney is real. I am a cheap Japanese copy.

I suppose I'd better give a short rundown on my "music history." I played in a 70s Los Angeles punk band. We were one-hit wonders. Supposedly, we sold a lot of records. Rodney Bingenheimer at world-famous KROQ in Los Angeles once told me that our song was the most requested song in the history of his radio program and that show has been on since 1974 or so. The band was shitty. But it was fun... Well, sorta...

If you've ever played in a band that had even minimal success then you know that playing in a band can be fun. It can be LOTS of fun... If you tour you know that touring can be fun but it, seems to me, usually is not. My band wasn't fun to be around because they were always fighting like poncy hairdressers.

After the band relieved itself, and the listening public, from its misery by breaking up, I carried records and cleaned toilets for people at a radio station. Later, in Japan, I began doing my own radio programs in 1986 or 87. My first radio show in Japan was for a station in Osaka... The station's name was Radio Kansai, can't remember the name of the show.

Let me break here tell you about the "magical dream" - before the days of the Internet - that working at a radio station was. Back before 1990, radio was king. If you wanted to hear new music, the only place was radio. I had been a fan of radio since I was a little boy. My parents would have to drive to a place for my mother's work. The lady who owned the place was named Mrs. Snap. My parents would try to goad me into the 1 hour car ride to Mrs. Snap's office . I'd never want to go (even though she was a nice lady), but if they let me sit in front and zap the am radio tuner, I'd eagerly go. 

My brothers were such uncool turds that, even at the height of the sixties Brit Invasion, they didn't care. I loved it. I loved the music. I loved the radio. (In the sixties, punk was Top 40 - like the above mentioned Seeds song, "Pushin' Too Hard.")

Anyway, most people who love music want to be musicians. But few of us have any talent to speak of. Let's face it, I had none. None! Nein! Zip! Nada! Zero!... So, after my punk band, I fancied going into radio. In those days, before one joins a radio station, like little children at Christmas with images of toys dancing in their heads, newbies at radio think they will be hanging out with rock stars and getting hundreds of the new albums by the hottest artists all for free...

Well, the hanging out with rock stars part isn't true at all. Rock stars might come to the station but they'll rarely remember your face, name, who you are, or even that they were on your very same show just last year! And the stacks of free records and CDs you'll get? Sure. You'll get them. But they'll all be crap that you don't want. You'll just have bags of junk to carry home and have more sh*t to throw away on trash day!

Seriously, if you receive 100 albums from record labels, then out of that 100, only 1 might be good. That is unless, of course, you think Lady Gaga and Justin Beiber are good. Almost everything you get is corporate rock trash. Good new artists rarely have the money or the label backing to put out sample recordings to stations. And, in the 25 years of being the DJ, producer, song selector of some of the highest rated (alternative) music radio shows in Tokyo, I can honestly say that I have only met three promoters who did their jobs properly.

Think about it; I make a show that plays underground and alternative music only and some dumb promoter is putting Justin Beiber's newest CD in my mailbox and asking me to play it on my show? Gee. Thanks for taking the time to listen to my program. I'll make sure I play your songs after they fish the CD out of the river when I throw it out the window!!!!


Oh? Where was I? Oh yeah, I was complaining about how much radio and the music industry sucks and how, using this example, you need to choose your career carefully.

Let me also interject that the music business (and radio too) has a lot of low class, dishonest people in them. It's been my experience that these dishonest types are usually gone within 3 ~ 6 years, but, through some miracle, some of the really sneaky and dishonest ones hold on. I think it's because they've made a deal with the devil... Rock and roll and all that, ya know.

I blew it in radio. Besides the above, how was I to know, in the mid eighties that the Internet was going to come along and ruin everything? I couldn't. I started a TV and radio production company in 1992 that focused on the niche market of alternative music (no one was doing that in Japan) and so the die was cast.

Today, the internet is king and no one listens to radio anymore and no one watches music TV. Why bother? You can just go to Youtube and see what you want, when you want it without having to sit through 20 minutes of crap you don't like.

Now? I never listen to music and, if I do, it is only for work. Like I said, I rarely hear things that I like (the things I do like, I play) and, when not at work, I enjoy silence.

We have no TV at my home and we have no large stereo. We have a small CD player that we use for background music when guests come over so it is turned on, perhaps, three or four times a year. At my house, silence is golden.

People ask me, "Mike! What kind of music do you like?" I usually answer, "I am a fair person. I hold all Pop music in equal disdain." If I do listen to "music for pleasure," I listen to the birds singing in the garden, the crash of the ocean waves, or, in the car, Mozart.

Some lovers of music might say that this is tragic and a waste. Perhaps. But I like to think of it more akin to what a professional chef would do at a famous French restaurant. I fact, one I know told me the following and it reminded me of how I am. He said,

"Mike, I enjoy my work. I cannot say I love cooking. I enjoy my work. When I am at home, my wife wants me to cook, but I cannot stand to cook when I am at home. When I am at home, I don't want to eat anything... It's much too much trouble..."

He then added;

"Mike, I like McDonald's hamburgers. I am amazed at how fast they can turn them out and they are all exactly the same."

Get it? He likes McDonald's hamburgers. Why? Not because of the taste but because, as a professional chef, he is fascinated by how they can churn out these products and each and every one is exactly the same as the others. This is a goal of all professional chefs at fine restaurants.

Maybe he does like the taste. But I don't think that's what intrigues him; he likes the technique. He doesn't really "taste" the product. If he really tasted McDonald's hamburgers, he certainly wouldn't like them (But, then again, who knows? Some people might like eating chemicals and salt)

McDonald's vs. Lobster? Hmmmm.... Tough choice, eh?

It's the same with me. I don't really "taste" the music anymore. I judge it by a certain level of quality, melody, and, I think, "Can I use this for my show or not?" That's it.

If this is tragic, then so be it. 

It think it is what it is and it is the fact that I enjoy my job. I cannot honestly say that I love music.

Had I known then what I know today, I would have chosen a different career.

Music isn't a hugely profitable career. There's not much upside. And there are a lot of dishonest sneaky people. Even though I cannot complain and can say that I don't really feel that I've ever worked "hard," (hard work is chopping down trees or working in construction, etc.) I could have made twice as much money in a different career had I made that decision long ago.

As it is, I am fading out music now. I started to do so at age 52. It's not too late.

But there is a lesson here for everyone: If people read this and can really understand what this is all about then, it's not sad, it is actually what makes a professional. Passion is always important, but having a detached, discerning eye is of utmost importance to the successful business man or woman. 

Have a discerning eye. Use good judgement. Choose your career well. 

Pianistar Hiroshi - Bohemian Rhapsody
Watch this. This is awesome!

NOTE: You can see a weekly Top 5 of music videos that I like here at George Williams's site ( George and I pick these songs every week: 

Thanks to Allison Sayne


Anonymous said...

Since life is looked at in one direction, but lived in another, what would you tell a university student interested in radio today? It seems half of colleges in the USA have a radio station. How many of those wannabe DJs will have a career in radio?

Anonymous said...

While I am no expert, what you are experiencing is probably job burn out.

The days when someone had a career the rest of his life is not a reality today.

My father started working at a high skill trade when he was 16. He officially retired at 78 yrs. Today he is 85 yrs. He was able to keep on going all those years because his definition of his work morphed over the years. He kept on learning and being challenged.

My husband trained in this high skill trade as well. It doesn't exist as it was anymore. In essence, greed and computers took over. God is good. He is able to use these skills in another area. His definition and application of his skills changed and developed a bit differently over the years. He has been challenged and met that challenge.

I was a public school educator for many years. The public schools are not interested in teaching the children. The system sucks the life out of the teachers. I resigned. I left all those juicy perks for just a few years, but it was too much to ask of myself.
I have redefined myself. I work hard. I am challenged and content. I took the risk.

I think you will land firmly on both feet.


mike in tokyo rogers said...

Anonymous #1: Well, if there are any university students interested in radio (I've been looking but can't find any) I'd tell them to find a good job that pays well... Radio is dying a slow death...
Anonymous #2): Thanks Yep. Burned out with all the BS and dishonesty. Thanks for the story about school and thanks so much for your positive "cheering on" You can be proud that you took the risk and succeeded. People like you are an inspiration for everyone! Thanks!

Andrew Joseph said...

By the way... 8 months later... Pushin too hard... The Seeds. It was one of my favorite psychedelic songs ever. I only first heard it when I was about 16 in 1980. I have a couple of copies of it on CD collections. Highs of the 60s was one of those...

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