It's a Living

Yes, my musician kids "work," thank you very much.

Pop Life

Recently someone I kinda-sorta know asked about my son. He's doing great, I said. He and his band are on a 30-city tour.

No sooner than I'd answered this fellow, I regretted it, as simple math scribbled itself onto his brain's chalkboard. Thirty shows minus my son being at home, where he lives, equals, "Your son doesn't have a job?"

Courtesy of Jaime Torraco/Kittens of Industry
Courtesy of Jaime Torraco/Kittens of Industry

Yes, he has a job, I explained. His job is being in an active, touring band.

It'll sound hypocritical to say this jackass should mind his own business when here I am abdicating all privacy to write this. But I'm mostly doing it to dispel the misjudgment that struggling musicians aren't working. My acquaintance might prefer my son serving up lattes or carrying lumber to his truck. But who gives a shit what that guy wants?

I'd like my son to be happy, in the short and long run. I appreciate that he and his bandmates and bands like theirs everywhere believe in what they're doing. As someone whose day jobs have kept him chained to a desk or under the thumb of some megalomaniacal know-nothing, I can't think of anything I'd like less for my kid. I want him to take his shot at not having to live that life and know that he gave it his best effort.

He can do it, too, because what it means to be an "unknown" working musician in 2013 is very different from what it might have meant years ago. At the core, what my son does — as well as his piano-playing sister; she's not flipping your burger, pal — is no different from what the many bands that came before his did. He and his writing partner, Whitney, create and perform songs. Way back when, they'd have played them hoping to impress some record-company bigwig, a moment that would have been either a miracle or the end of the line.

Today there's actually a guarantee their efforts won't go unnoticed by the broader masses. They don't need a fairy godproducer to do what they love and pay the bills. The digital age has changed all that.

Not to insult the informed readers of Rocks Off, but some folks don't realize how today's bands can create an audience as long as they're willing to do real, honest, time-consuming work. My kids love writing music, but it's the beginning of a very long process.

They learned to use home recording equipment, and their two most recent albums were clean enough to post on iTunes and Spotify. They recorded in a converted bedroom here with the dogs occasionally barking at the racket from downstairs. Bands in Houston and all over the world are doing it the same way.

It's no different with packaging the finished product. The Internet may have crushed the spirits and bodies of places like Tower Records, but it has created opportunities for independent artists of all kinds to have their work noticed. My kids have enlisted help from all over for T-shirt designs, show flyers, album art and the like.

For instance, the art highlighted in this article is by a very talented Floridian named Jaime Torraco. She caught one of the band's shows on a southeastern run and followed them, then I followed her site, Kittens of Industry. Now I am (hopefully) introducing her to lots more people.

Promotion-wise, my kids have mailed free CDs to high-school newspaper entertainment editors for reviews. They've snuck CDs between the Avett Brothers and Sara Bareilles albums on Starbucks sales counters. On a more traditional front, they build and administer pages on Web sites like Bandcamp and Tumblr. They asked a friend, Juan Carlos Arredondo, to shoot some videos, most recently an Indiegogo video that helped them secure enough funds to buy their current tour vehicle.

All that work built an audience, and they go to those audiences. Whether it's five kids in a Kansas living room or 200 people at a show in Denver, they go to them and play for them. They tour six months out of the year. If they don't sell enough T-shirts to fill the gas tank, they'll stop at Love's and busk for the truckers. There are more highly acclaimed Houston bands with fewer Facebook fans, but it's harder to build a fan foundation if you can't leave town because of your nine-to-five.

They've networked on the road, so much so that Whitney has formed a booking group to ensure out-of-towners have at least one Houston contact for help. It's nice, but self-serving, too. For instance, she helped an overseas band book Houston, Albuquerque and Denver shows; in return, her band got some love on that band's social-media pages. Just like that, they were introduced to a broader group of listeners from an entirely different country.

So does it seem like my son is working yet, asshole? I've seen the band awake at three in the morning, hand-screening T-shirts the day before another tour. I've heard them practice the same song for three hours straight.

They do all this and more and are self-sufficient in their pursuits. Yes, they all got help from their families to begin with, but they've worked the music industry's new business model to their advantage and now don't need much help from us. The other people who love them — their fans/friends — support what they do.

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