Lately I’ve found that I really miss playing music regularly. When I first joined Red Hat in 2008, the plan was for me to move up to New England so I could join most of my coworkers in the Westford office. As a result, I gracefully exited the musical projects I was involved in at the time, so they wouldn’t be hampered by my sudden move. However, a plummeting housing market in the DC area and my mother’s struggles with her spinal problems put the kibosh on my move, and circumstances led to me basically just working from home. That has continued to work out pretty well for both me and Red Hat, so I don’t see it changing any time in the near future.
The unfortunate result, though, is that I haven’t been playing music regularly now for several years. And that gets me right where it hurts — in my work/life balance. Anyone who knows me knows I put a high value on that balance. I’ve been better at achieving it over the past couple of years. But the question I’ve asked myself lately is “to what end?”. Sure, I get to spend more time with my family, but it’s not like we are busy every second of every night or weekend. So the question is, am I doing the best with that non-work time that I could? And the answer to myself was no. I was missing the fun of being creative, and that’s what music does for me.
So I decided to challenge myself to get back into the music scene in the local area. I wouldn’t say that Fredericksburg, Virginia is a bustling music marketplace, but we do have our share of venues and bands. There are some limitations: most of what people are playing around here is bar music, i.e. classic rock, country, and/or blues (or hard metal, which is just not my bag, baby). That means I have to do away somewhat with my predisposition, which is singer/songwriter stuff in the folk/rock/pop genre. Because when you’re playing professionally, you are working in a marketplace, and rule number one is, the customer is always right. And if the customer wants to hear “Gimme Three Steps” for the eight thousandth frickin’ time, then I’m going to do my best to chew it up — dig?
Letting go of my personal feelings about tunes I like (or don’t), though, has been easier to solve than another issue: finding great people to play with. I’ve done auditions for a while now, and I’ve discovered — or maybe rediscovered, since I probably knew this long ago the last time I was auditioning — that auditions are a two-way street. When I show up for an audition with a group, they’re not just seeing whether I’m good for them, I’m determining whether they’re good for me. So far the second half of that equation has been missing. So I’m trying to branch out beyond just answering ads, and try to meet other musicians who maybe aren’t actively looking. It stands to reason that many great musicians in the area are already hooked up with a group, simply because they’re great and everyone knows it.
Fortunately I’ve found there are worthwhile open mic sessions in the area. I’ve never done these before — I found all my previous work through referrals and recommendations, working with a series of steadily excellent musicians. Not being a born extrovert, I also found that I had some trepidation about attending an open mic. What if I didn’t know the tunes? What if no one wanted me on stage? What if none of the other players was any good? Then I realized all these what-if’s were basically killing any positive outcome before it even had a chance. If I went, sure, there was a chance it might not end up having value. But if I didn’t, then there was a 100% chance it wouldn’t have any value. So it’s pretty simple — just go, already!
It’s turned out pretty well so far — I’ve found that there are some truly great musicians around this area. Sure, they may all be in good bands already, but they also tend to know each other, and the way I look at it, if they start to know who I am, they’ll be able to give me or someone else a heads-up for a situation that might be good for me. The open mic is just as much a networking opportunity as a musical one. So by embracing that opportunity my hope is to get more wired into the local scene, make some new friends, and maybe find a referral to play with some great musicians again. I think the key is not just to go, but to keep going. That’s reinvigorated me, so that I’m practicing more on my own again — and it’s helped me shake the rust and dust off.
So today, I’m going out again to an open mic that was fun last Sunday, after which I’m headed off to another audition. And while the other guys are certainly going to audition me, I’m also going to audition them. So don’t just wish me luck — wish them luck too!