As I am writing this I am halfway through a two week tour of Switzerland, Austria, and Germany. The shows are going great and the band is having a blast. We drive around the alps and play American music for a truly appreciative audience. Unlike in the states we get paid, fed, and generally treated like kings. Our hotel is covered. No sleeping in the van. Touring is a truly excellent experience. But today is also my oldest son’s birthday. He is twelve and I am six thousand miles away from him. Part of being a professional musician is being willing to take opportunities when they arrive, and that means missing some things.
I rarely miss a birthday or a major holiday, but over the years I have been absent for quite a few events. I was on tour over Thanksgiving 2005. I have missed my share of New Years Eve parties. Last Christmas Eve I had a really high paying gig. I had to explain to my kids that it paid for all of their presents. I left the states on Halloween morning for this trip. Also, as a private guitar teacher, I tend to work in the after school hours so I am not usually home for dinner.
I love the life I have chosen. I try to make the most of the time I have with my kids. But I think that any aspiring professional musician should be realistic about what this lifestyle means. Don’t have kids too soon, you need those early twenties to establish yourself. You need to be in a position to say yes to the opportunities that will present themselves. A young musician should be able to live on the wages from a part time job, so marriage, mortgage and kids are not going to help your career.
On the flip side, if you do have kids they will be exposed to some really great life experiences. Most of my social circle is made up of artists and musicians – open minded people who don’t try to fit themselves into other people’s boxes. My kids have seen the creative process firsthand. They have seen that hard work can pay off in terms of creative output. They have also learned that it is important to be present with the people you love. And they know that if they choose a career in the arts, they will be supported completely.
We all make choices. Every time I am asked to take two weeks out of my life to play music in Europe I say yes. Every time I’ve been asked to take three or four weeks I’ve said no. I’ve never gone two years in a row. Two weeks every two years is my comfort level at the moment. That may change as my kids get older. The trick for me is balancing this wonderful musical life with my life as a dad. You might have different priorities but you will still need to find that balance.
Today I’ll be on the lookout for a great present for my kid. I’ll be skyping him this evening. He knows that I love him even though I am not home right now. And he knows that I will be home soon.
Alex’s Bio: Alex Anest has been performing, recording and teaching music in the Southeast Michigan area since 1996. He was a founding member of the Jericho Guitar Trio, Never Nebula, and Delta 88. With Delta 88 Alex performed across the Midwest and played at the Ann Arbor Folk Festival in 2004. Since then he has toured Switzerland, Germany, Austria and Italy with songwriter Kevin Meisel. Alex currently performs with Ryan Racine and Gas for Less and the electric anti-jazz ensemble Giraffe. Giraffe is a chance for Alex to bring his many musical influences together – a very enjoyable, though sometimes difficult task for a musician who finds inspiration from artists as varied as Paco de Lucia, George Harrison, Thelonious Monk, and Jimi Hendrix. The common thread among these giants (and the goal to which Alex aspires) is the ability to transcend stylistic boundaries while keeping their own unique musical voice intact.