On Saying Yes


It's great when people ask you to a gig, recording, rehearsal, anything. It's nice to be asked. It becomes a problem when you already have quite a lot of work, but you think you can manage just this one thing more. And that other thing. And surely you have time for the third if you skip lunch.

It really is very nice to be asked, so yes.
Yes, I'll play the thing.
Yes, I'll learn this in two days.
Yes, of course I'll travel 18 hours for the gig.
Yes, I'll tap dance while playing. Yes, sure.

You have to say yes, or otherwise they will never ask you again and you will die alone and unhappy. You have to say yes, because musicians are supposed to work all day, every day teaching, practicing, performing, marketing, networking, improving, smiling. This is what it is to be a freelancer, it's hard work. If you stop, if you don't keep pushing, you'll be cast aside, forgotten. You're supposed to be stressed all the time and burn out before you're 30.

How great, guys, being a musician is so cool.

The reason I'm ranting about this yes-business is that I am a person who needs holidays. I need time for other things than music Every Single Week in order to remain a functioning human being. I get tired, both of music and of people, and I want to have a life that includes peace and quiet, and things that are not work. So this year I'm learning to say no.

No, I can't come.
No, I need the time to learn all the other things that I've said yes to.
No, I can't transpose this a tritone down just because the key better suits your mood today.
No, I can't do this for so little money. If I spend all my time working for free or for a pittance, I can't pay my rent or buy food.
No, I can't play for a hundred hours without break because my hands and brain need to rest every once in a while. I have already injured my hand once because I didn't have the courage to say when I wanted a break, everyone else seeming fine with the workload.

When I say that I can't/won't do something, I'm often told about all the other pianists who can and will do the thing I've said no to. They can play twenty three hours without stopping - they play every single note from the piece you think requires five hands (and they can do it with just seven fingers) - they never complain about money because they don't care about material comfort, and they sure as hell can sightread every vocal music piece on the planet. And transpose them to any key they like. While reciting a poem in Latin.

I'd love to meet these people. They sound awesome.

To those of you that aren't superheroes, a word of advice: Work the amount that feels right for you, and don't compare. You have to know how much you can cope with, what you're willing to do and for what price, and once you've set your limits, stick with them no matter what other people say. Then go and have days off. Breathe and notice the life outside music - it's worth seeing, I promise you.