Many years ago Sherrill Milnes, the famous operatic baritone, remarked something to the effect of, “At any given time, 10 people in the entire world are lucky enough to make the whole of their living by only singing opera. For everyone else, there’s always teaching.” I’m probably not quoting this exactly right as it was relayed to me by my voice teacher at the time. We had a “come to tenor Jesus” conversation about my career path where she laid it all out very starkly. She explained to me that the bad training I had gotten had severely hurt my voice and that my first hurdle would be overcoming that and learning to unleash my voice as an adult instead of beefing it up to sound impressive as a child. Then, she delivered that quote and told me that there are no guarantees in the business of opera, and that I could work diligently and still never have more than a minor career due to factors beyond my control. Even if I did manage to carve out a career, there would be very little stability and life would be a constant hustle for the next gig.
Then we addressed my fundamental dislike of opera.
I took all this away and thought about it long and hard, doing spreadsheets and trying to figure out what was my floor and ceiling in terms of money made versus career satisfaction versus creative enjoyment. I then emerged from my room, back when I was still living with my parents, and said, “I have an announcement.” ”What is it,” asked my parents who had always been pushing me to go into pop instead of opera if I must into music.”
“I have decided to give up opera,” I proclaimed. Their spirits lifted and their fingers crossed, they said, “Then what WILL you do?”
“I,” I paused dramatically, “I shall be a JAZZ musician!”
The stunned silence that ensued is what I use for reference whenever someone throws out the term “Negative Space”.
In the end, the joke was on all of us, as I went into biology and chemistry and now work mostly with computers.
But Milnes had a very definite point, one that really doesn’t seem to get a lot of consideration in these days of shrinking artist royalties, RIAA lawsuits and micropayments from Pandora and Spottify: Music, on the whole, sucks ass for making a decent living and always has.