Every Friday on this blog is “Makin’ it Happen Friday”, where I feature another musician who’s found a way to make a living playing music. I am constantly inspired by others, and hope to pass that inspiration on to you.
Today we turn our attention to Andrew Durkin. Andrew is a self-described hack composer and pseudo-intellectual living in Portland, OR who I met through the glory of the internets. I was searching for other blogs about jazz music and came across his, Jazz: The Music of Unemployment, and became an avid reader. It was one of those instances where I had to go back and read every post he’s put up. It’s not your run-of-the-mill “here’s where I’m playing and where you can find my CDs” blog. Andrew talks about stuff. All kinds of stuff. Deep stuff. And it’s always thought-provoking. Just like his music…
Andrew’s band, The Industrial Jazz Group (IJG), is a novel, adventurous big band (currently 17 pieces) showcasing his compositions and the talents of some incredible and charismatic players. The IJG has slowly pioneered the concept of what they call “avant-garde party music”: an idiosyncratic, charming / disarming blend of jazz, rock, cartoon soundtracks, humor, blues, funk, costumes, doo wop, dada, and a lot of other stuff. They attempt to demonstrate that music can indeed be complex, sophisticated, sexy, fun, funny, critical, smart, and groovy all at once. A band after my own heart!
Here’s a short promo video of the band, shot in the Netherlands, California and Massachusetts. It is a perfect introduction to the IJG:
I asked Andrew a few questions about how he got into music and how he’s built a career. I hope you enjoy his thoughtful answers as much as I did.
OWM: How’d you get started in the music biz?
AD: I guess I got started playing piano in bar bands and wedding bands (etc.), in high school and college. But I have always thought of myself as primarily a writer, so I was leading my own (original) bands starting in high school as well. The specific event that made me commit to a life in music (for a while I couldn’t decide whether I wanted to be a musician or a filmmaker) was the experience (as a senior in high school) of writing and presenting an original rock opera. That’s the point at which I went from “Hey, playing music is pretty damned cool!” to “Holy crap this is the most awesome thing in the universe, I could totally see myself doing this for the rest of my life!”
Alas, it took a while before I started working seriously on the “business” side of my career.
OWM: What 3 things have helped you the most in becoming a working musician?
AD: Aside from talent (I hope) and luck?
The big sine qua non for me is a deep (and at times even irrational) persistence. Obviously, there is a lot to deal with in this business, so you’ve got to believe strongly in what you’re doing.
But I also think timing is important. I have always been stubborn, and once I committed to music, I stayed committed. But I wasn’t persistent until I was damn sure I had something worth being persistent about. You’ve got to really know what you’re doing before you can believe strongly in it.
I guess the third thing is having a good social support structure: in my case, a wife and daughter who “get me,” and who are incredibly tolerant of the weird demands of living with an obsessively creative person. Along the same lines, being in a band where the members all get along — and even (gasp!) dig each others’ company — is important too. It’s nice to feel that I’m not doing this alone.
OWM: What advice do you have for aspiring musicians?
AD: I try to cultivate a state of mind in which my music is simultaneously the most and the least important thing in the world.
I love a good aesthetic rumble, but I recently concluded that music is there to facilitate love. So I try to avoid those corners of the musical discourse community (Pitchfork, I’m lookin’ at you!) that remind me of high school.
Always be on the lookout for a fortuitous accident. I only say this because the IJG — which I think is the best band I have ever had — is based on a fortuitous accident.
Seek out the advice of others, but don’t assume that you have to follow it!