PICTURE: New York Yankees Center fielder Bernie Williams, retired from baseball in 2006, and then immediately started playing guitar professionally, being nominated for a Latin Grammy in 2009.
I sit here in the early morning (8:30 AM musician time) and I think to myself : ‘I love what I do’. Razz and I are staying with her family in California as we take a month to collect some new content, write some new tunes, and make some cash money playing a couple of shows before we head out on another Direct Divide tour through Los Angeles in the month of October. I am very excited as I have taken the Roland electronic drum set that has sitting in the corner of our practice space for a year and have finally been able to incorporate it into the band’s live set and Razz’s live looping set. We have been playing with a lot of ideas with click tracks, tap tempo MIDI stuff, with the hope of being able to pull off a full on live loop stacking arrangement in the context of a rock band, which is usually dependant on if you can hear yourself. My delay pedal has a looper and Razz has her looper, so its definitely possible. We are gear nerds, I know!
Anyways, getting to play music these days as a ‘full-time musician’ is really the cherry on top, and the reward for all the other non musical work you have to put in every day. Many folks think ‘When I go full time with my music, I get to play so much more music!’ That’s not really the case. What really happens is you replace all the hours you would have spend at another job and replace it with administrative musical work that has nothing to do with picking up an instrument in hopes of getting gigs and making enough money to actually be able to pick up your instrument more! The reward is getting to play onstage and its all absolutely worth it every single day. There is usually 50+ hours of potential work to do per day and you can only get a fraction of it done, so you usually have to choose which tasks are more pressing. There is a study that says that folks who work a 9-5 desk job on average only spend a good 1-2 hours of actually finishing goal oriented tasks, the other 6 is spent going to the water cooler to talk to Bill or reading Buzzfeed lists. As a musician, you are your own boss, your own employee, and your own roadblock, and you have to put in 10+ hours of quality work a day to hopefully make a dent, because no one is going to do it for you. Like the band FUN said at the Grammy’s, ‘It took us 15 years to be an overnight success’. The game is crazy, but the most rewarding, fun, and surprisingly in-control’-of-your-own-destiny industry there is. There is never a day where I can kick my feet up and say ‘I did everything I could have possibly done today’, because there will never be that day. But, I love what I do with an extreme passion, and I have an unreachable goal of making a difference in the world with my music and productions, and that gets me out of bed every morning at the crack of noon (®Faith at Shutter Smoke Productions).
I love baseball, and weirdly enough I find a lot of parallels between baseball and the music industry. Maybe that’s why I like that they called the major leagues ‘The Show’. My favorite team is the Los Angeles Angels of Anaheim (stupid name, I know). I grew up in Las Vegas, and actually played on a couple of little league baseball teams with Bryce Harper, who now plays for the Washington Nationals, which is pretty cool. He is 4 years younger than me, making millions of dollars and is killing it on the biggest stage of professional baseball. That’s pretty awesome, and he is there because he wanted to do nothing but be a baseball player since he was 5 years old. I started music a bit later than most, and I’m OK that we are a bit older than most in the sea of bands. We are older, distinguished, and I get to wear a suit and feel like a badass.
I come from a very sports oriented family, my grandfather was the state MVP of California in baseball, football, and basketball his senior year of high school (talk about a stud) and played shortstop for the St. Louis Cardinals organization in the 50s, but never made it to the big leagues. Hes still got a full head of hair and crushes it at high school reunions, I bet. My dad was also a baseball player, and was drafted as a pitcher for the St. Louis Cardinals in the 80s, but injured his shoulder before he could make the big leagues. I played sports growing up and wasn’t as naturally talented at them as my family members, but after breaking my collarbone playing football, I picked up music. I believe that choice was a good one, and I’m fairly positive that it is working out for me.
The fundamentals of the game of baseball, the professional baseball industry, and the nature of the game of baeball in the modern era is very similar to the music industry. Baseball is a game of luck and muscle memory, combined with skill. You are hitting a tiny round ball with a round bat coming from a grown ass hairy man throwing as hard as possibly can from 60 feet away. The odds are stacked against you and your mechanics have to be perfect to even stand a chance. But even those with the best mechanics and perfect form can get in their own head and it all measn nothing. Some of the best players like Robinson Cano and Ryan Howard will slump from time to time, even though they have perfectly fluid pretty swings that make hitting look effortless and easy. All they can do is just trust your gut, trust thei training of when they were 5 years learning how to hit a baseball, get up there and put a good swing on the ball, and not think too much. When you start thinking too much about your fundamentals and what you are supposed to do while you are up to bat, you will fail almost every time, and even the best hitters in world will slump for a long time. These slumps have nothing to do with their talent or skill, and they seek out great teammates and coaches to help get them back on track. Even the best hitters in the world have coaches, as we have band mates and teammates in the music industry. With music, you can do your best to prepare and practice perfectly and make all the right moves, but when it comes down to it, you will be more successful if you just trust your gut, get up on stage and do your thing. Don’t think too much and you’ll stay out of trouble.
The best hitters in the history of baseball have a batting average over .300. That means that every time they step into the batters box, the result is that they FAIL 7 times out of 10. Players who fail 7 out of 10 times over the course of a twenty year career are considered the best players ever. This means to me: You can mess up A LOT, and still be at the top of the game. As musicians in this industry, we think that every move we make has to be perfect and calculated. Every contract or agreement we sign has to be the exact right move at the exact right time or our careers are over. I think it’s a lot like baseball: we can mess up a lot, and if we fail, there will always be another opportunity. One path might close, but another one almost always opens up if you commit to what you are doing and never give up.
We are so conditioned that we need to be good at everything all the time. Some baseball players are speed players, some players are power hitters, and a pitcher is usually not a good hitter (unless you’re Madison Bumgarner). No one is expected to be the best at every position and every role, but the best teams that win games and World Series show up on time with a great attitude and have the best combination of valuable players performing very specific roles with a unified chemistry. This is your band. Not every member needs to be good at playing, writing, performing, social media, recording, mixing, emailing, contract writing, financials, youtube, camera work, video editing, merchandise selling, interviews, vocal tuning, booking, drum sample replacing, live sound, time management, AND van loading. The best teams (not just music) are a collection of people that serve specific roles at a high level, show up on time and just give a whip about what they do. Take our dynamic in Direct Divide. I am not very good at social media, financials, interviews, or manning the merch booth. Valdemar does not have the experience producing recordings, mixing, vocal tuning, or live sound. Razz is not fond of contract writing, logistical details, or booking shows. BUT we understand that about each other, always want to get better at the places we struggle, and focus on what we are good at: I am the production/booking guy, Valdemar is the master performer, socialite, and professional van loader, and Razz is the seller, the merch master, the CFO, and the always positive voice and advocate of the band. We do our best to work with each others strengths and weaknesses to operate this team at the highest level, instead of pointing the finger at one another about what we are not good at.
SIDE NOTE: There is no excuse for a person on your team that shows up late or doesn’t give a whip about what you are doing in the first place. Remove them immediately. Aint nobody got time for that.
These are just a few things that I think about on the road. I get to spend a lot of time in a van and have a lot of ideas, theories, and advice, but the reality of it is, all of us musicians are out at sea looking for whatever island we belong on. Join me for part 2 of this ‘Baseball and Music’ blog in a couple of weeks!
- Written by Kevin Proctor, guitarist/keyboardist of symphonic rock band Direct Divide