Although the idea of being a musician is often envisioned as fun nights on tour buses, absorbing that eruptive applause at the end of a gig, and just hitting a few notes and strumming a few chords, there are struggles and demands to which the average non-musician is blind. Also, there is no generic road to a music career – each path taken by each musician has different obstacles to overcome and different stops to be made.
“Studio session musician? Original artist? Covers artist? Theatre musician? Each choice has a pretty different path, and knowing which you’d like to be, and what you’re most adept at, is a huge part of the battle won.” – Rowan Stuart, musician.
As Wynand Myburgh, a member of Van Coke Kartel and the manager of Jack Parow, noted in an interview with 10and5.com, “Everywhere in the world there are people that aspire to perform, to create or even to become stars.” But these up-and-comers don’t follow a set of instructions to get them to their desires. There is simply no step-by-step guide to religiously follow when delving into these aspirations.
I gathered insight into the steady – sometimes slow – steps to this musical aspiration from the personal experiences of South African “Soul Folk” musician, Rowan Stuart.
Stuart admittedly was not, from his crawling days, dead-set on being a musician. “As a kid, I was only interested in drawing,” he says. Only after his brother got into a Heavy Metal band, did Stuart try out the guitar. Reminiscing on his 11-year-old self, Stuart explains, “I think from one of the first times I picked up a guitar, and saw how natural it felt to create something new, I was hooked, and never looked back.”
Impressively, Stuart did not take on formal music lessons, but was able to collect and practice different techniques from his experiences as a guitarist. “[I] picked up ideas and concepts for playing along the way. From the age of 15, I performed as a session guitarist in quite a few theatre productions, where I was working mostly with older, and more experienced players,” says Stuart. “That was a really good learning environment,” he adds.
But a music career does not come without any struggles. Stuart writes what is called ‘listening’ music and he notes that one challenge he’s faced in the South African music industry is that “people are losing the ability to sit quietly and just appreciate live music that is being performed in front of them.” His style of gentle ‘listening’ music is centred on an appreciative ear for music. “[My music] requires focused attention to really get the most out of it,” adds Stuart.
No career comes without demands and a music career is not different. Stuart describes a music career as being about “constant problem-solving.” Stuart adds, “There are very few guidelines so it’s basically an endless game of trial-and-error until you find what works better, and what doesn’t.” It sounds like a nightmare filled with uncertainty, doesn’t it? Stuart highlights a positive quality of musicians in handling this demanding aspect of a music career; “Fortunately, musicians by nature are often creative, so problem-solving is one of the things we’re geared for.”
A musician’s job comes with many rewarding moments and gratifying attributes. For Stuart, there is a special moment during the music-making process that makes the struggles all worth it. “I really love it when a series of lyrics come together that fit the energy and emotion of the music they’re written for – the way it just clicks together,” he says. “I also really love the feeling of trying out a brand new song in rehearsal, and have it suddenly feel like something real, and no longer just a private idea in my mind,” he adds.
After immense time, effort, rehearsals and stress, it all comes down to those live performances. “A loud and vigorous applause from a room full of strangers for a song you wrote, and which they’ve never heard before, is a really encouraging thing,” Stuart says. “It makes you feel connected with your path as a writer and performer,” he adds.
From picking up a guitar to hearing the roar of the applause, the road of a musician is evidently a challenge. But those moments of reward – when a song comes together or an audience appreciates your work – make the endless work and effort feel worth it.