Bitterness in Music: Are Our Opinions Influenced by Career Success?

January 30, 2024

   I guess I should start this rant off by stating that this is the opinion of a musician and primarily about musicians. Hence the title being “Bitterness in Music.” While what I say may be relatable to other professions out there, I cannot speak for them because I don’t do those other jobs. If you’re in another line of work and find this works in your job field well, “if the shoe fits,” so they say… 

   This rant comes to you thanks to two things: one being that I’m sick (not Covid, thankfully) and typing this out doable from the comfort of my bed; the second being a nice little negative comment my Rolling Stones tribute band, Jumping Jack Flash, received on one of our videos on YouTube. Which I will get to in a bit.

   Are our opinions based on our level of career success? Well, my question is one that I’ve had for quite some time. There’s also a strong possibility this question has been answered already by someone who actually knows what the hell they’re talking about. Or the answer is blatantly obvious and you’re sitting there thinking “Yeah, no shit it is.” But basically, I’ve noticed throughout my career as a musician that my opinion of other musicians has changed not only as I grew older, but also as I became more successful. So let’s start with that – my definition of “successful.”

   We all have our own viewpoint of what it means to be successful. In college (Musician’s Institute), the span of all of my and my classmates’ career goals spanned from “I want to be in the next Travis Barker!” to “I want to be able to play a simple jazz groove without crying!” I was somewhere in the middle. I just wanted to make a living playing drums. Well, I wanted to be like Hal Blaine and spend my career in a studio recording drums on various tracks for various artists. While it would be nice to be a big rock star, I knew pretty early on how nearly impossible that is in this industry without being related to someone filthy rich or already successful in the music industry. I also blame it on the fact that I was born in Los Angeles. Most of LA are transplants from all over the country or even the world, who come here with a dream in whichever career path they’re on. Of course, they were special in their town, but Los Angeles doesn’t give two shits who you were in your small town. So, when their dream isn’t fulfilled right off the bat (or at all), they become bitter and resentful. Basically, their soul dies. How am I, and other native Angelenos, different? When we were born, our souls were already dead. Point is, I set my career expectations low early on.

   Currently, I am making a sufficient living in music. I don’t have a day job, I’m not getting government money or help from others; I am solely and sufficiently paying all of my bills from the income I make working in bands. So basically, I reached my definition of success! It took a long ass time and a ton of work to get there, but I got there. Granted, I will always continue to strive for more, but for now, I’m happy and content where I am in my career. I just never thought wigs would be involved. Anyway, humble brag over.

   By now you must be wondering why I keep blabbering about how successful I am instead of the point of this blog post. It’s because I don’t edit down what I write. So deal with it. But it’s also because I’ve spoken to people about the subject of this rant who would miss the point completely because, in their mind, I’m not a “successful musician” simply because I’m not a mega rock star. I am a professional full-time musician, and that’s it. So I am my definition of successful, and while you may have your own definition, it’s imperative that you and I are on the same page as to what “successful” means to me in the context of this rant. 

   Patton Oswalt has a great bit about how when he was in his 20s, not only did he HATE certain bands, but he also had to let you know how much he hated them. Today, there are bands he doesn’t like, but otherwise isn’t bothered. That was me 10-15 years ago. I went through my late teens and early 20s DESPISING certain bands/artists and boy did I make my dumb opinion known. I was young, but also very unsuccessful. I was playing 3-4 hour long gigs that maybe paid $25 – $50 if they paid at all. So despite being in somewhere around 20 bands, I still had to hold a variety of day jobs until I was about 28. Throughout that time, the bitterness and hatred I had for many many musicians would be so palpable because I made it so. It was very time-consuming and a total waste of time at that. However today, like Patton, there are artists I don’t like, but I don’t ever think about them. I’m often confused by the success of some of them until I find out they’re related to someone high up in the industry or with a lot of money, but I think “meh” and go on with my life. 

   I saw this mellow way of thinking in a few of my more successful friends early in my career and didn’t understand why they basically “allowed these hacks to exist.” I realize now that it’s because they were then where I am now. I also have friends who shared my anger and bitterness back in the day but continue to think that way today because their dreams and goals weren’t reached later in life for one reason or another. One, in particular, loves to point out every little mistake anyone in the band makes regardless of whether the audience notices or not. All while simultaneously overreacting to and denying any criticism (constructive or not) thrown at them. I have to say it can be sad to watch, but when I get annoyed by the negativity and judgment brought on by these people, I remind myself that their opinions stem from a deep-seated lack of self-esteem and frustration in their own careers. (OMG the point of this blog post!!)

   Going back to the second trigger of this post, a comment written on a video put up on my Stones tribute band’s YouTube page. And here it is!

   My first reaction is: since when does a properly written sentence not matter anymore? Also, “I can’t even begin” is not a complete thought AND he clearly could begin because… well, he did. He just didn’t finish. (That’s what she said.)

   Now, to put it into context, here’s the video he commented on: If you don’t feel like watching it, it’s a clip of Jumping Jack Flash performing “Honky Tonk Woman” at our sold-out Beatles vs. Stones show at the Hangar at the OC Fair in Costa Mesa, CA last year.

   My second reaction was: “I bet you this guy is (or was) a weekend warrior musician.” What’s a weekend warrior musician? Someone who plays music in a band or bands on the weekends because they also hold a (possibly) steady day job outside of music during the week. Whether as just a hobby or with the goal of becoming a full-time musician. I used to be one myself, and I continue to work with a few of them today. All very pleasant folks. I cut myself off from the bitter ones. When it comes to this particular fellow, sure enough, I was right. For a very very small amount of research revealed that this dude is a musician who plays, or used to play, in bands…

   Behold! A screenshot of a video on his YouTube channel of him at a backyard concert a little over a decade ago playing, that’s right, a Rolling Stones song! Honestly, they’re not bad! These guys clearly have experience with their instruments and they thoroughly enjoy the Stones, because the song they’re playing is a deep cut that even Jumping Jack Flash doesn’t play. So good on them! I tried to do a little more research to see if these guys were in other bands, or if this band had success in the past, but I couldn’t really find anything so who knows. Regardless, it proved my point.

   It also reminded me of a comment my Stones band received on a different video (we get good reviews too….) that said “I wouldn’t cross the street to see these guys.” I have to admit, that is an interesting comment. I’m not sure how it’s an insult, and I’d honestly love to ask that dude to elaborate on that one. But once again, I made the same assumption as to whether or not this was written by a musician and…. it was! Sure enough, there was also a video of him in his bar band playing “Brown Sugar” by the Stones. Are you starting to see the pattern here?

   Now do I think that my Rolling Stones band is perfect? No. But I do think we’re pretty damn good. At least good at putting on a show that people want to come and see. I mean we sold out a 3,000+ capacity venue at a place where those people could’ve been off eating deep-fried Twinkies and riding roller coasters until they vomit instead! Regardless, this man watched all, or just some, of this video and decided to voice his opinion. Which he has every right to do. The thing that stood out to me, which happens way too often, is that he wrote “this is so bad…” not “I think this is so bad…” Insinuating his opinion was a fact. This narcissistic way of speaking is all too common on the internet, and also why the comment was removed. I know I have no authority to tell people what to think, nor do I believe the entirety of the internet is supposed to be a “safe space” where everyone loves everything I do. Give your opinion regardless of whether it’s favorable or not, but for god’s sake use an ounce of intellect when you do and write them correctly. Have ChatGPT help you if needed.

   On the other side of this observation, I have never once had any project I’m in openly criticized by a successful working musician. NOT ONCE. They may think horrible things, but they do what any normal person would do and keep their opinion to themselves. Granted, I do understand that this is all taking place in the infested cesspool known as the internet. For every piece of good out there, there are 4 times the amount of bad. But the pattern tends to be the same. For example, my lovely girlfriend has an Instagram page where she displays her professional modeling pics. And of course, douchebags come from out of their caves, cloaked in their security blanket that is social media anonymity, and leave some awful or perverted comment. 99% of the time, the comment was written by a single, lonely guy/girl who hasn’t been touched by anyone in a long time without having to pay them first, if at all. The other 1% are stuck in a loveless relationship with someone who also won’t touch them. Either way, these people take their own frustrations out on those they wish they could be, or be with. So their opinions shouldn’t matter.

   At the end of the day, these people will never go away and they will never stop. After all, they are just exercising their freedom of speech which is what the internet is for. If after reading this you find yourself deeply offended by anything I’ve written, instead of trying to figure out a way of sending me anthrax (is that still a thing?) or a computer virus in retaliation, maybe spend some time focusing on bettering your career/relationship/life. Going after people who have what you want won’t fix your problems. If anything, it may make the people you attack feel better about themselves for not being bitter assholes. And do you really want your enemies to be happier? Realize that your negative opinion of others may stem from what you feel you lack in your own life. I’m not saying you have to be a saint, because literally no one is, but at least stop being a dick. And if you’re someone who finds themself being attacked by a troll, my advice would be to either ignore them completely or, even worse, be nice to them. It pisses them off so goddamn much…

Thanks for reading! Cheers. – Jon

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