Time Enough at Last

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The title of this post comes from my favorite Twilight Zone episode in which the quirky Mr. Henry Bemis, a charter member in the fraternity of dreamers, finds himself alone on this planet after a massive nuclear strike, without bank presidents or wives or clocks or anything else. Just books (the thing he loves most!) and time… Time enough at last! I won’t spoil the ending for you but it’s simply the best!

Sadly, this blog has nothing to do with that story. At all. In fact, I only chose it because it had the word “Time” in it. Sooooo…… Yyyyya…..

Let’s talk about time then, shall we?

When I was much younger I took any gig I could get, partly based upon the fact that I had everything to learn and nothing to lose. As a budding closet-bass player in elementary school I tried numerous times to start a band with my friends; in middle school I jammed with anyone that even remotely liked what I was doing; as some punk kid in high school I played every opportunity that came my way, from church events to local-band shows and the occasional house show; and in college I signed up for every ensemble class in existence, including orchestra, chamber quartets, choir, big band, jazz combos… Anything. I was hungry. I wanted to learn. And, I had one thing then that I don’t really have today: TIME.

I still feel like I have everything to learn, which is really the coolest part about music, in my humble opinion. There’s no “finish line,” no light at the end of the tunnel, nothing to complete or start over or win or lose; you just continue to learn more and more. In fact, I think that the more you learn about music the more you actually realize that you don’t have a clue what it’s about! Or at least that’s how my brain feels after I attend a few clinics of some of the gnarliest bass players in the biz.

But as I was saying before, the presence of Time is much less apparent in my current stage of life. As a child I had an overflowing abundance of this. As a college student I made room for it and paid (a lot) for it. As a young man in my early 20’s I accepted that a successful career would require some trial and error, some testing of the waters, learning the ropes… basically time and more time.

But now? A married man with a career, a mortgage payment, light/gas/water bills to pay, a kitchen to keep clean, a body that won’t stay fit on its own (when did that happen?!?!) and a seemingly infinite lawn to keep trimmed – WHERE IS MY TIME NOW?

Trust me, I’m not complaining. I love my responsibilities and my current stage of life and I wouldn’t trade it for anything. I’ve heard it a million bazillion times from my friends and family: “Just wait till you have kids!” Life’s good, don’t worry. But that doesn’t solve the issue of this lack of time, something I once had an ample overflow of. Since I have much less available time than I used to, I just need to be more frugal with it. In other words, I only take the gigs, records, bands, tours and projects that I “have the time” for nowadays. I don’t do everything that comes my way, like I used to, simply because I COULDN’T POSSIBLY MANAGE IT ALL. There’s simply not enough time in the day for it. So I’m rather selective about what I’m willing to do, and this system seems to be working well for me at the moment. But Jayme, how do you know if it’s worth it? How do you choose which ones to keep and which ones to pass on? How do you know if you have enough time to do it all?

I have a rather simple solution for this. Anything – a gig, an artist, a band, a speaking opportunity, a record, a student – that comes my way is considered by these five criteria:

1) Are they willing to pay my fees (see my blog post on rates)?

2) Will I be playing to an influential crowd?

3) Will I be associated with other influential players, producers, bloggers, marketing gurus, or professionals within my trade?

4) Will I already be in the area playing somewhere else?

5) Is this a unique opportunity to share an important idea with a new audience?

In order to get the green light from me the opportunity needs to meet at least 3/5 of these. I think they are all reasonable criteria for taking the gig and spending what precious little time I have left on it. Obviously money is a key deciding factor, but it’s only ONE of the five. If the budget isn’t enough I may still take the gig based on meeting the other criteria (for instance, look at Number 4: If I’m close by on that day and time anyways, it may be worth my while to scrape up some extra cash, petty as it may be).

An influential crowd? Perhaps there’s someone in the audience that might further my career in some way shape or form, or even just a crowd of loyal fans that enjoy purchasing t-shirts and books and CD’s and know other people who they will encourage to join them at the event.

Association is HUGE. The gig may be crummy in pay and stature, but if I’ll be able to meet ______ and get his/her phone number, if I’ll be photographed next to ______ or I can place ______’s name on my resume… I might be swayed.

And let’s not forget that much of what I do is similar; cover bands all play the same songs. Club shows are club shows. Playing in a “jazz trio” really means they don’t really want to hear you (doing songs like Autumn Leaves and maybe slowing bebop down 200%). You’ve done one singer/song-writer’s album you pretty much know what’s up for the rest of them. But something that’s really UNIQUE – an opportunity to reach a new audience, to share what I’m passionate about, to live my dream – that’s almost worth it all on its own.

So if you’re finding yourself in a similar state to myself, and you’re having a hard time knowing how much you can handle and what to say “yes” or “no” to, then try coming up with a list of “Deal-breakers” like I just did. If it only meets 1 of these 5 then it’s not for me. 2 of these 5 is still not enough. Honestly, 3 and I’ll consider it, but it’s still not a shoo-in. 4 or 5 means that I know it’s the right thing to do, hands down. Your 5 may be different from my 5, but it’s good to establish boundaries and regulations. I like systems because they work more often than not, and if you treat your music like a business (which is DEPENDENT upon accurate and reliable systems) then you’ll probably notice that even though you haven’t gained any of that precious Time back, suddenly you find yourself enjoying it a lot more.