In just over a month I will turn 28, and at that point I will have officially been working towards my goal of being a career-long professional in the music industry for a little over a decade. I started by promoting and booking for a local venue, which lead to street team work for a variety of indie labels. From there, I left for college and pursued a degree in music business while also running the campus radio station and launching my own music blog. Upon graduating from college I continued to build my blog while seeking work and, after securing a job, moved from Michigan to Boston to continue pursuing my career. That job eventually fell apart, but I luckily secured the role at Haulix I hold today before that time came to pass. I don’t know if I will ever want to work at another company after the wonderful experience I have had here so far, but if there comes a time when that is what I must do then I will find the strength to move on. I have no choice. The music business is a hustle or die industry, and even a decade into my work I feel I must hustle just as hard as I have every day before today, if not harder, in order to continue having a place in this business to call home. It’s stressful, but it’s what I signed up for, and if you’re reading this now you probably agreed to the same.
When I was younger, making sacrifices in the name of music was a no-brainer. By the time I started booking and promoting concerts I had already consumed numerous books and essays about life in the music business. I had also watched Almost Famous about a hundred times, which at the time I believed would one day serve me well (it hasn’t). All this was done because I knew music was the place for me, and I wasn’t going to let the fact I grew up surrounded by cornfields and country roads prevent me from leaving my mark on entertainment. My parents were supportive, but also understandably cautious. They had lived far longer than me and knew all too well about the dark side of entertainment. They saw their heroes fall from grace, as well as good artists go unnoticed. They had read how music, like film or television, chews up talent and spits it out with no regard for the welfare of the human possessing said talent, and though they were happy to see me drive to succeed they were concerned I too would be used and discarded. While I don’t think that has happened to me yet, there have been times when it felt like it could. Whether it was the period when my full-time job in Boston lost funding and couldn’t afford to pay its staff, or the countless times a website I was associated with went offline for seemingly no real reason, my career has been littered with moments when it seemed like all hope was lost. Still, I dug in harder than ever before and kept working. I kept grinding in the face of no pay and no industry future because I believed – like I do still today – that hard work pays off.
Recently, and by that I mean this past weekend, something changed for me. After years of putting my career and the desire to leave a mark on the entertainment industry above everything else in life I finally broke while on an otherwise normal day-cation with my fiancé, Lisa, and my parents. The original plan was for my folks to visit us in Boston, but due to the death of a distant relative my parents had to make a last minute change and visit New Jersey instead. We were initially going to call off our plans altogether, but Lisa and I decided to make the 4.5 hour drive down because it had been several months since we were able to visit anyone in our extended families. You see, while we may live a happy life in Boston, it has come at the cost of being half a country away from our families in the midwest. This was another sacrifice made in the name of music, and though it has rarely weighed on me over the last half decade this day was different, and I think every day moving forward will be different as well as a result.
The tipping point came in a music store of all places, at a time when I wasn’t even thinking about my life or career. Lisa and my mother were ready to leave, so they asked me to find my father and tell him we were planning to head up the street. As I scanned the aisles, I couldn’t see the man I’d known my entire life. I walked up and down before catching someone that looked like him in the corner of the shop. As I approached, I caught myself stopping momentarily because the man I was seeing had an almost complete head of grey hair, or at leas the back of his head was almost completely grey. I was about to turn and walk away when the man turned and, as you can probably guess, revealed himself to be my father.
That was it. In that moment when I realized the man I thought to be ‘too old’ to be my father was actually my dad something inside my broke. My dad may have turned 50 earlier this year, but in all my years on this planet he has always had a full head of dark brown hair. We joked about his incoming grey hairs whenever they would appear, but it wasn’t until this moment in Jack’s Music Shoppe in downtown Red Bank, New Jersey that I realized my father was getting older. In that fleeting moment my brain finally grasped the concept of our fleeting existence, and I knew in my bones for perhaps the first time ever that a day would come when my dad was no longer among the living. I realized that his time, as well as mine, was growing shorter by the passing minute. We were dying, and we always had been, but for whatever reason my mind and soul chose this exact moment to come to terms with the fact the amount of time I have to spend with my father is slipping through my fingers at an alarming and completely unstoppable rate.
As this wave of immense emotion rolled over me I felt tears begin to form in the corners of my eyes, but I tucked them away before they could see the light of day. It wasn’t until Lisa and I were in bed back in Boston that I actually had to sit and take in everything that had crossed my mind in the preceding hours. When I did, at three in the morning, the sobs poured out of me like a child who just lost their favorite toy. Lisa sat with me, telling me that she felt some kind of inner turmoil weighing on me, and she held me until I could find the power to stop shaking. We talked about life, death, and the people we had lost along the way. We talked about the possibilities of eternity, and what it means to be conscious. We talked about a lot of things far too personal to detail here, but the one thing we never discussed was my career in music.
I’ve always known that I will one day cease to exist. That fact had dawned on me at an incredibly early age when, on the day of my birthday, my grandmother on my father’s side passed away. I recall crying in my father’s arms in the dead of night pleading with him to find a way to let me avoid death, and he was honest in saying that was impossible. He told me instead that death would not come for me for a very long time, and that the same was true for him. I believed him, and even though I still feel unsettled by the rush of feelings I had in Jersey over the weekend I still believe that to be true. With the exception of that one grandmother, most people on both sides of my family live long, fulfilling lives. I can only hope the same fate befalls my parents and I, but of course there is no way to know just what life holds in store.
And that is why I felt compelled to share this story. The grey hairs on the back of my father’s head taught me more about what is important in this life than anything I had seen, heard, or been taught throughout my existence. In that one brief moment I realized that I, nor anyone else, can be Peter Pan. I may have a career in an industry that thrives off making the feeling of youth last forever, but eventually everything I know will turn to ash, including the bones, muscles, and tissues that make me a person. Everyone I love will eventually pass from this existence, and try as I might to believe one philosophy or another I have no idea what comes after our brief time on this Earth. All I know is that when I saw the grey hairs on my father’s head I could not have cared less about my place in music history, or even music today. All I could think about were the sacrifices made to get to where I am, and what I realized is that most of the things I had to cut out of my life related to the people in it. Whether it was moving across the country for a job in a city where I don’t know a soul, or simply spending every waking hour blogging instead of enjoying the company of friends and family, I had lessened the time I have with the people I love the most for a selfish goal that would mean nothing when I died, and that thought has now kept me awake for days.
Music is a wonderful industry to be a part of, and it’s filled with brilliant people whose presence in your life is a gift you can never repay, but if success comes at the cost of losing time with those who already mean the world to you then I’m not sure that success in this business is something I still want. No job is worth losing the time we have with those we love the most, and starting this week I am taking a very hard look at how I can make changes that allow me to better focus on the things that really matter in this life. I hope this story will inspire you to do the same.
James Shotwell is the Marketing Coordinator for Haulix. He is also a professional entertainment critic, covering both film and music, as well as the co-founder of Antique Records. Feel free to tell him you love or hate the article above by connecting with him on Twitter. Bonus points if you introduce yourself by sharing your favorite Simpsons character.