The nature/nurture argument goes on forever. How much of who we are is what we’re born with? How much of us comes from our families and our environment? So many musicians come from musical families, making us wonder if our talent comes from our genes or from being around music throughout childhood.
However we got here, now we need to play. And for many of us, we feel like music is why we’re on planet Earth. Here are five signs that music is your true calling.
1. You cry during the good parts
When you’re all alone in the car, listening to a favorite track, the music is so good it makes you weep. When you’re stopped at a light, you’re air-drumming the big fill. You sing so loudly in the shower, your neighbors can hear you. If a guitar solo ever made you tear up, or you’ve made eye contact with other motorists while unapologetically belting out a big chorus, a life of musicianship might be for you.
2. Playing music makes you feel like a kid again
When you were in elementary school, you were so excited to run outside to play that you’d get out there with your jacket half on and your shoes untied. You were in too much of a hurry to stop and get dressed properly.
Now, you might have four kids of your own or a demanding job, but playing music makes you feel like a little kid again. No matter what you’re doing all day, the thought of tonight’s rehearsal or Friday’s show keeps you looking forward and pulls you through your other responsibilities.
That level of joy and enthusiasm will pull others to you, both bandmates and fans, and makes you a good candidate to do this for a living.
3. Music takes you someplace
When you hear certain songs, you’re immediately transported in time. Perhaps to a pickup truck by a lake in 1982. Or to a gritty Detroit club where you first saw this band. Or to the city park where you were walking when your boyfriend dumped you. Music contains powerful associations; it’s not just a nice beat and a catchy melody.
For you, songs are like time capsules that capture a moment in time, or a place in the world. Of course, tons of music fans who’ve never picked up an instrument feel it, too. But those who don’t feel anything beyond a need to shake their booties will probably not find themselves onstage.
4. You break down the details of other peoples’ music
Friends and family might find it obnoxious. Some might call you a snob. But you have an overwhelming need to deconstruct the music you hear, figure out why some things work, and articulate what it is about the music you can’t stand.
You’re the one who notices the details – the one who says, “I think they’re playing it too fast,” or, “This song has one chorus too many.” Whether it bothers your friends or even bothers you, this is a good thing. Songwriters also have to be song editors, and your ability to look at the details of your own work, discard what’s not working, and keep what’s good will make your music grow.
This talent will also inspire you to do better. When you hear something truly great, your competitive side kicks in and you want to grab your instrument and make something. The author John D. McDonald once said that writers read everything with “a grinding envy or a weary contempt.” It’s the envy that really gets you going… and keeps you getting better.
5. You're very open-minded about different genres of music
Find a good musician, and you’ll find a diverse listener. “I like all kinds of music” is one of the most typical things good musicians say. Look through a record collection and you’ll find ska, reggae, rap, classical, jazz, rockabilly, Bollywood… ”If it’s good, it’s good.”
This recognition comes from an appreciation of good technique and skillful production. It also comes from the ability of the artist to recognize other artists. Able to sniff out derivative work instantly, we also see originality for what it is and respect it, regardless of style. And of course, investing ourselves in new artists and new styles will only help us as we pursue our true calling.
Jesse Sterling Harrison is an author, recording artist, and part-time farmer. He lives in Massachusetts with his wife, three daughters, and a herd of ducks.