What does it take to become a rock star?

by Metal Method Instructor Doug Marks

Have you ever thought, “I want to be a rock star?” This morning I answered a question on our Guitar Lesson Forum concerning this subject and thought, “What a great topic.”

Did you always have the ambition of becoming a professional guitar player? When you graduated from high school did you plan on going to college or did you know that this is what you would be doing forever?

Still delusional after all of these years Okay, the question wasn’t exactly about being a rock star but I believe that’s what the real fantasy is. You don’t want to just play guitar do you? You want to be a rock star! Admit it.

Even when I was a little kid I had my rock n’ roll fantasies. I always thought that I would be rich and famous. When I was in the third grade I took a magic marker and wrote on the bathroom wall “See Doug, get his autograph.” How funny is that? I still don’t know why I expected that anyone would want my autograph but there you have it. Obviously, I’ve always been delusional. The kicker to this story is, there were only two Doug’s in the school. I never confessed to creating the bathroom graffiti (until now). The other Doug wasn’t too happy about that. I can still remember him looking at me and saying, “Well, I know that I didn’t do it.” Nobody got punished for the incident because there was never a confession. Even now the criminal shows no sign of remorse.

Initially I pictured myself as a vocalist. I didn’t attempt to play guitar until I was about twelve or thirteen. By that time I had played a little piano, clarinet, and oboe. That’s right kids, heavy metal oboe.

Still dreaming through high school
Cut to my high school years. When I was 17 I worked about twenty hours a week at a grocery store. Almost all of my money was spent on my Z-28 Camaro. At this point I was more interested in having the coolest car on campus than being in the coolest band. Even so, I still had a fantasy to play in a local band. It didn’t look like that was going to happen because I still couldn’t even play barre chords. Then, I became friends with the best local guitarist in town and got him a job working at the grocery store with me. He taught me some stuff then I started taking lessons from a good local instructor. Finally, I became the master of barre chords.

Not quite off to college
I quit working at the store about the time I started going to the local community college. I sold my Z-28 and used the money to buy a Les Paul and a Fender amp. At that point I began playing in my first local band and got a taste of local success. That lasted for about two years. By then I was hooked and determined to become a professional musician.

So what’s it take to succeed as a performing musician? Should I take a chance or am I just dreaming?

Becoming a successful musician
Success as a performing musician is rare. Even those that are successful often don’t appear to have found true success. There are musicians that I’ve worked with who have succeeded in the business but are little more than walking zombies do to drugs and alcohol abuse. At least half a dozen musicians that I knew died in traffic accidents traveling to gigs. There was a recent report that the average life span of a rock star is 47 years. That’s probably true.

I also know many musicians that have followed the rock and roll dream for decades without even a glimpse of success. They’re addicted to the dream like some people are addicted to narcotics. I know all of this sounds negative but it’s my realistic assessment of the chances of becoming a successful performing musician.

Do you have what it takes?
Who do I believe has a shot? If you play in a band, and it’s apparent that the audience and other musicians believe that you’re special, give it a try. Move to Hollywood or New York City and give yourself a time limit of a year or two. The true test is when you stand on a stage in the big city, do they still think that you’re special? Do you and your band connect to the audience better than your competition? If so, don’t give up on your dream, you’re almost there. Someone’s got to do it and it just might be you.

If you haven’t stepped on a stage by the time you’re nineteen DO NOT give yourself two more years to fulfill your dreams in lieu of an education. What usually happens is, during that hiatus you’ll get sidetracked and never return to school.

When confronted with reality, duck
Success in the rock music business typically happens very quickly. If you don’t make it by the time your twenty-five don’t count on major label support.

In a nutshell, I wouldn’t recommend a career as a performing musician based solely on your own personal dreams, desire, and motivation. Desire and motivation are absolutely necessary, but there must be some external factor to prove that you’ve “got what it takes.” If your motivation and desire doesn’t lead to live performances with a special connection to the audience by the time you’re nineteen, go to college or continue your education in some other fashion. After you’ve completed your education you may wish to continue exploring your musical dreams.

“Life is what happens while you’re busy making other plans.” – John Lennon

Article by Metal Method Instructor Doug Marks