The worst fatherly advice to a young musician

The worst fatherly advice to a young musician


norman lebrecht

August 19, 2015

Play It Safe is a new Australian film that charts the rise and stall of a struggling musician.

The hero’s father tells him: ‘You’re gonna be 30 before you know it. And then you’ll be 35, and then everyone you know is going to have solidity to their life, and you’re gonna be scratching your arse, looking around, wondering what happened.’

Anyone ever heard that said before?

Here’s the upside:



  • Janis says:

    However, the choices are most emphatically NOT limited to “stop caring about feeding and clothing yourself or your family” or “give up art altogether.” That false polarization is destructive as hell to both the arts and artists since the only people who can do the “live your passion with no safety net” thing usually do have a huge safety net beneath them. It’s called “daddy’s money.”

    I just feel the need to point this out since that is invariably the only other option in most people’s minds in contrast to “care about your financial survival.” Jump off the cliff at age 18 and don’t think about the parachute.

    Well, the rest of us need to make sure we can pay the rent. And it’s not like one can’t continue to write and perform. Having to do this with a day career might make it take longer, but it always takes longer than everyone thinks anyway. I’m bothered by the persistent belief that if you haven’t gotten on the on-ramp by the time you’re 35, well give up, it’s over, you missed your chance. Several of the musicians that I admire — including really good classical ones — had oddball career paths, some of which took long detours through Plan B. Without a healthy high-tech Plan B that enabled her to survive until her career took off in her late 30s, none of us would even have heard of Zoe Keating. Hell, a huge part of her art is about combining her art what she learned while living her Plan B. Gabriela Montero walked away from the piano for years and worked her Plan B before Martha Argerich convinced her to showcase what she could do. Jon Nakamatsu’s Plan B was actually his Plan A until he won the Cliburn. (Rachel Barton Pine had a sort of Plan B forced on her — at any rate, she took a strange detour to her current career and was forced by poverty to confront the realities of earning a living very early.)

    Not recognizing this just ensures that the arts remain the province of trust-fund kids who don’t even realize that they have the most rock-solid Plan B of all.

    And if you get pregnant, you’d better have SOME plan in place other than “going for your passion.” Refusing to recognize this in time to give practical advice on it does nothing but condemn ambitious young women musicians.

    My advice might be — Make sure you can put food on your table and a roof over your head … but never, ever stop making art the whole time. There is no law that says that you can’t be an accountant and write or play music. There is no one path to arts success.

    It just bugs me the way that the arts are polarized against common sense by everyone. If you don’t survive, you won’t survive to make your art either. You must think of both.

    • Fred says:

      Bravo. This is a great post.

    • Emily says:

      I completely agree with this sentiment! Thank you.

    • Chris Pahlow says:

      Hi Janis, this is the film’s director here. Thanks very much for your comment.

      I very much agree with you, and I think what you’re saying is really at the heart of the film (there’s only so much we can show in the trailer unfortunately).

      Hope you enjoy the movie if you get a chance to check it out in cinemas 🙂