Musician James Gadon Responds to David Crosby Saying “Don’t Become a Musician”

A Response to David Crosby: Written by Creative Director/Writer/Producer/Musician James Gadon

Scrolling my way down that mid-afternoon Instagram rabbit hole, I came across a posting by American Songwriter Magazine. The headline read, “David Crosby’s Advice to Young Artists: Don’t Become a Musician.” It triggered me, in a way. Even if you understand Crosby’s frustration with how the streamers have made it almost impossible for most songwriters, musicians, and producers to rely on any kind of income, I can’t say I agree with the legend’s message. In fact, I think the opposite.

I think young people should pursue music now more than ever. And to clarify, this isn’t coming from a rich musician. I’m writing from the perspective of someone who is currently grinding it out myself. But we need musicians! Real, live human musicians, not stock music made by algorithms and robots. We need musicians, just like we need actors, singers, painters, poets, writers, and dancers. I know a lot of people think there’s an excessive amount of content available these days. And sure, it’s easy for the consumer to become overwhelmed with choice in the digital age, especially when anyone can release a song. But I’d rather see people follow their passions than throw in the towel because it’s difficult to hash out a living as an artist.

James Gadon; Photo by Adrew Loi

The world is suffering. Countries are being attacked. Corporations continue to merge for the never-ending bottom line and the world is being controlled by the hands of a few (even though our individual choices can make a bigger difference than one might think). We don’t need another Corporate CEO with a disregard for the environment or a disgruntled employee who disappears into the cubicle, punching in and out until they can say, “Happy Friday!” We need people who are passionate about what they do, passionate about who they connect with and passionate about music and art. Imagine trying to get through the pandemic without your favorite TV shows, films, and music. It’s what pulls us through difficult times and connects human beings to one another around the globe.

Now, this isn’t to criticize David Crosby. I love the music he has made. To this day, I still get goosebumps listening to the production and harmonies on CSN’s (Crosby Stills and Nash) ground-breaking 1969 debut. And as an artist myself, I get that it’s frustrating to have your work so grossly undervalued, yet so frequently consumed. To date, the majority of my songwriting, recording and producing has been on collaborative releases with other artists and bands. However, just prior to the pandemic, I started working on solo material. Despite the majority of my debut LP and several follow up’s, I hit a stagnant wall having tracked the EP projects, mainly because of financial hurdles. I get frustrated too. After all, it’s really difficult to collect a fraction of what royalties you should receive just because the streamers have decided to devalue your art, especially when your music is streamed hundreds of thousands of times on a television show all over the world.

But here’s what I will say. Our society is obsessed with either being one thing or another: Making it or not making it. Becoming a musician or not becoming a musician. What’s wrong with calling yourself a musician, or pursuing an artistic life while also doing other work too? In fact, Crosby’s words made me think about something else as well. You don’t really become a musician. You’re either a musician or you’re not. If you pick up a guitar and want to call yourself a musician, well then, you’re a musician! The amount of money you make from music doesn’t dictate whether or not you’re worthy of calling yourself a musician. You do. You make that choice and your success as a musician doesn’t hinder on any particular income threshold either.

I get that bills have to be paid, but if your music isn’t paying the bills, what’s wrong with having a job that does, while also continuing to release music and performing live? If that’s you, you’re just as much a success as the 365-day tour artist. And you can still call yourself a musician even if it’s not your primary source of income. I’ve had some really lean years myself. So, during those financially turbulent times, am I no longer a musician just because I didn’t pay my bills with music-related income? And for those of you who chose to pursue your musical endeavors but have also hit a wall, you don’t have to quit by a certain age (as the cliched story often goes), just because you aren’t making money from your art .

My father and all his friends have been making music since high school in the 1970s. They gig and record and jam, even to this da—well into their mid-60s. In fact, I just saw a social media post one of them made recently about an upcoming show they are hosting. They survived the pandemic and are ready to get back out there. It wouldn’t surprise me if in twenty years they’re still up on stage belching those infectious harmonies on The Weight. They introduced me to the Buffalo Springfield, Neil Young, Carole King, Stevie Nicks, Buffy Sainte-Marie, Crosby, Stills and Nash, Richie Havens, Taj Mahal, Sonny Terry & Brownie McGhee and The Band among many other classic acts. Are they musicians even if it’s not their primary source of income? Do they fit society’s description of what it means to be a musician? How many would consider my Dad and his friends to have made it musically? To me, they’re a better definition of a musician or fall under the category of having “Made it” than the artist who was once signed to a major label in their 20s but became so disenchanted by the business that they quit by the age of 35. They rehearse, record, and bring family, friends and strangers together for a night of dancing, all while introducing people to new music and inspiring others. What more could you ask for?

However, Crosby does go on to say that he’s making music anyway, even if he doesn’t get paid for it, because he believes music is a lifting force, and these are really hard times in which people need a lift. He also admits how much he doesn’t want to tell young people not to become musicians. But perhaps if we shift our thinking a bit, and don’t put as much emphasis on the all or nothing approach, we can continue supporting young artists into a life of music and make them feel good about it. And remember, income from the streamers is just one piece of the pie. There is upfront sync licensing possibilities, compensation for scoring for film and television, and performing live since we are moving away from COVID shutdowns. Maybe you want to take your music off the digital platforms and release physical products again, where people need to actually purchase your songs? I understand that it’s difficult to generate physical sales when you don’t have a solid following, but it often takes time to build one up, and it can happen if that’s what you want. Who knows, maybe if there’s enough pushback, one day the streamers will be forced to compensate artists fairly. But maybe you love working in your cubicle; maybe you enjoy going to the office and making music at night. And that’s great too. Just don’t be afraid to pursue a life of music if it’s in your blood, because success is defined by you, not by anyone else’s version of it. Don’t lose that passion or get discouraged because of the financial unpredictability. In any event, I’m hopeful, and if more people tweak their outlook and mind set, even just a little, I think people can live a life of music, be a lifting force and feel successful whether or not money follows suit.

I’m James Gadon and I’m proud to say that I’m a musician. If you have a passion for making music, I say go for it, because you never know what the future holds.

Read David Crosby’s previous statement HERE.

James Gadon is Creative Director at Route 84 Music in Toronto, Canada.

Do you agree with James? Let us know where you stand on becoming a musician. Comment below

Crosby Photo: Anna Webber / Republic Media

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