Dear Crabby,

My nephew is a pretty bright and motivated kid. He graduated from high school a year early and was accepted to trade school.

He recently dropped out to pursue his dream of becoming a musician. Only problem is that he’s a TERRIBLE guitar player and even worse singer. I’m no Simon Cowell but I’d say his chances of making it “big time” are slim to none. (We often joke about the infamous Lloyd Christmas line, “So you’re telling me there’s a chance.”)

Without being dream crushers, how do we convince our nephew to re-enroll in school and pursue music as just a hobby rather than a profession?


Not Berry Gordy But I’m No Dummy

Dear Not Berry,

It can’t be done.

You sound like a decent person who wants what’s best for someone he cares about. But if this “bright and motivated kid” dropped out of trade school to follow his dream, it seems unlikely that advice from a well-meaning uncle is going to change his mind. (“Thanks, Uncle Not Berry, it hadn’t occurred to me that very few people make it in the music industry. But now that you mention it, I guess you’re right. I’ll re-enroll in school immediately!”)

Don’t get me wrong; he almost certainly won’t make it as a musician. The recording industry, which never gave musicians the money they deserved anyway, has been transformed by online streaming into an industry that HAS no money. Like five people make money selling music to consumers these days. A few more make it by licensing music to film, TV or advertising. But most “professional musicians” make it by waiting tables or temping in offices or whatever. (One of the most shocking things to me when I started to interview musicians about a decade ago was that having songs on the radio didn’t mean they were rich; a lot of them had to take vacations from their day jobs just to go on money-losing tours.) It’s a sucker’s bet, even for someone who’s incredibly talented.

But try telling that to a kid with a dream. Even if you straight-up tell him he’s terrible, he’ll be able to point to any number of people who were told they couldn’t play or couldn’t sing — Bob Dylan, Kurt Cobain, Leonard Cohen, Sid Vicious, Lars Ulrich, every member of The Ramones, Lou Reed, Patti Smith — and became stars anyway. That there are literally millions of others who didn’t make it won’t matter to him. He’s got a dream, remember?

The best thing you can do is be supportive and gently encourage him to have a backup plan. He’s probably going to fail with or without your support. But if you’re supportive now you’ll still have a relationship with the kid after he’s finally spit out the very bottom of the entertainment industry a few years from now.

Hope that helps.



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