SJSU student balances school and a reggae career
text: Andrew Forgy / images: Raphael Kluzniok
It is 1:30 a.m. on Monday, and I just finished playing a concert in Las Vegas after completing a grueling 12-hour drive from Salt Lake City, Utah. It has been another successful tour and I rush back to my hotel room, adrenaline pumping from performing another great show.
Unfortunately my eagerness to rush back to the room is not triggered by my excitement to get ready for an insane after party, but to get my sober self in bed and sneak in a few hours of sleep before my 7 a.m. flight back to San José to take my first final of the week on Monday afternoon.
Playing music, touring the country and having the time of my life are experiences I have wanted since I picked up the bass when I was 11 years old. If I knew how hard it would actually be, I might have picked up another hobby… who am I kidding, I love what I do.
Though I started playing the bass at 11 years old, I really did not start to play a lot of concerts until I was 18. It was hard to find anyone serious enough to start a band with through junior high and high school, so instead I resorted to performing in front of thousands of imaginary fans in my room as I played along to CDs by the Red Hot Chili Peppers, Social Distortion and Sublime.
When I was 22, I started to find work as a freelance musician. The process was simple: Find a band that needed a fill-in, learn a handful of their songs overnight and play my heart out with them for a couple of shows. I was able to call myself a “professional musician” (whatever that means) and I was able to meet a lot of great people, including a Santa Cruz-based reggae band called Thrive.
I filled in for a few of Thrive’s shows when it was in need of a bass player during the winter of 2010, and the chemistry just felt right. I was having a great time jamming with these guys and after five shows with them, they asked me to officially join the band.
I was on cloud nine at this point in my life. I had finally joined a real band for the first time in years, and was just accepted into San Jose State University after transferring from a junior college. Little did I know that mixing my passion to play in a touring band and my desire to earn a bachelor’s degree would result in some of the most complicated times of my life.
With the exception of one semester, I have been a full-time student since entering San Jose State in Fall 2011. Since then, I have been juggling concerts and homework. The shows started to pick up faster through the years as we were getting small tour offers from bands like SOJA, Iration, The Green, J Boog, and Rebelution. The pressure was on to not only perform on stage but also in the classroom. But how can I accomplish both?
It was a simple formula: Try to create a school schedule where I am at San Jose State on Mondays and Wednesdays, that way I can play concerts anywhere within a 20-hour-drive radius of SJSU Thursday through Sunday. Easy, right?
It has been a struggle since the beginning. My friends in the music industry think I am nuts for walking the line between the two lifestyles, and my peers do not understand the struggle of a touring musician. My grades might have taken a toll, though I have never failed a class. My lack of sleep is obvious to my family and friends, as well as my health… well, I guess I could drink a little less, but this is rock ‘n’ roll, right?
The Bureau of Labor Statistics reports that the average musician earns $22.39 an hour. Are these struggles really worth the potential $44,000 a year? I have asked myself this time and time again, thinking that I should just quit, but have not. Why? Well, nothing in this life that is worth having comes easily.
It is a stressful and draining life, but it is the greatest life I can imagine living. I have traveled to places and states I would not have dreamed of, played in front of thousands of people, and have even seen my band in the top 10 of the Billboard reggae charts, bringing me tears of joy.
I hope all of this perseverance is worth it. Thrive has been on a steady incline these past few years and I hope we can push it even further. With reggae not in the mainstream, getting signed to a major record label and becoming a radio sensation seems unrealistic. However, if I could continue to travel the country and potentially the world as a professional musician, I would consider Thrive successful.
My favorite part of this entire experience is seeing my parents in the crowd of our local shows, and I cannot wait to see their faces in the crowd on my graduation day this spring. When that moment arrives, it will be the true sign that the struggle between musician and student was all worth it.