I’ll admit it: when I first saw that headline, I felt more than a surge of righteous indignation toward whomever would dare ask such a question. (Obviously I was feeling a little old that day.) Exactly how old does one have to be before playing music full-time is out of the question? And who determines this number?
But the question makes the erroneous assumption that all full-time musicians have “made it” big. Really? There are plenty of people I know, both old and young, that are making good money as musicians and are doing so without the fetters of a Big Label Recording Contract. They’re not making Lady Gaga’s money, but they are supporting their families and paying the bills.
This article brings up the label execs’ argument that the public wants to see young, fresh faces, as those faces sell records (whatever selling records means anymore). While that may be true to a point, consider that the Rolling Stones are finally calling it quits next year, when most of them will be near 70. At 53, Madonna staged a halftime show for the 2012 Super Bowl. I have even had some 13-year-old students ask me if I’ve ever heard of AC/DC. (I am not making that up.) Obviously they could care less about age; they just care about the music.
A better question might be how do you define success? Any musician, regardless of age, should first decide on a personal definition of success and then decide on what steps will get him there. As a working musician over 50, I know there’s a chance I won’t get the call to be Adele’s keyboardist on her next tour (ahem!), but it doesn’t mean I can’t work toward that goal. That way, if I get to play piano for her opening act, I will have done just as well. In the meantime, I can work on positioning myself to support my family by teaching piano, playing live and on sessions, and working as a collaborative pianist. It makes better sense for me to set realistic, reachable goals that will make me feel fulfilled musically.
That way, I’ll never have to say I’m too old to be a full-time musician.