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Musicians face the long, tough road to success

August 16, 2007|By JESSICA ZENTMEYER

Local musicians face perils of failure in their pursuit of success, yet many boldly aim high for success.

"It's the same thing that drives you to get good at an instrument; there is a passion about it," said Steve Whiteman from Boonsboro, former frontman of Kix - a rock band that reached its pinnacle in the '80s - and current leader of Funny Money. "It's that appreciation in that initial reaction (of an audience). There's no drug in the world that matches that. Once you do it, you're hooked."

Even with passion, musicians' prospects are less than desirable. The U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics reported, in typical bureaucratese, that "the vast number of persons with the desire to perform will continue to greatly exceed the number of openings. Talent alone is no guarantee of success."

Of the 249,000 jobs held by musicians, singers and related workers in 2004, about 40 percent had to work part time and almost half were self-employed, the BLS reported. Even if musicians do achieve salary status, the median salary reported in May 2004 was less than $35,000.

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'People like it; I like it'

Making a career as a musician is hard. So why are local artists still pursuing musical careers in the face of discouraging prospects? For Whiteman, it's about people.

"It's not that I want to be famous," he said. "It's that I want to do this night after night after night because people like it and I like doing it."

Whiteman began playing drums at a young age after he saw The Beatles play on "The Ed Sullivan Show."

"I decided that's what I'm doing," he said. "It's a passion some people are born with and I have it."

His passion and hard work took him, along with Kix bandmates Ronnie Younkins, Brian Forsythe, Mark Schenker and Jimmy Chalfant, on a wild ride in the '80s. They found themselves in posh recording studios and playing arenas with headliners like Aerosmith and AC/DC.

However, the band had a different understanding of the terms of its contract with its label, Atlantic Records, as Whiteman and other Kix members learned when they went to claim their anticipated "big, fat check."

"They [Atlantic Records executives] said how happy they were with how things went. We discussed the next effort," Whiteman said. "Then they said, 'Boys, great job. Great record. Now you only owe us a million dollars.' We thought they'd give us a big album, but we were still in debt."

Even with efforts for another hit record, Kix's final record, "Hot Wire" in 1991, was squelched by the introduction of grunge rock. "We knew it was done with Atlantic and asked to be let go."

Whiteman now fronts Funny Money with drummer Chalfant, guitarist Rob Galpin, and bassist and producer Mark Schenker. He is still enjoying what he does and believes himself to be successful.

"Anyone who can make a living and play music and do what they love to do is making it," Whiteman said. "I started playing when I was 8, and, that I am still doing it at 50, in that sense, I've made it."

'I love performing'

Eric Avey of Waynesboro, Pa., is in the music business to succeed in the same manner. The father of three performs in five groups: The Boro Boogie Pickers, Emmitt Kellar, The Ringers, Gubment Cheese and Acoustic Earth Worm. Avey's definition of success is to live comfortably and make a salary from writing music, but one group doesn't provide that security.

"I'm not making much money," Avey said. "That's why I play so much." Some days stretch from 6 a.m. until 2 the following morning. "But I love performing," he said. "I love everything about it."

Shortly after Avey picked up drumsticks, he was playing with a band for the first time. That was in 1997. He taught himself drums, bass, keyboard and guitar. Avey said he does not dream of moving to Los Angeles and touring the country. He just wants to tour around the Tri-State area and earn a salary that would provide a comfortable life for his family.

Fame and fortune

The Blue Sky Traffic from Smithsburg seeks success on a bigger scale. Vocalist and guitarist Justin Kalk, bassist and vocalist Stephen Britton, keyboardist Brent Burgee and drummer George Hickey Jr. work together toward worldwide fame.

They tasted the glamorous life of a celebrity when they competed on NBC's Internet reality show "Star Tomorrow" in 2006. Since then, Britton experienced his definition of success: "Walking the red carpet and drinking champagne with celebrities." He attended Stevie Wonder's birthday party in the Bahamas and traveled to Berkshire, England, to schmooze at Elton John's ninth annual White Tie and Tiara Ball earlier this year. In England, he shook hands with David Foster, who produced an album for the winner of "Star Tomorrow."

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