First Creative Dollar Interview: Guitarist Dave Reed

Please give us a little background along with where we can track you down on the web.

I can be reached on Facebook, but I am pretty much off of social media these days. Here’s a link to my Soundcloud page. It has my most recent album posted.

Can you share the story of the first time you made money related to your current creative endeavor? Do you mind sharing how much you made?

The first time I ever received money for something guitar-related was for a gig I did with a cover band in 1993. I don’t remember the exact amount, but I definitely remember that it wasn’t one of those lightbulb epiphany moments people often talk about when they share stories of their first experiences in getting paid for doing something they love. In fact, I distinctly remember thinking it probably wouldn’t cover the money I spent on gas for the gig and for the previous week’s band practice. 

However, I do remember one of those early gigs and having a very encouraging thing happen. I finished a gig at a local bar. My bandmates had just left after we packed up all our gear. I realized I forgot something so I went back in to get it. The only one still there was the bar owner and he signalled for me to come over to him. When I did, he handed me a $20 dollar bill. I said, “You already paid us, what’s this for?” He just smiled and said, “You’re worth it.” Unfortunately, he recently passed away. I often wonder if he had any idea how much that meant to me.

What happened internally when you realized you could make money from your creativity? Were you inspired or were you concerned about what it would do to the originality of your ideas? 

I realized early on if I ever hoped to make a living in music I would have to pay attention to the business side of it. I know that’s not what a lot of creative artist types want to hear, but I believe it’s a compromise you have to make - just like most things in life. 

I was very inspired and motivated to make it work. I wasn’t concerned it would stifle my creativity because I knew from day one if you decide to put a price tag on your art there will be a bit of a balancing act involved. I didn’t come from a musical family, but my parents ran a repair shop which turned out to be invaluable for me. It taught me a ton about the ups and downs of being self-employed. It also taught me why it’s so important to appreciate the work people do for us and the services they provide. The amount of unbilled hours and the enormous amount of work that goes on behind the scenes and after hours is often unappreciated. I’ve always believed everyone should be required to run their own business for a year or so even if it’s for no other reason than to gain a little empathy and appreciation for your local waitress, mechanic, or person behind the counter at Walmart. 

Did you ever decide to pursue the creative activity full-time? Why or why not?

I pursued the guitar as a full-time living because it was always my dream to go to work every day with a guitar in my hand. Most of my friends had given up on it or seemed content with it being a weekend thing. I knew that would never be enough for me. I’ve always had a hard time fully committing to something unless there are no restrictions or limitations put on how far it can go.  

I was getting pretty heavily involved in playing gigs and teaching guitar by late 1993. I decided to take the plunge. It became my full-time profession by 1997. I continued until 2013 when I cut back significantly to be a stay at home Dad. 

Are there times when you feel pulled between traditional success and creative ideas that just won’t leave you alone?

I suppose it depends on what you define as “traditional success”, but yes I have always struggled with that. In fact, the word struggle feels like a bit of an understatement. When my kids were born I decided to devote pretty much all my time to them and let those creative ideas sit on the back burner. In the blink of an eye, when my kids are all grown up and moved out, I feel with 100% certainty that I’ll look back on it and be very thankful I made that decision. 

In recent years I’ve experienced strange physical things that I believe might stem from the lack of musical things going on in my life. It sounds crazy, but if I go a while without playing guitar, I swear I feel some kind of withdrawal-type symptoms. For example, I jog 3 to 4 times a week, and I would describe it as a kind of hungover feeling I get when I haven’t exercised for a week or so. It’s like my body gets used to that endorphin rush or whatever it is and craves it. Then there are negative side effects when I don’t get them. I don’t know if there are medical examples of lack of guitar playing doing that, but I doubt I’m the only musician who has ever felt this.

Do you have any advice for people making money or wanting to earn money with their passion?

Everyone’s experiences vary but based on mine, I feel most people in this situation can take one of two paths. They can hold down a job while trying to pursue music or can dive into the pursuit of a musical career full-time. There are advantages and disadvantages to both. 

Having a job allows you to be much more selective in your musical opportunities. For example, you don’t have to take that wedding gig that involves playing a twelve-minute version of Wonderful Tonight just because you need the money.  However, holding down a job most likely requires forty hours a week away from your music which is a huge obstacle as well. Sometimes the exhaustion of a full-time job can suck your will to work on music by the time you actually get home. 

I would suggest talking to people that have experienced both and listen to their advice. You don’t have to take it, but at least consider it. I know it’s a cliche, but at the end of the day, listen to your heart first and decide what’s right for you. Even if it turns out to be a mistake, at least those mistakes will be your own. Also, keep everything in perspective. What I mean by that is, I love music as much as anyone. A lot of the experiences I’ve had because of it have been wonderful and I’m very thankful for them, but it doesn’t come anywhere near the blessing I feel because of my wife and two sons.

What role (if any) has art and music played in your life?  Can you tell us some favorite bands?

Music has played a huge role in my life. I sometimes think it has been a world of great highs and disappointing lows, but the more I think about it, guitar playing and music itself have never been anything but an absolute joy. The music business, however, is where I’ve experienced the ups and downs. 

I’ve played guitar so long that as time goes by, it gets harder and harder to remember a time when I didn’t play. It amazes me when I realize the vast majority of my friends I still stay in touch with to this day are people that I met through bands and other music-related endeavors. As far as favorite bands, it’s so hard to pick. I do love traditional country music like Hank Williams through late 70’s outlaw country stuff. I enjoy different styles too. I love Stevie Wonder and Metallica. I love instrumental guitar hero music but also love music that doesn’t even have a guitar in it. I’d say recently I’ve probably listened to Jason Isbell more than anyone else. Also, I listen to more disco than a grown man probably should.