What is a Musician?

Musician(Photo: Kevin Fitssimons, WOSU)

Meet Tom Carroll, Musician/Teacher

What exactly do you do?
I teach music, and I play guitar professionally. I’m a professional performer on jazz guitar, and most every other style, too.

What’s the coolest part of your job?
I get to listen to or play music every day. That’s the totally coolest thing.

How did you become a musician?
I first wanted to be a musician when I was 13 years old, when I saw The Beatles on the “Ed Sullivan Show.” I didn’t know what it was, I didn’t play guitar. I didn’t even play guitar for three/four more years, but I knew that’s what I wanted to do.

Then I had the same goose bump experience when I saw Wes Montgomery, and Eric Clapton, and B.B. King, and wonderful musicians like that who made me want to do that. I’m not a singer, so I was much more attracted to people who played guitar or excelled on an instrument.

I really haven’t had what a call a career path. It wasn’t something I sought out to do. I started playing guitar when I was 18/19 years old, and just through a series of events, here it is 30-35 years later, and I’ve been teaching at universities for 20-25 years. I just wanted to play guitar, and that’s what I did. Most every time when there was an opportunity, I took advantage of it.

What disappoints you about your job?
The lack of knowledge in the listening public. For any music outside of pop music, there’s a limited audience and appreciation of music. There are little niches of fans for all kinds of music, but we have such a great history of American music – all kinds, all across the United States – that is not appreciated by the entire United States. Here in Columbus, Ohio, we have 300 to 400 true jazz fans out of a million people.

How has your job changed over time?
Fewer and fewer people are being signed to big record labels. With the access to being able to record on CDs, and bands being able to record on their own, it’s really undermined the way the industry has run for the past 40-50 years, which I think is a good thing.

A lot of great artists of all kinds of music are able to get their message out there and make a CD for literally a few thousand dollars. A lot more music is getting out there now. Lots of people have their own studios, and can make music on their laptops, which is exciting.

How will your job be different ten years from now?
There’s less and less emphasis on live music and concerts. Most music will be recorded.

What are some of the most important skills and abilities needed for this job?
Besides just learning your instrument, people skills are important, the ability to interact with other people. As a performer, you need to be able to appreciate your audience, and at least acknowledge that they’re there, that you’re being hired to perform for them. Interpersonal skills: being able to get along with people in the business, other musicians, club owners, record industry people. You need business skills. Flexibility is very important. If you want some sort of longevity, you need to be flexible; learn the latest music, and at least be willing to play it.

What advice do you have for people who want to enter this field?
Enjoy it, because that was the motivating factor for me initially. Find a good teacher, and find a situation where you can play: middle school orchestra or band or choir, or whatever. You need to play and perform music as much as possible with as many people as possible. That’s how it is with me now, 35 years later I started. It doesn’t seem important at the time if you have to sing “Mary had a Little Lamb” for the 50th time, but there’s a certain toughness you develop, and it’s so important that you do it.