Sunday, February 16, 2014

Perseverance, Proficiency, and the Music Industry

As a young child, I was always encouraged to follow my dreams, set goals, and never give up. This theme of perseverance is something that sticks with a person throughout life. It motivates football players to work hard in the hopes of making it in the NFL. It inspires young booklovers to eventually become authors. It also is a common theme in the music industry. As one article on perseverance puts it, "You just have to be willing to not walk off the field when everybody else would have and you'll be the person who wins because you're the last one on the field. That is something that Brian Zerbe, a bassist in Branson, MO, discovered throughout his journey.

I was fortunate enough to have the opportunity to meet with Zerbe to find out his story. It is easy to assume that people in his position came by it naturally as a result of talent. As he will attest, however, this is not the case. It takes much more than talent to make a living as a musician.

Zerbe was exposed to music at a very young age because his father was a music teacher. He began playing the violin at age 5. It wasn’t until he was older that he noticed that the liner notes on a Carpenter’s record mentioned an electric bass. Up until that point, he had never heard of it, and he had definitely never seen one. Still, it triggered something inside of him. To him, it sounded like fun. At that point, he decided to switch from playing the violin to playing the upright bass.

Zerbe playing his upright bass
 After graduating from high school, Zerbe, originally from Michigan, decided to start school at North Texas State.  He had two possible career paths in mind: journalism and music. One day, Zerbe saw a report on television about a hunting accident. He recalls that someone had accidentally shot a hunting buddy. He also noted that the person covering the story was disrespectful because the camera remained trained on the man who was bawling because of what he had done. Believing that this was extremely insensitive, Zerbe realized that there are many journalists like that; they will do whatever it takes to have a good story. He decided he wanted nothing to do with that, and from then on, his chosen path became music.

Two years into his schooling, Zerbe made the decision to leave for a club tour with a band. Unfortunately, the tour failed. Still, Zerbe never returned to school. Instead, he bounced around from club to club and took gigs wherever he could for awhile (even spending a year and a half at an amusement park). While many people would have given up at this point and decided they were not cut out for a career in music, Zerbe did not. Having many influences both in jazz and in pop music, Zerbe grabbed bits and pieces from many people. This assisted him in developing his own unique style. He believes that it is vital for an aspiring musician to become as proficient on the instrument as possible and to be able to play a wide variety of styles. This means there needs to be a lot of practice, and Zerbe definitely recommends practicing with a metronome because nothing is more important than having a good grasp of time. As one article written by Psychology Today states regarding practice, it is about the "quality of time spent practicing rather than quantity". Becoming proficient through quality practice is the key. Eventually, all of Zerbe's hard work and determination paid off.

At one point, Zerbe auditioned for a contract on a cruise ship. He was told to call in January to see if there was something available. At that point, they had nothing and told him to call back in February. When he called back in February, they told him to call back in June or July. Instead, he called at the end of April. The person he talked to said that he was assigned to a ship and all they needed to know was where to send his uniform. Had he not been perseverant and waited until June or July to call, he most likely would have received a call on the day the ship was leaving wondering why he wasn’t there. This experience taught him the importance of being available at all times and being ready to go at a moment’s notice.

Zerbe spent 13 years as a musician on cruise ships. He loved it because he never knew what he would be playing next and thrived on the variety. Eventually, Zerbe moved to Branson. He started out playing for ShojiTabuchi, played for #1 Hits of the 60’s for 5 years, and then landed his current position at Dick Clark’s American Bandstand Theater playing for Legends in Concert.

After the rough road that Zerbe traveled at the beginning of his music career, he finally found a position where he is extremely happy and content. He loves the fact that every show has its own challenges, as well as variety. He also is happy with the fact that he is no longer on the road and can remain in Branson with his family, including his two daughters. Additionally, it gives him time to pursue his other major interest: cooking.

I found myself fascinated while listening to him talk about his cooking. As it turns out, he is not only interested in cooking, but just as he likes to challenge himself with his music, he also likes to challenge himself with his cooking. While on cruise ships, he discovered many foods that he loved but for which he could never find a recipe. So he strives to recreate the recipes on his own. I certainly can’t say I know too many people that have spent 15 years trying to recreate an orange dipping sauce they had in Cozumel!

After having a wonderful conversation with Zerbe, I was able to attend the show he is currently playing for, Elvis Lives. It was really enjoyable to see how his hard work has paid off and the great results that he produces. The same could be said of all of the other singers, dancers, and musicians in the show. It is only playing in Branson until February 18, so I would highly recommend checking it out before then. It truly is amazing how far a little perseverance can take a person. Whether it’s to the NFL, a publishing company, or, in Zerbe’s case, to Branson, the sky is the limit if you are willing to work for it. 
Zerbe playing with the rest of the band for Dean Z