top of page

Sacrifice and striving in musicking.

This blog continues exploring the area of music and identity, more specifically, US based rock musicians.

An important and exciting piece of research (for me anyway) which brings a fresh perspective to the debate is a recent study called 'Music is life' which explores the identity, tensions and passions of nine professional male rockers. The study is particularly interesting to me as it challenges existing ‘rebellious’ (media), stereotypes of these musicians and provides an insight into the band’s emotional engagement and motivation.

Using the group’s own journaling and interviews, the study highlighted important themes such as identity, musicking challenges and their differing levels of commitment. In the study, the musicians reported how being a rock musician was “essential” to their identities with a “strong passion” for the music considered to be the most important factor, just behind participation. The musicians also reported the importance of musicking in enabling them to personally understand themselves, their band participation and creativity.

Additionally, through pursuing their passion, they felt a greater ability to strive for a better, more exciting life whilst making a valuable contribution to society. This striving for something better resonated deeply with my own musicking motivation when I needed a way to escape my own socio-economic limitations. I’ll talk more about this later. A way out!

The group also reported their nuanced challenges of being musicians, such as the substantial, unpredictable time commitment and personal sacrifices they all had to make in order to accommodate the band’s collective needs. These needs included spending time on non-musical tasks such as business decisions and social media, along with the many late-night rehearsals and dealing with the sporadic nature of performances. The sacrifices were described as being both work based and personal in relation to employment and their outside romantic relationships. Despite these factors, they were accepted and deemed to be part of the band experience. These challenges were met through prioritising the band with total commitment, relying on other band members and peripheral gate keepers through collaboration and networking, alongside the mastering of technological, sonic and visual aspects of commercial musicking. 

Aside from these challenges, the musicians were also able to enjoy bonding with band mates in a family-esque type of mutual support, which they described as a “marriage” between “soul mates” enhanced through their joint sacrifice and commitment. For most of them, playing music was deemed to be the most rewarding factor in their musicking lives, involving seemingly paradoxical combinations of emotional experiences such as ‘overwhelm and exhilaration’. These somewhat transcendental or spiritual experiences enabled the musicians to realise the rewards of their perseverance, which were the most fulfilling aspects of being in the band. The study also highlighted the feelings of frustration when other musicians decided to quit which prompted a fear of failing, lack of commitment or just feeling that these other members of the group lacked the much-needed emotional resilience.

For me the study illustrated the life altering sacrifices and the intense dedication to pursue the craft with which they so closely identified when trying to build their professional musicking careers which served as a bridge to opportunities which otherwise would have been out of reach including extensive travel and wealth. 

This suggestion of music being a bridge to opportunity resonates deeply. I think many of us musicians have had the dream of ‘making it' which is even more pertinent if we grew up in areas of deprivation or lower socio-mobility. The dream of ‘making it’ can bring hope and solace when the world of which we were ‘thrown into’ offered us very little else. My own experience of this prompts me to remember how I always felt I could do nothing else apart from being a musician. This was derived from two separate areas, one was that emotionally, musicking was the most vital resource I had and the second was my limited notion of my skills and abilities. 

At one point in my younger life, I felt that musicking was all I could do. This of course, has changed but I could never have imagined how powerful and transferable these musicking skills could be. So, regarding this US study, my own musicking venture has indeed proved to be a rich and vital bridge into a different world from where I began and new opportunities have presented themselves as I continue to music alongside mind with all the sacrifices this entails.

If you are a musicker, you can come and join up with other ‘musickers’ and be rebellious, an outsider or a community embracer in the Peer Support Groups offered by Tonic Rider.


Adam Ficek hosts a monthly show 'Tonic Music' on Totally Wired Radio, where he talks to various guests about music and mental health. You can listen again to any of the previous show on the Tonic Music Mixcloud page.


bottom of page