Rock Bands and Mid-Life Crisis

Rock Bands and Mid-Life Crisis
by Sue Basko

I run a lot of ads all over the internet and I get many replies. There is a slow, but steady stream of men in the 40 - 60 year old age range that contact me, hoping to reconnect with their rock musician selves that they left behind years earlier. Usually, I take time to listen and answer their questions. Here, I will explain what I think is usually an ideal answer.

So-called "mid-life" crisis can hit men or women. In men, there is often a crisis that comes at age 40 and another at age 50. There are many good books about this. "Mid-life" is a misnomer, for the average life expectancy of an American male is 75 years. At 40, a man has statistically used 53% of his life, and at 50, he has used 67% of his years. He is getting older, his wife looks older (while in his mind, he still looks the same as he did at 20), his joints are stiffening, his kids are grown or a nuisance, he has hit a dead end in his job, and he still is not a rock star. Of course, he has not touched a musical instrument in over 15 years and has not played in a band for 20 years. So, he replies to my music lawyer ad seeking hope, and this is how I respond:

Usually, if there is recorded music online, I listen. Usually these are old recordings. In most cases, it is very excellent music of a style that was popular at some point in the 1970s or 1980s. It is usually something like classic rock, stadium rock, stadium metal, or some other genre that I have never cared for. But -- usually the excellence shines through, even though it is nothing I would personally care to listen to.

In most cases, these men have a few nightmare stories to tell about a past manager or past record label. I listen very carefully to these stories, because many of them are situations where promising rock bands fell into the hands of scam artists. This happens even today, perhaps more than ever. One of my missions as a music lawyer is to warn young people about these scams and try to steer them clear.

These are questions these men ask, and here are my usual replies:

Is there any hope I can get "signed" by a record label? No. Very few people do get signed, even when they are young and actively engaged in making music and performing. There is no chance that anyone is going to sign a non-active musician.

However, today, you do not need a record label to be able to record and sell your music. You can record and mix on a computer using Garage Band or ProTools, and you can sell your music online. There is no gatekeeper, other than following decency laws, copyright laws, and basic protocol. You don't need anyone's permission. It does not cost much money. If you want to do it, just go do it.

Can I get a publisher? Probably not. Publishing deals are hard to come by. A publisher is looking for songs that others will want to record. That is what publishing is all about. Your lyrics and music are sort of okay, but they are very dated.

However, you can self-publish your own music and you can put in as much effort as you like trying to get established or up-and-coming artists to record your songs. In fact, I encourage you to join ASCAP and other songwriter organizations and join together with like-minded people. Join up with Music After 50 or connect with others on Facebook just to talk it over with others.

Can I get my songs placed into TV or movies? Not likely. Songs used in TV and movies are usually one of two kinds: either old, famous songs that the audience will recognize and love; or brand new songs that are just recorded and for sale online. The filmmakers want to add an asset to their film by using music of the most popular group that they can afford. The songs add to the investment value of the film and the likelihood of landing a distributor for the film if the music performer is touring, on the radio, and in demand.

Most song placement in TV and movies pays surprisingly little, unless it is already a very famous song. However, when people hear the song, many will then buy it online or at a store. Song placement can be a source of money that way.

However, you can TRY to get placement by putting your songs onto the many, many online sites that license songs out for such purposes. Try Jamendo as a start, and then find the others by asking around.

Can you help me find gigs? No, because you have not even touched an instrument in over 10 years. But, I do encourage you to pull out your instrument, practice, and place ads for others to play with you. Or connect with others online. Once you get rolling, if you sound pretty good, I think you will find plenty of places willing to have you come in and play. If you want to go solo, there are plenty of open mic nights.

Is there any hope? Yes, the hope is in connecting with the part of you that you have put aside while you pursued a career and family. You do not have to and should not renege on those responsibilities. But if you look carefully at how you spend your time, you will find time that can be spent playing music. For example, do you watch TV? A recent study by the U.S. Bureau of Labor Bureau of Labor Statistics says the average American spend 2.8 hours per day watching television. If you spent that 2.8 hours per day playing music, you would be quite good at it.

Make a list of the things you used to love doing, that were a part of you. And then think of how you can meaningfully reconnect with those parts of you to rekindle your spirit. You may find that a small dose will help you reconnect. For example, you may find that you do not need to become a rock star at age 50, but that practicing a few songs and playing them at an open mic may be just what you need.

If you connect with like-minded people, there is no reason why you cannot now form a rock band and book real gigs. The key is to be realistic. You may be playing "arena rock," but you are not going to be playing in an arena, unless you sneak into your kids' high school arena when no one is looking. You have to be steadfast, because once you start your rock band, your kids will roll their eyes faster than the pictures on a slot machine. Just try your best not to embarrass them too much.

Another thing that being older is good for is being a mentor to those younger, if anyone will listen to you. If you are a former rock musician, you may want to offer your services as a manager or booker to younger bands. If you are not caught up in the way things used to be, but are aware of what is happening now, you could be most helpful.

-- Take care, and feel free to email me at