I just finished my 5th set of the evening of the 5th day in a row of restaurant/lounge/casino gigs in Switzerland. I took these gigs to fill in the time between “real shows”- ie, performing at real venues with stages and people to listen and buy CDs and to connect with.  This week’s shows were what I considered time for rehearsing, refreshing, and refunding.  I got to run all my new songs with out worries that anyone was really listening.  I refreshed my memory on how to play a bunch of old tunes, and, I was being paid to do this. Really not that bad.  If I can look past the angry French chef who literally said “your music is not good, play Beatles” and resist the temptation to blame language barriers (that wasn’t really he meant to say), and if I can look past the unusually low CD sales, perhaps I can say this week was a good thing.  In the back of my head, though, I felt like I was paying dues.

The phrase “paying dues” is what I relate to as washing the bathrooms at a recording studio seven years ago, staying late at the editing house to run a Beta tape to the color correction studio four years ago, finding a waitressing job, or keeping my personal training clients. I was “paying my dues” as a novice in the music industry because I wasn’t doing music all the time, exactly how I wanted to.  Now that I am touring and composing full time (I say this even though I haven’t quite cut the umbilicord with my personal training clients- that’s another article: being authentic about what’s so), I have assumed I’m “doing it”, fully in the music industry with my music on cds and commercials and documentaries, and a tour schedule that covers thousands of miles.  But this week, I think I learned a few things, the most obvious being that “paying dues” is relative. Read on.

This week, I got to know the piano better. I trained my voice to last the entire 4 hour gig. I promised myself never to write another song using a chord progression that resembles iii-VI or switches back and forth with the relative minor + major (take one listen to almost any of my songs and you’ll know what I mean…. it’s embarrassing).

There were bigger things I learned too: that maybe I created the lack of CD sales, the people not listening; I had thought dinner and craps were more deserving of my audience’s attention and thus treated my audience accordingly… I walked in with the attitude that I was there to rehearse, refresh and refund, and nowhere in my energy was the possibility of being inspiring. I walked into these shows with a grain of salt, when I could have given, and left with, a beach. In the past, I was quite good at this; back in the day, the recording studio job was not cleaning toilets, it was learning about patch cables, analog editing, Pro Tools… and all I had to do was wash the bathroom, get tooth brushes for the Bahamen’s late night session and a t-shirt for Mos Def! Easy! Where is that Cheryl?

That Cheryl had no expectations back then. She had no idea what the music industry looked like. Now that I’ve worked in many areas of the biz, perhaps this knowledge has forced me to think that I know the difference between success and paying dues.

Really, what I learned this week, is that I am only paying dues if I say so.