Should artists keep day jobs and just do music ‘on the side’? Vehnee Saturno weighs in
The “-ber” months have arrived, and with them, the customary stories and memes about Jose Mari Chan. But recently, the music icon made headlines, not for his enduring songs that signal the beginning of the holiday season, but because of a piece of advice he gave aspiring young musicians.
In the Sept. 1 episode of “Fast Talk with Boy Abunda,” Chan pointed out that the changes in technology and the music landscape have made it harder to make a living out of music alone. So it would only be prudent, he said, for young composers and singers to find or keep a day job while pursuing music.
“Use that [music] as a hobby, or on the side, but get another career—either in law or accounting or medicine,” the 78-year-old singer-songwriter said.
Chan’s advice elicited mixed reactions from observers on social media including fellow musicians. Some were disappointed and criticized him, saying that his sentiment came off as discouraging, that it was insulting to those who see music as their bread and butter, and that treating music as a mere hobby would only stifle artistic growth.Others, however, conceded that there was truth to what Chan said, especially from a practical standpoint. One of them is one of the country’s prolific hitmakers Vehnee Saturno, who believes that pursuing one’s passion while making a decent living can be a tricky balancing act.
“For many musicians, passion for the craft and being able to show what’s inside of them come first before money. So to singers, songwriters or anyone in the field of music, I say, ‘Tuloy lang.’ I still encourage them,” he recently told showbiz reporters over lunch.
“But if the finances aren’t there to sustain yourself, then that would be difficult, too. You have to think wisely about how you can cross the bridge and arrive at a point where you know you can still be happy despite not being equipped with everything,” added Saturno, the man behind such hits as “Be My Lady,” “Sana Kahit Minsan” and “Forever’s Not Enough.”
“Just continue and do what you can. But if you have been at it for years and nothing is really happening, then perhaps it’s time to switch … perhaps there are other things they can excel in or are more suited to them and that could bring them success. However, that dream of being in the industry will always be there,” Saturno said.
He also pointed out that Chan’s advice is the perspective of someone who’s a successful businessman first, before a musician. “I think there was nothing wrong with what he said. It’s just that the delivery wasn’t as sweet … because what he said applies to other jobs as well. You should think of doing other things that can make your life comfortable,” he said.
His foray into the music industry was like shooting for the moon, said Saturno, who used to work as a Xerox operator.
“There was no assurance I would make it. Filipinos are discerning and strict when it comes to music … Suntok sa buwan para sa ‘kin. No pain, no gain. Lalaban at lalaban ka lang talaga. You just have to absorb the negative comments and don’t let them affect you,” he related.
He agreed with Chan that it’s a different time now: How music is created is different, how it’s promoted is different, and how it’s consumed is different.
“Back then, you did press conferences, radio promos and mall tours. Television networks accommodate all artists and there was no exclusivity. But these days, the network will ask you, ‘Sikat na ba ’yan?’” Saturno said.
What hasn’t changed, though, is that there’s no exact formula for creating hits. “It’s easy to make a song, but there’s really no assurance it will become a hit. Everything is up to the market. It still boils down to luck and what the market dictates. That’s why I listen to the works of new songwriters. Otherwise, you will be left out… mabubura ka,” he said. INQ