Mark Stone ~ Dirty Country Band

Mark Stone head shot (225x189)

Mark Stone

I should start by introducing myself. My name is Mark Stone. I am NOT the professional hockey player nor was I the former bassist of Van Halen, but I am the Singer/Guitarist/Songwriter/Vocal Instructor/Music Teacher/Leader of the project Mark Stone and the Dirty Country Band.

For the last 10 years of my life I’ve been a working musician. I still consider myself a working musician although I’m not sure I qualify for the title by some standards anymore, as I’ve recently got myself involved in the dreaded DAY JOB. I’d like to share my experiences, as they may help someone who may be trying to accomplish the same or similar things.

My story starts a lot like those you’ve already heard. I loved to sing. I could repeat whole songs before I could even hold a proper conversation. Some would say I have a Rainman-like quality when it comes to remembering lyrics, a great quality to have as a singer, but it won’t help you keep a day job. The reason I became a working musician was purely out of necessity, although it has been my love of music that has kept me from seeking out any other employment until now. I’ll get to that later.

Off and on throughout my life, I’ve pursued music. I dropped out of high school (I don’t recommend this) to join a traveling cover band. When the band folded and after an inspiring epiphany moment soaked in my mom’s tears, I went back to high school and graduated.

A few more cover bands followed until my first original band: Juggernaut. We were signed to Noise Records in Germany, and we even made a video that MTV Europe played during the Headbanger’s Ball Program.

Mark Stone's previous bands

Mark Stone’s previous bands

Ahhh, those were the days: touring in a TransVan, eating ramen, when possible, otherwise smoking breakfast and drinking lunch and dinner (also not recommended). The band blew up, and everybody went their separate ways. Although, I now have the guitar player of that band playing bass for me in the Dirty Country Band, but I just jumped ahead too far.

I got a regular job as a truck driver for a while, and the lifestyle is amazingly similar to touring. I found other local driving jobs that paid as well, and I concentrated on making money and being home to support my son. I divorced and for a while my son lived with me, so the most music I did was occasional weekend warrior stuff.

When my son decided to move in with his mother and I had nothing to keep me home, I started playing more often. At this time, I got laid off from my cement truck driving job and there wasn’t much other work available. One band wasn’t enough to pay the bills, so for a while I was involved in four different projects. One of those dissolved and I started teaching at the School of Rock as a vocal instructor. By the time I left School of Rock in April 2013, I was teaching vocals at all three School of Rock locations, as well as directing shows at the Eden Prairie School. My Elite performance group made of the top students from all three schools in our Burnsville location.

What happened? For the longest time, my top priority was making a living playing music and I had succeeded in sustaining a reasonably modest lifestyle doing just music, but my music had taken a backseat. It had gotten to the point where that had to change. I made a clean break. There was an opportunity to play music in Texas and, from the sound of it, a lot more opportunity to play period. So, I packed up my wife and all the necessities in a big RV and headed to Texas.

Mark Stone as child

Mark Stone as child

In Texas, just outside of the Live Music Capital of the United States of America, I learned a few things. Playing live music in Texas for the middle class working musician depends largely on tips. You can play seven nights a week, but those weekday gigs aren’t going to offer much for a guaranty, and if you aren’t well known in the area, your draw will suffer. Mind you, if you can get the weekend gig, you’ll probably make out better some nights than you would if you had a guaranty, but it may also be hard to get those coveted weekends if you don’t have a name.

The opportunity folded, but I did manage to get into Music Lane Studios in Austin and track the basics for an entire album. I played Austin during SXSW twice, so it was probably the best 2,400 mile trip I’ve ever taken, not to mention my wife and I had a gorgeous winter honeymoon. We’ll Always Have TX will be on a future release, and the album I recorded in Texas is now available through my website for pre-order and will digitally be available in 2015.

Now, I’m back in my home town, where my wife and I first met, near the high school I graduated from and played my first gig. If there is a moral to this story it’s this: Do what makes you happy. You can probably do a lot of things to make money, but in the end, you can’t take it with you anyway, so you might as well enjoy your time here.

If you want to make a living playing music, you’ll most likely have to diversify. Being kick-ass at one thing is hardly enough anymore. You’ll have to be kick-ass at a few things. So, try on a few hats: teaching, live sound, promotion, booking and/or broadcasting.

Being a working musician is an attainable goal, but I’m not going to blow smoke up anyone. It gets harder and harder to do with the passing of time, and you will most likely have to find a few music-related things to make it work. If you truly love music, there is no other occupational pursuit that will give you the same satisfaction, and you’ll need the experience and insight that wearing those other hats will give you if you ever want to succeed.

Bottom line: you can’t do it all yourself. Very few people just shy of no one have ever made it in the music business alone. You need to build a team. There are only so many paid opportunities out there, and even if you land a good one, you’ll most likely need more than one.

I’d love to hear your thoughts. Your questions and comments are welcome:

Mark Stone

Mark Stone band photo