Allison Plean: Not the life it used to be
Did you know going to circus school is just like going to a regular academic university?
“It’s usually a four-year program where you spend your first year learning a lot of different disciplines and then specialize for three years,” said professional juggler Barrett Felker of the Gizmo Guys. “And at the end of the four years, you have an act to sell.”
I continued to quiz Mr. Felker in an attempt to get some interesting stories from his experiences teaching for the Ringling Brothers Circus and other circus schools in Montreal and France.
“The odd thing to us is that it doesn’t seem crazy and surreal anymore,” he said. “It’s only weird until you get really involved and then it becomes like anything else.”
All I could get out of him was, “we have some wacky friends who do crazy things.”
Felker never had any illusions of becoming famous because fame does not come easy for jugglers.
“People seem to do it more easily in the magic world,” Felker said. “Jugglers are inherently looked at as being geeky. It’s not the coolest thing to be doing.”
He is now self-employed with his juggling partner Allan Jacobs. They work the streets of Pearl Street Mall in Boulder.
“One aspect of working on the street that is nice is, if people don’t like what we are doing, they are free to walk away,” he said. “Or if they like it, they put money in our hats. It is the most honest money I’ve ever made.”
Guitarist John Sotter, who has been traveling around the world writing and playing music for his entire professional career, has felt the recent shift in the musician’s equation for success.
“The only way to make money in the music business now is to get your own reality TV show,” he said. “And bands on the radio these days are not focused on creating a good album. They are working on one song they can play for six months. The entire business model is now built on one or two songs doing well on iTunes.”
Sotter thinks the CD is dead.
“People aren’t necessarily buying them anymore because you sell one and then 1,000 people copy it,” he said. “People have 300 artists on their iPods, and only one song from each artist.”
He has watched as successful bands like Leftover Salmon and The Mother Hips got record deals and then broke up or gave up, he said.
“There’s not enough money to be made. Living so close to Los Angeles and San Diego, I see 100 musicians get off the bus every day in L.A., and 100 get back on the bus to go back to their Midwest town.”
Sotter stopped listening to the radio 10 years ago because every band sounds the same to him.
“Producers and artist managers and agents have all these pearls of wisdom for up and coming struggling bands, and people take that information to be the word of God,” he said. “Then they become a cookie-cutter band trying to imitate the hottest thing on the radio this week.”
So why do these people continue to perform for a living?
“I like the lifestyle, being self-employed and not knowing what our job is from one day to the next,” Felker said. “I love the traveling, and if my plants die while I’m away, I’m not emotionally attached to them. I just need someone to bring in my mail.”
Sotter just couldn’t imagine doing anything other then writing and performing music.
“I have spent so many years sitting on the beach and river banks writing music and grew to love it,” he said. “It’s about spreading a good message and showing people that there is still music from the heart being made today. And it’s not all just Hollywood-created, catchy, two-minute little commercials.”
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