Punch Brothers first formed to play mandolinist Chris Thile’s 40-minute, classically and jazz-influenced suite for five-piece bluegrass band, The Blind Leaving the Blind. Such an unusual and complex musical statement wouldn’t seem to bode well for great success, but the group has since become one of the most innovative bluegrass bands around and has achieved widespread popularity even beyond the roots music world.
So the band must know a thing or two about musical entrepreneurship. On February 16, all five members gave a professional development talk, sharing their own career stories and distilling their experiences into thoughtful advice, all with their customary humor and gregariousness.
“Noam just purchased a house, so it can be done: You can make money off music,” joked Thile as he walked into the crowded classroom where the talk (actually, conversation is a better word) was held.
And indeed, Punch Brothers seem pretty optimistic about the state of musicians, in spite of the decline of the traditional recording industry. Aside from one dry comment from fiddler Gabe Witcher (“That was nice, back when people used to buy music”), they believe that decline and the advent of simple recording technology and distribution services have made it easier to follow your own path as a musician and get noticed.
“If you’re making good music, music that people can only get from you, you will make a living,” Thile said. “Make music for the situation you want to be in, know exactly what you want to do, and then just will it to be.”
They also offered some more practical advice: Proactively put yourself in situations where you can meet great musicians and show them what you can do. And live shows are a musician’s bread and butter. “Your live show is the only thing people have to pay for,” Witcher said. “Recorded music is a souvenir people can buy at your show.”
Guitarist Chris Eldridge ’04 also suggested taking advantage of being young. “I’m finicky now that I’ve gotten older. I don’t want to sleep on couches anymore. But it’s empowering starting from nothing, from sleeping on couches. You can only go up.”
On Thursday, February 19, Punch Brothers will play a concert in Finney Chapel at 8 p.m, the first live performance in America of their new album, Phosphorescent Blues. Tickets are $10 for students and $20 for the public, and can be bought online at Central Ticketing Services in Hall Auditorium. There are also a variety of free events with Punch Brothers throughout the week.
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