I also understand that most people think that a musician’s life is an easy one, full of free booze and easy sex and making lots of money off of fun work. I know that’s the picture, because I know how shocked people outside the music industry are when they find out how much musicians are typically paid, or even how much I, as a promoter or festival coordinator, have been paid. ((Musicians are also generally gobsmacked by the latter revelation, honestly.)) If it’s anything, it’s not a lot; yes, some artists make more than my annual salary at one show, but most won’t make my annual salary at 50 or a hundred gigs. And if they do, they’ll spend much of it in travel – gas money, hotels, food, all while paying the rent back home.
A lot of my friends and acquaintances are musicians, and so fairly regularly I see notices crop up on forums and social media about stolen musical instruments. Every damn time, it makes my blood boil.
Any performance-level instrument is worth a few hundred dollars, at the very least – most a lot more than that. Depending on quality, age, and customization, they can be worth much more – easily thousands of dollars. So I understand why it’s tempting for the sticky-fingered, desperate, or unethical person to grab a guitar and go, heading to Craigslist or shady pawnshops to offload their ill-gotten beauties. ((I’ll admit sympathy for some thieves, based purely on my own convoluted ethics regarding thievery.))
This isn’t a sob story – oh, poor musicians, pity their lot, etc. – and goodness knows I’m probably preaching to the choir on this one, but when you steal a guitar, an accordion, a trumpet, you’re often stealing that person’s livelihood. Their ability to pay rent and put food on the table rests in that instrument being available and in good working order. Chances are, they haven’t got the money to buy another. And even with the generosity of friends and their community, it’s not easy to replace a road-tested instrument.
Instruments become friends; the tools of a musician’s trade aren’t like the machines and devices you and I use at work. They are owned by their operator. They have more variety, more idiosyncrasies, depending on wood and weather and a million other factors. They get worn in; a musician learns the sweet spots and the places to avoid. They become an extension of self, a partner in every performance. They arrive in as many shapes and forms as there are people, almost, and over years of playing, they grow into something distinct, unique.
When you steal an instrument, it’s more like stealing a beloved pet, or a companion, or a best friend. Sometimes it’s an heirloom, Sometimes it’s an integral part of an artists’ sound. Sometimes the emotional connection isn’t that strong. Not every artist forms a deep attachment to their instrument. But many do.
So I believe that there’s a special place in Hell for people who steal musical instruments; I believe it’s located on the Lake of Fire, with a scenic view of the real estate where they eternally torment people who hurt animals. And I believe instrument thieves rot there an eternity for each stolen note of music that didn’t reach their audience.
Fuck instrument thieves.