John Petrucci Names Biggest Challenge Young Bands Face Today, Says They Need a ’Reality Check’

Recently, Dream Theater’s John Petrucci guested on The Heavy Hooks Show where he discussed his and his band’s career. However, among various topics, the guitar virtuoso reflected on the financial issues that musicians are facing these days. In particular, he looked back on how difficult it is for younger newer bands, explaining that they need a “reality check” if they want to make it as musicians. Petrucci offered (transcript via Ultimate Guitar):

“Well, it is really, really challenging now. For young bands, it’s so expensive to go out and do this on any level. And my advice is, you got to be willing to put in the hard work and make really big sacrifices if you want this.

“I remember doing this as well, back in the day, on our first tour. We had a van and drove ourselves, didn’t get any sleep, and didn’t get any money [for performing].

“And eventually, you know, [we] made things happen. I think bands need to have that reality check. And the ones that do and are willing to do it – and do it with a great attitude – I mean, a lot of these guys, they don’t have a tech, they’re their own tech, they’re packing up their stuff. There’s one crew guy, if they’re lucky.

“It’s hard. It’s a hard, hard life at that early stage. So, as long as you have perspective on that, and you’re willing to do that… It’s that type of thing [that’s] always easier when you’re young…

“But you know, we also do it for the same reason – for the love of music, and playing, and being in that position – as I always say, providing the entertainment for the evening. We love it.”

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Elsewhere in the interview, Petrucci explained how Dream Theater have paved their way to the top in the progressive metal community while discussing the band’s Grammy win last year. Dream Theater won in the Best Metal Performance category for “The Alien” which comes from their 2021 record “A View from the Top of the World.” Petrucci said:

“The point I wanted to try to get across [at the Grammys] was that we’ve been doing what we do for a long time, the way we do it, against all odds, and we built a career out of it.

“And then, to achieve that sort of recognition from that community was really just great.

“Because it’s not like it was some sort of pop version of us… It was probably one of the most complicated songs we ever wrote.

Dream Theater - The Alien (Official Video)

“So, my point was: Do what you do, believe in what you’re doing, and do it with a ton of conviction. And then, when moments [like that] happen, it feels that much more satisfying.”

Of course, Petrucci is far from being the only rock or metal musician to reflect on the grim economic situation for all aspiring musicians. In fact, the problems spill over to established names as well and it seems that only the commercially top-performing mainstream artists today are safe.

Among others, Devin Townsend addressed the issue in a last year’s interview, explaining that not even touring is sufficient enough to help you make a decent living as a musician. He said:

“It’s gotten way worse. I don’t think it’s better at all, actually. Because the costs of touring now, with inflation and the cost of gasoline and diesel… Plus, over the course of the pandemic, we’ve lost a ton of really good venues.”

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“I’d say probably 50 percent of the workforce in touring has now left. ‘Cause what’s a guitar tech gonna do for two years? You have to get a job, right? And so the ones that are remaining, not only are they already spoken for with other bands, but they’re almost twice as expensive.”

“I saw this thing about Live Nation the other day, they’re taking 30 percent of merch sales from some of these venues. The costs of airlines have gone up. So artists, the ability to make money on tour is almost completely gone now — at least an artist on my level.”

“So, yes, it’s opened up again, but it’s 10 times as expensive. It’s, like, what do you do? Even little things like, okay, the hotels are more expensive; the food at the hotels [is] more expensive. So at the end of it, you’re touring for what? You’re touring ultimately so you can present your work to the people who care about your work, and that’s worth it to me.”

Devin Townsend - Dead head - Live Sweden Rock 2022 [4K]

“But I think for anybody to think that it’s now easy again, you should investigate that, because I’m trying to set up tours for next year, and there’s no way to keep them within cost — there’s no way. And so you go out there and, like, well, we can’t have this vehicle; we can’t have this backline; we can’t have this production; we can’t have these lights.”

“And then if you show up at a place and the audience comes, they’re, like, ‘The show’s not good. There’s no lights. There’s no production.’ So what should you do? And I think a lot of musicians, their decision is, like, ‘Well, I’ll just stay home then and I’ll just create from home.’”

“I try to go out with acoustic now, because that way I can afford it. If I just show up with an acoustic guitar and sing for people, it’s better than nothing. But it’s still, like, man, it’s a complicated time, brother.”

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Fear Factory guitarist Dino Cazares also weighed in on the matter last year by saying:

“So much has changed in those couple of years, because look how much the economy has gotten really, really over the top, with gas and even availability on certain things, even drivers; just getting a driver, it’s hard. People really don’t understand the cost that goes into doing these tours.”

“Everything affects you, whether it’s venues taking a big cut of the merch sales to insane diesel and gas prices. A lot of people don’t realize that these buses take diesel, and diesel is more expensive than gas. So that adds up, when you’re spending eight hundred to a thousand dollars just to fill up a tank of a bus. People don’t realize the cost of all that. So it’s getting harder and harder.”

FEAR FACTORY - Disruptor (OFFICIAL GUITAR PLAYTHROUGH)

“It’s really kind of weird, because when we first booked the tour, the economy was much lower than now. And then we do these show contracts for ‘X’ amount of dollars, and all of a sudden we postpone the tour to a year or so later, and so much has changed. Now these contracts, it doesn’t match to where the economy is at now.”

“A lot of people don’t realize that either, that a lot has changed so much. I wish we can go back and renegotiate our contracts, but it’s too late — can’t do it. It is what it is.

“We’re just not gonna be making the money that we would normally make to do that tour, but we’re still gonna do it; we’re committed to it. We can’t wait to get back on the road and just play in front of all those people.”

SOULFLY with Dino Cazares - Replica/Jumpdafucup (LIVE) at Metal In The Mountains. Pipestem, W.V.

He also added:

“I’m not the only one that really talks about that. There have been other people — Devin Townsend’s been talking a lot about it; Dark Funeral and a few other bands as well, talking about what it’s like out there.”

“Of course, a lot of people who follow me who are fans of the band, they don’t really understand what it is, how it is out there. But in a way, they should, because, obviously, gas prices affect everything. Food prices — food prices have gone insanely high.”

Dino Cazares performs Fear Factory Demanufacture at NAMM 2019 - Ormsby Guitars Signature

“So people should be able to relate to it in that way. Speaking in the third person, if it’s hard for that person to pay rent or to buy food, imagine what it’s like for us to be out there touring. People have this misconception, just because you’re on the road, you’re making big bucks and you’re a rich guy. We are affected by it just as much as they are — as a matter of fact worse, ’cause we have more overhead.”

Photo: MorganaPhotolive (Dream Theater (27153401432))

Author

  • David Slavkovic

    David always planned for music to be nothing more than a hobby. However, after a short career as an agricultural engineer he ended up news editor at KillerGuitarRigs, senior editor at Ultimate-Guitar.com, as well as a freelance contributor to online magazines such as GuitaristNextdoor.