the difference a year makes

So, it’s obviously been a quite a while since I’ve written anything here - almost a year and a half. This time a year ago I was working some, but was also going through my savings just to survive. Savings that I had worked so hard to build up, only to see it nearly all go away from the roughest year financially I’ve ever experienced as a musician. I was going broke, starting to lose any sort of confidence in myself as a player - maybe I sucked?, beginning to realize who my true friends were (you’d be surprised how many people in Nashville want nothing to do with you when you don’t have a gig), and was the most unhappy and lost I’ve ever felt in my life from a professional standpoint. I tried to look at the year as a way to become more positive and really be thankful for what I did have. And while I did change in that regard, I also questioned more about myself and the career path I had chosen than ever before. Simply put, I felt like a total and utter failure/loser/hack/come up with your own word and I’m sure I felt it.

I made myself a deal at the beginning of 2018 - if I wasn’t paying my bills as a musician again by the time 2019 rolled around, I was going to accept that the journey was over and it was time to find something else. It was probably the hardest thing for me to see that since as the year was coming to a close, I was barely getting by. I started to have the conversation with myself that my dream that I had poured all of me into was probably over. And I had no idea what the hell I was going to do if I didn’t play music. It’s all I had wanted, worked, and fought for the last 20 years of my life. These things kept me up at night.

Then came a gig offer for 2019 that was fairly busy for the first few months and I decided on one last shot at this. But this was a new act, which seemed to be the only work I had been getting called for, and I was about to turn 30 and wondering how much longer I could keep starting from the bottom hoping the artist I worked for made it and brought me along for the ride as they grew. How much longer I could only play 20-25 minutes a night, ride in a van for hours and hours, make just enough money to get by, and not really be able to save for any sort of future? And to be completely honest, I found out rather quickly into 2019, I had lost my love of playing music. I couldn’t stand picking up my bass unless I had to. Sprinkle in some personal shit really affecting me at the time and I wasn’t any happier than I was in 2018 with hardly any work.

I turned 30 in February and while it was probably my best birthday from a celebration standpoint, I was really debating being done with music. I knew I had a lot of April and May off so I decided I’d get through March then really take some time to figure out what I wanted to do. I was fairly sure I was going to need to leave music behind, which killed me and I had so much inner struggle trying to convince myself that was what I should do. I just hoped something would happen to show me what I was supposed to do. I laid awake late most nights in March staring at the ceiling of whatever hotel room I was in at the time, asking God/the Universe to guide me in the right direction. Then right before the last week of shows before our break, I heard through a friend that Billy Currington was possibly looking for a new bass player. That was a gig I had wanted for a long time simply because I loved the music. For some reason, I felt like I should just go after it and see if anyone could get me an audition. I reached out to a couple friends I knew had ties to Billy’s band or crew asking for help or if it was even possible. Sure enough, I got lucky enough to get a text to come in and audition that Sunday. I got really excited about the possibility of landing the gig, but quickly reminded myself I’d never gotten a gig off an audition, no matter how well I did in it. So I assumed I wouldn’t get this one either, but wanted to give it a shot anyway. This honestly felt like my last real shot at anything substantial touring-wise.

Sunday came, the audition went well and I walked out feeling really proud of my performance. But I also still thought it might not be offered to me - I’ve killed several auditions and left thinking I had it in the bag, only to find out I wasn’t the guy. So I just decided that it was going to be what it was and I was going to spend the rest of my day enjoying myself, even forgetting my phone downstairs. I came back down several hours later, only to see a missed call from Billy’s bandleader. I once again assumed the worst - it was a “hey thanks for coming in, but we are going with someone else” call. But to my surprise, I called back and was offered the job. And rehearsals started the day my April break was to start from the other gig. Perfect timing.

Later that night I had a realization. In one day, everything had changed for me. I wasn’t going to have to give the dream up in April like I had thought. I knew I’d be better off financially. My travel was going to be far more comfortable than a van. I was joining a band where I was the youngest guy and if you know me, i’m an old soul and craved a connection with people who had done life as much or more than me. It really was what I’d been waiting, working and searching for since I moved to Nashville in 2009. 10 freaking years. I always heard Nashville was a 10 year town, but I kept seeing guys succeed far before that. I just thought it wasn’t in the cards for me, that at least I could say I gave it a real try with no regrets before throwing in the towel. But instead, I get to live my dream.

I can honestly say that this is the first time in my professional life that I’m not searching for the next “better” gig or the feeling that I’ve “made it”. Because in my eyes, I have. I’m not endlessly grabbing for the next gig. And it’s the first time I’ve ever been truly happy with my job. Don’t get me wrong, I’ve gotten the chance to work with some amazing artists, but a lot of them have been on a fill-in basis or something I walked into knowing it would ultimately not last too long. They all lead to this one. I get excited driving to the bus every week. I get butterflies before I walk on stage each night. I love playing music again. I take a moment each show to stop, look around, and really take it all in, to truly be grateful for where I am today. Through all the fear, anxiety, doubt, failures, tears, months feeling so broke, insecurities…I didn’t give up and still gave it that one lost shot because I couldn’t let it pass me by, even if it ended in disappointment and failure. I used to always think things happen for a reason and at the perfect time., but 2018 and where I was emotionally and mentally at the beginning of this year had made me begin to doubt that. I see it now, though. This was perfect timing if I’ve ever seen it. How fitting that I was going to quit music in April and this came along right before I was going to walk away from it all. Life is hard and full of struggles, but once in a while things come together in a way that make it all make sense. Take it from me. I would never have thought this is where i’d be today at this time last year. What a difference a year can make.

Nigel Knop