For small town musicians, it can sometimes be difficult to know where to go when you want to make a living doing what you love.
Shane Marler of Peabody has been playing professionally for 23 years. Over that time, he has developed some insights into what it takes to make music performance an integral part of one’s life.
The first bit of advice Marler has is simple: Practice.
“There’s no shortcut,” Marler said. “All you do is practice, practice, practice.”
Marler picked up a guitar when he was 16 years old growing up in Winfield, and would not stop.
“That’s all I did in high school. I didn’t go to parties,” Marler said. “I would get up in the morning and play guitar until I went to school, and then when I got home I would play guitar until I went to bed. I did that every day.”
Playing guitar non-stop for two years paid off.
“By the time I was a senior, I went to a party and took my guitar,” Marler said. “It was like this magic key that opened up friendships to everybody.”
After high school, Marler performed with a regionally successful band called Ophil and toured with them from 1996 to 2004, playing gigs alongside acts such as Less Than Jake, The Offspring, and Mighty Mighty Boss Tones.
However, touring life became tiresome. In 1997, Marler performed 250 times.
“That’s too much,” Marler said. “I need more of a break than that. While the towns are different and hotels are different, it’s kind of all the same after a while.”
Marler decided to stick with performing closer to home, while working as marketing director at Peabody Health and Rehab.
His second piece of advice was to go out and find players or songwriters who are better than you are and get to know them.
“If it’s a player, have them kick your butt,” Marler said. “I love getting my butt kicked in a jam. It’s how you get better because it makes you raise your level and makes you realize how much you need to work. Everybody is born with a different amount of talent and some of us have to work harder than others.”
After stopping touring as much as he had been, Marler went to find fellow musicians to play with locally, looking to Wichita where he already knew some people.
“Now I just basically play in Wichita,” Marler said. “I make more money and I’m home in my own bed, which is nice.”
In Wichita, Marler has played with the band The Mischief Makers for four years, and is raising money through an online fundraising website for his third studio solo album.
His first studio solo album that came out in 2010 was a gypsy music album, and his second album was his first with lyrics he had written.
“It was kind of a new thing for me,” Marler said. “It was very scary.”
Marler’s process for creating an album includes laying down “scratch guitar tracks” for musicians he brings in to record their parts along with.
After he has the bass, drums, and other instruments recorded, Marler goes in and redoes the entire guitar track, while also doing vocals and harmonies.
“It’s like baking a cake with lots and lots of ingredients,” Marler said. “As long as you can keep it all straight in your head, you’re okay.”
Marler is doing all of this while not being able to read music.
“I wish I knew how to read music,” Marler said, “but I’m at the point now where it’s more frustrating to learn than to just play.”
Marler did not feel the need to learn how to read music since he could listen to a piece and strum it out shortly after.
“If I wanted to learn a song on the radio, I would sit down with a guitar and in a couple minutes, I’d learn how to play it,” Marler said. “So that’s a blessing I was born with.”
Stick with it, his third piece of advice, is exactly what he did over the years, and has found where he wanted to take his musical talents.
“It’s not the destination,” Marler said. “You’re never done. There’s not a musician who ever went, ‘Well, I did it. I mastered my instrument,’ and just stopped.”
Though it’s not about the destination, Marler has taken his talents across the nation, and has even played music at a couple festivals overseas.
One was in Isle of Wight near the U.K., and another was at a gypsy music festival in France, where he had an encounter with a German gypsy who didn’t speak English.
“For an hour we played with each other and smiled and had a blast,” Marler said. “We never spoke one word to each other. It’s awesome to experience that.”
Though his talents have taken him across the globe, Marler said music is more about the inner journey.
“There’s endless possibilities and those possibilities are based on you and who you are,” Marler said. “To me, it’s the purest form of expression because when you play, especially if you improvise, there’s no two moments that are the same. Some of those moments may go badly and that’s okay.”
Marler also said being okay with wrong notes is a huge step.
“The only way you learn to play all the right notes is by playing the wrong things first,” Marler said. “You have to be willing to put yourself out there and make mistakes. That’s part of learning.”
His last piece of advice? Enjoy it.
“No matter what anyone says,” Marler said, “it is the universal language. Period.”