Destined for Greatness: Professor Studies Adulthood, Passion in Indie Rock Band Members

CORPUS CHRISTI, Texas – Think about a far-fetched career dream. When was it first imagined? Who follows their passion and why? Who doesn’t give up? These very questions are what Dr. Michael Ramirez, Associate Professor of Sociology at Texas A&M University-Corpus Christi, explores in his recently published book, “Destined for Greatness: Passions, Dreams, and Aspirations in a College Music Town.” Based on 13 years of study, “Destined for Greatness” chronicles the experiences of 48 different musicians in Athens, Georgia, a college music town near Atlanta known for indie rock bands, as they navigate the conflict between traditional adulthood and modern musical passion.

For the purpose of this study, “musician” is defined by meeting four of the following parameters: being a member of a band for at least nine months, rehearsing regularly, performing publicly at least once every two months, having toured at least once, and having at least one album recorded or released. The musicians interviewed were oftentimes working day jobs to support themselves while playing and practicing with their bands at night.

Through interviews with each of the study participants, Ramirez found that many weren’t traversing a conventional pathway to adulthood. Instead, while they met some of the standards for adulthood, such as living independently, paying their own bills, and having degrees in lucrative fields like business and science, many didn’t “feel” like adults. But, despite their sometimes challenging economic statuses, Ramirez still found that most of the musicians in his study wouldn’t want their lives any other way – there was something special in their journey. 

“The larger story here is that these musicians’ choices – their opting to pursue their art and music that they love – are going to shape more than just their economic futures and their claims to adulthood. Their drive to pursue music points them to discover who they are and what they value,” said Ramirez. “Those lessons can’t be learned in a classroom, and a number of people unfortunately live their entire lives without having the opportunity to figure out what satisfies them most. How lucky these musicians are to have found that in their lives – though it’s not without its costs.”

In his qualitative study, Ramirez asked participants open-ended questions that gave them the freedom to tell their story. One musician shared his experience traveling the country – something he likely would never had done if he wasn’t in an indie band.

“[Mainstream bands] don’t stay at people’s houses. They don’t break bread with them, eat meals with them, sleep on their couches, and have to deal with their dog,” said the musician. “If you want to see the country, if you want to know the difference between jambalaya in New Orleans and Thai food in San Francisco, or what it’s like to swim in the beaches in Northern California versus the Kill Devil Hills on the East Coast, join a band. You’ll travel more, you’ll see more, you’ll experience more. It was the best experience.”

The participant also spoke of the different people he met during his time as a band member, many of whom he’ll never forget.

“You make these fantastic friendships [with people all over the country],” he said. “It’s almost embarrassing how lucky you are to know so many people who live for music and love art and nurture that part of their lives. You just end up with this tribe of poets and artists and madmen that you are connected with. Those friendships, that’s worth the price right there.”

While the group interviewed may be a relatively small population of indie musicians, Ramirez believes the results are applicable to young people at large.

“There’s this pressure to choose the right career and make sure you can be successful, but parents don’t realize that the world their children live in doesn’t have the same options available now as it did when they were growing up,” said Ramirez. “The concept of adulthood is undergoing a generational shift. What we’re seeing in the lives of young people today is that what they want to do and what they’re passionate about comes with risk.”

Ramirez doesn’t just see “Destined for Greatness” as merely a book; it is also a new teaching tool. He has made use of the text in past sociology classes and plans to assign the book again in his summer courses. Due to its themes of gender, aging, and work, he believes his book offers unique insight into the connections between theory and the real world. He also looks forward to sharing his experience as a researcher with up-and-coming scholars.

“When students read any academic piece, whether it’s a book or journal article, they’re reading the completed project and they’re often not seeing all the work that went into it,” said Ramirez. “I’m using my book as an opportunity to train them on how to conduct a study while introducing them to some of the hurdles they might meet in their own future research.”

Thanks to his study, Ramirez has one final piece of advice for his students: Following your passion is among the bravest acts you can undertake.

“Dreams and lifelong goals, when they aren’t aligned with standardized jobs and workplaces, are often laughed off or discouraged,” he said. “Be vigilant, be stubborn, but also find a way to adopt skills you learn as you follow your passion that are transferable to other workplaces. More and more, careers today are forged by having diverse skillsets that can be applied to different settings. There’s no magic formula but learning to be adaptable can certainly open up options for successful and satisfying careers.”