Anybody who's had the good fortune to read Bill Bruford's autobiography has discovered what to me, at least, is a shocking fact: you can be a legendary player and still get that question, followed by confusion or disbelief at the answer. He offers these as a couple of his favorite follow-up questions: "Yes, but what do you really do?"; "But what do you do during the day?" This is reassuring to the rest of us, if we choose to see the glass as half-full; you can have really made it and still encounter this. It can be equally disheartening if we haven't had enough sleep, are of a generally downcast state of mind, are cynical to the point of disfunction and low-grade insanity, etc. I myself have had this conversation more times than I care to remember, always coming away from the encounter in a worse headspace.
"So, what do you do?"
I used to attempt to have fun with this otherwise grotesque business of having to explain myself. "What do you do?" "Oh", I'd say cheerfully, "I'm a professional dilletante". Sometimes people would be quiet, not wanting to let on that they didn't know what a dilletante was. Sometimes there'd be a nervous laugh as they wondered what other meaning or slang there was for the term. Male escort? Euphemism for a fancy caterer or some kind of semi-legal courier? Was it anything like a liason? "Oh....eh....uh...do you enjoy it?" "Oh yes, it's fun."
But eventually the truth would come out.
"I'm a musician."
"Oh, what do you play?"
OK, everybody who knows me knows we've just arrived at problem #1. If I start listing instruments, I come off like a braggart, which I can do without. I eventually came up with something that usually only leads to one more explanatory question in response. At least to that one question, then there's more. Like this:
(what do you play)
"Anything I can get my hands on."
"Oh, (chuckle chuckle, confused grin, was that a double-entendre, etc.), "So like, drums, guitar, sax...?"
"Yeah, mostly drums and guitar, but whatever else is necessary."
"So... do you do sessions, play clubs, are you in a band...?"
At the sound of the tone, turn the page to arrive at problem #2! DING!
Here we are at an answer requiring a history, the upshot of which will be a general all-purpose "No". Yes to all of them at one time, especially the latter two. No to all of them now.
"I make my own music and sell the CDs on the internet." Thank Jah for the internet, that catch-all of confusion where anything is probable, if not actually possible.
"Oh, so you play all the instruments?"
"So you actually make enough to make a living?"
Ugh. This one used to trip me up, but finally I learned to say, with little smile, "I get by".
If anyone has maintained interest to this point, the next logical question they'll ask is: "So what kind of music do you play?"
Double ugh. Again, anyone who knows me knows that's not an easy question to answer. Unless the questioner is unusually well-versed in musical genres, my answer will leave yet another individual trout-faced and attempting to maintain. "Well, it's sort of like a cross between progressive rock, hard rock, jazz and world music, but with a lot of classical avante-garde influence, and electronic stuff, like musique concrete." Even well-versed people will be wondering what the hell that particular blend could possibly sound like. Lately I've had the thought that I should just make up some terms, and if they don't satisfy, make up some more, and just keep going until the inquirer gives up.
"Well, it's kind of a blend of Harminozetshky and Portamentico."
"I, uh...I don't think I know those. What, uh, what bands?"
"Well, it's kind of like a cross between Harold Clam and old Hairpie Mayonnaise."
"Old Hairpie Mayonnaise, before they got too commercial. Like, the first four albums."
"Oh...uh...No, sorry, don't know 'em."
That's if your questioner is honest and actually interested, otherwise you may get "Oh wow, that's great. Listen, I see some pork rinds over there, would you excuse me?"