Posted: Dec 16, 2019
Category: The Musician Business
**Guest post written by Scott Aumann, originally featured on The Legit Musician blog.
"Are you trying to be a successful musician? You have probably been told to grow up and get a real job. You probably have felt like it isn’t worth pursuing at some time. Don’t give up! Most successful musicians are the ones who didn’t listen to “common sense” or the advice of their family and friends. They had a goal and did what they needed to do in order to achieve it. Lots of talented people give up too soon. We have lost great art due to this fact. Just think if your favorite singer or band gave up and got “a real job.” Nothing comes easy and it usually takes many years to get to a point where you become successful. Remember, persistence wins the game.
Fleetwood Mac didn’t have a number one album until their tenth album. Charles Bradley didn’t have an album until he was 63 years old. AC/DC didn’t have a #1 album until their ninth. Back in Black was NOT a #1 album even though it is probably a fan favorite. Grammy winner, Bill Withers, didn’t release any music until he was 34. He worked for years as an assembler after he left the Navy before releasing his famous “Ain’t No Sunshine” song. Queen spent years honing their craft and didn’t have a hit until their third album. Lady Gaga performed for years in local clubs and was dropped by a label before she became one of the biggest musicians in the world.
The moral of the story is, there is no such thing of an “overnight success.” Most of these artists have one thing in common. They all spent years doing what they loved and never gave up. They all had passion and believed enough in themselves to continue. If you aren’t a success now doesn’t mean you won’t be tomorrow.
You might have been told that you weren’t good enough to be a successful musician. Well, you are in good company. Sheryl Crow was a background singer for many years and told she wasn’t good enough to be a lead singer. She was 31 before she released her debut album. Led Zeppelin got’s its name from friends who thought the idea of their band would “go over like a lead balloon.” Critics never really liked them as well. Green Day got their name from a former teacher who told them “it would be a green day in hell” before they made it as musicians.
Take criticism with a gain of salt. It is good to hear constructive criticism of your work. Sometimes, we are so close to our art that we can’t see, or hear in our case, it for what it really is. We need to be able to accept that we aren’t perfect and should strive to be better every time we release music. Don’t beat yourself up over a song that isn’t perfect. Some critics hate everything that I like. The real critic of your art should be yourself! If you love it then that should be the real seal of approval.
Sticking around gives you an advantage because of your connections over time. You will notice that talent only takes your so far in life. It is important, but having connections really pays off. You have probably noticed some bands that you thought were not that good playing shows better than what you get. This is all about connections. Don’t get jealous. Get to know that band instead, and you might something from them. Check out my previous post about this subject.
Repetition also makes your “brand” more recognizable to people. When people see your name listed in the local music listings over and over then they will start to wonder “who is this?” Being persistent means that you put yourself in front of people over and over until they remember you. I know a lot of bands who finally got booked at certain venues because they didn’t stop asking when the booking agent said no the first time. They kept asking until the booking agent said yes.
Repetition is also the best way to improve your skills. Malcolm Gladwell wrote about this in his book Outliers: The Story of Success. He came up with his 10,000 hours to master a skill. Think about spending 10,000 hours doing one thing. How amazing would you be at that one thing after spending that amount of time doing it? I’m not saying you will be rich and famous after 10,000 hours, but dedicating time to improving your skills will help you in your journey.
Hold fast to your goal of becoming a successful musician, but don’t be afraid to change your path in order to obtain that goal. You will find that certain paths in your journey will be dead ends. To try to keep moving down a dead end path is futile. Instead, try a different path that leads to a better outcome. Don’t get me wrong, you sometimes need to hit some walls in order to learn what doesn’t work. Once you know what doesn’t work, you are that much closer to knowing what does work. Keep getting smarter in your decisions and you’ll find your career takes leaps forward.
You might find a new path that doesn’t look anything like the path you thought was the right one. Some musicians find success in other music careers such as sync licensing. Some musicians, like Butch Vig, find that they are great producers. This is still a career in the music industry and allows you to express yourself as an artist.
What does success mean to you? Is it a number one hit? Does it mean that you are rich and famous? Does it mean that you can pay the bills with your music? Each person has to decide what it means to them to be successful in music. How will you know that you obtained your goal if you don’t have a clearly defined one? Your homework is to figure out what you really want. Write it down. You can put it on a vision board to help keep you motivated. Once you get to the point where you reached your goal, you can pick a new goal.
Being a success is never easy. Being successful is never really overnight. Being a success takes lots of hard work and planning. Map out your journey and takes the steps needed to take you on that journey. Don’t worry if your path diverts as long as it leads to your overall goal. Lastly, be persistent and focused to make your journey to success more deliberate. Nobody fails background into a successful music career. It takes years of doing the things needed to propel them forward towards their goals. Hang in there and you’ll see things falling into place."
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