I first picked up a guitar and took a couple of lessons when I was 12. I didn’t do it again until I was 17 and then I switched to bass. Somewhere between 1987 and now, I also switched to being behind the scenes instead of on stage. It was from this new vantage point that I think I have learned the most about life and life in music.
The music industry is fascinating. It is an absolute mash-up of myths and cold, hard realities. It is an everyday struggle for fans, musicians, journalists and all the other players to actually tell the difference.
You want a definitive example of this? Digital downloads. This was going to be long tail Nirvana… everyone could find their audience, make a living and keep music alive and well. Instead, the flipside has been true. Major labels retained their power, small bands are drowning in the swamps of competitions and very few people are making money.
It’s a very telling demonstration of how methods are often as good as the conditions they thrive in. What worked for artists in the 80’s will not work now. As for what does work now, well it seems mainly to be money. Money and a good dose of old fashioned hard work with a liberal basting of luck.
None the less, there are some very definite things that all top music stars seem to have in common. Things that many aspiring music stars choose to ignore.
* They all work very hard
* They are all very business savvy, or they employ someone who is
* They work to extend or expand their skills set
* They don’t have a plan B
What’s all the more astounding about these 4 points apart from them being ignored by 99% of aspiring musicians, is that they are exactly the same 4 points that will take you a long way down the road to success in ANY career.
The myths of music, it seems, are so deeply embedded that most people prefer to believe that, somehow, someone very important will discover them, exactly where they are, doing exactly what they are doing now, and make them a star. I am not sure if it is how deluded this is that annoys me so much, or how passive it is.
These are very often the self-same people who say they do not believe in magic or coincidence. But magic is what it will take for them to have a career in music. And again, substitute the word music for any other career you can think of and you will find a large body of people essentially believing in magic as their primary career advancement tool.
I know now why I did not succeed as a musician: I didn’t practice enough. I didn’t learn enough, I didn’t play enough. I put in my two band practices a week and I believed in the dream. I certainly didn’t put in the work I have subsequently seen really successful artists put in. I started playing guitar in 1987. That means, by next year, I have theoretically been playing the instrument for 30 years. I don’t really want to think about how technically good I could be now if I just played for 1 hour, Monday to Friday, every week for those 30 years.
But I didn’t want to. It seemed like too much hard work, so I did something else. And that is my sole defence: I went on to do something else. I didn’t keep on believing and hoping while doing nothing new.
Sometimes it’s really important to remember that focusing on what you want and acting on it is the best recipe for success. Get practiced, get better, get connected. No other recipes for success work unless you do.