Tom Hess, international music career mentor and guitar player in the 1.5+ million album selling operatic metal band Rhapsody Of Fire discusses what it takes to achieve success as a pro musician.
How is it that many people cannot seem to achieve success as professional musicians, while some people quickly build and develop highly successful music careers? One of the ideas that I continually stress in my articles is how your success as a professional musician is directly related to your ability to build value while minimizing risk (if you are not familiar with this concept, take this music career success building test now before reading this article). Once you have become familiar with this idea, your potential for success in the music industry will increase tenfold. However, to get everything out of your potential, you must do more than simply ‘know’ about this concept.
As a trainer to musicians, the main thing I train people to do is to learn how to become effective at offering maximum value with minimum downsides/risk with every action taken. In my experience I noticed that most musicians easily grasp the idea of lowering their risk in conventional/obvious ways, however many people do not realize that even their ‘positive’ traits and skills can hold elements of severe music industry risk. This lack of awareness makes it much more difficult (if not impossible) to reach lasting success in one’s career as a professional musician.
To end up as one of the few highly successful musicians, you MUST find out how to reduce the inherent weak points that lie on the opposite extreme of your music career strengths. As you read the rest of this article, I will demonstrate how to do this and explain how this analysis will bring you closer to the music career success that you want.
The Introspective Character Of A Professional Musician
In the process of working towards a music career, you have no doubt spent a lot of time to acquire skill sets with intention of using them in your musical projects. At the same time, if you are like most musicians, all your skills were acquired in a random fashion, lacking an underlying plan of how these ‘assets’ will fit together to enable you to build a music career. As a result of this random planning, it is more than likely that your positive pieces of value will also contain contradictory weaknesses that can be interpreted as damaging elements of risk if they remain unchanged. I observe this unfortunate scenario very often in musicians in all areas of the music business, and the most frustrating part is that this frequently happens without them being aware of it.
To accelerate the advancement of your career as a pro musician, learn to get the most from your positive attributes while minimizing the negative/opposing weaknesses that they create in your music career strategy. All musicians with a thriving career do/have done this at one point or another, while those who fail to become successful continue to wonder why some musicians can ‘make it’ in the business and they can’t. The good news is that it is possible for anyone to get on the right track with their approach and I will explain how to get started as you keep reading.
To begin, see the table below that lists (in the left column) several music career assets/strengths that musicians typically have. In the adjacent column, is an illustration of how a seemingly positive attribute can frequently contain elements of risk/weakness that lies beneath the surface. While giving music career training, I come across the issues listed below on a continual basis (among many others) and these are the reasons why a person typically struggles to make it in the music business even though they possess many great skills and accomplishments.
Note: Of course as a general rule, the items you will read about in the left column of the table are good/positive (at least when taken in isolation). However as you will see, when taken in context of your specific goals they also often contain unexpected weaknesses that can hurt you unless you take proper actions to prevent this from happening.
Your Positive Music Career Attributes Vs. Your Opposing Weakness/Vulnerability:
Positive Attribute 1:
You have played in many bands.
This ‘credential’ can very often be perceived as showing a big lack of loyalty and commitment on your end to any one project. Even though your ‘actual’ loyalty and commitment may both be at a high level, you must be careful about controlling the perceptions that are created (in the minds of others) when you mention your past experience in the process of trying to advance your career.
Positive Attribute 2:
You went to college for music.
While having a music degree is good for your musical skills, this credential is meaningless for helping you to sustain a professional music ‘career’. For proof, consider how many musicians graduate with advanced music degrees and struggle to find work and make a living despite their impressive academic achievements. You can often spend your money and time more wisely by receiving actual ‘music business’ coaching from someone who has already reached the success you are after.
Positive Attribute 3:
You are an accomplished musician on many instruments.
While having skills on many instruments is often (but not always) important for being a session musician, if you want to do anything other than work in the studio, in most cases you will be better served by becoming an expert on your chosen (one) instrument. Here you need to determine by yourself what it is you want to be known and perceived as in your music career and act congruently with that vision. Note: I don’t mean to imply that having general knowledge of more than one instrument is ‘bad’, but there CAN be a problem (depending on your goals) with trying to communicate to others that you are trying to make a name for yourself as someone who plays many instruments.
Positive Attribute 4:
You have a high level of work ethic and persistence.
Much too often, the positive qualities of persistence can go to the opposite extreme of making one ‘pigheaded’. This will be likely to keep you moving down the same incorrect path that you have been on for years without realizing it in your music career.
Positive Attribute 5:
You are very accommodating and are able to resolve conflicts to collaborate with others.
Musicians who are generally considerate of others run the risk of having themselves taken advantage of in competitive music business negotiations (that you will often find yourself in while building your career). This may often happen even without you realizing how/why it occurred.
Positive Attribute 6:
You easily come up with new plans and ideas.
Musicians to whom this description applies often have a tendency to begin a number of new and exciting projects, only to let them wither away, unfinished. Over time, this leads to not only extreme frustration and overwhelm but also to a vicious circle of taking actions in your career based largely on emotional impulses rather than rational thought.
Positive Attribute 7:
You are very analytical in your approach to solving problems.
If you have this mindset, it is easy to overanalyze a situation way too much and paralyze yourself into inaction. This can often cause you to miss opportunities due to spending too much of your time ‘planning’ and not enough time ‘implementing’ and taking action.
Positive Attribute 7:
You work well by yourself and get things done without asking others for help.
While self-reliance is an excellent personal attribute, musicians who are not used to working (effectively) with others will have a much harder time getting ahead in the music industry which REQUIRES one to be an experienced team player. Moreover, relying only upon yourself for everything can make it difficult for you to request help at times when your music career can truly benefit from it.
Positive Attribute 8:
You are a highly advanced musician on your instrument.
Many musicians are completely out of balance with the amount of time they spend developing their musical skills and the time invested into building their music career. While having high level skills on your instrument is definitely a requirement, advanced musical skills by themselves will not give you the successful music career that you want.
Positive Attribute 9:
You know and can play multiple genres of music.
Unless you desire to become a studio musician (only), it is often better to be a specialist in a single style rather than spread yourself too thin and attempt to only be ‘good’ in many unrelated styles. As always, the steps you take to develop as a musician should be strategically aligned with your big picture career vision.
After having seen how and why your music career assets can also become your weaknesses, there are a few things you need to do right now to maximize your chances for success for doing music as a career.
1. Understand that not all elements of music career value are ‘positive’ when taking into account YOUR long term music business goals. Certain elements that may at first seem overwhelmingly positive can very often do more harm than good (as you have seen in the above analysis).
2. Make it a high priority to get the clearest understanding of your current risks and values in your music career. To get help with this, fill out this quick music career success building test.
3. Organize a music business plan detailing the goals you want to reach. In the process, list the assets (elements of musical value for the industry) that you will need to acquire and also make a plan for how you will minimize their opposing negative side effects. To get help with doing this, you should work with a proven music career coach who can guide you effectively through this process. Additionally, through music career training you will often discover new and powerful ways to make yourself more valuable in the music business that you have not considered before.
4. Keep in mind that compiling a comprehensive plan for reaching your music career goals demands having a clear image of what you want to achieve and supplementing that vision through ongoing training. Fact is that the majority of musicians are not hard-wired for thinking in this way. They, as most creative business minds, tend to act on impulse and intuition. Although it can be helpful to rely on your gut feeling occasionally, doing ‘only’ this will make your music career results unpredictable and random.
Last but not least, remember that in your quest to build new pieces of value for advancing your music career, your actions will be of limited use until you complete the self-analysis of your strong and weak areas in the way I explained here. After learning how to get the most from your current potential, your progress towards a successful music career will become greatly enhanced.
To help you learn more about your current potential to build a successful music career, fill out this free music career success building test.