Tom Hess, mentor to professional musicians and guitarist for 1.5+ million record selling band Rhapsody Of Fire gives his insights on how to become a successful musician.
How come some musicians seem to have great success in their music careers, while others never achieve anything significant? If you have read my other articles about music career success, you already understand that the most important aspect of working in the music business is building up your value while reducing the risk you pose to others. If you are not yet familiar with this idea, quickly fill out this pro musician assessment to get caught up to date with the current music industry. Once you have done this, continue reading the rest of this article. Although this may seem like a simple idea, there is a great deal that goes into this and understanding this concept is vital to your music career success. That said, simply having the knowledge of this idea will not (on its own) bring you the results you want out in your music career.
When mentoring musicians to become successful in the music business, the above concept is one of the core elements of music career success that I train them to possess. I found that musicians have no trouble comprehending the need to reduce their music industry risks in traditional, self-evident ways. At the same time, most people do not see how even their ‘assets’ (positive things they bring to the table as musicians) also contain elements of risk for the music industry. 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 Psychological Makeup Of A Music Business Pro
In the process of working towards a music career, you have no doubt spent a lot of time to acquire skillsets with intention of using them in your musical projects. These can be described as your ‘music industry assets’. However, like most people and musicians, you likely developed these assets without a strategic understanding of how each element will lead you to your ultimate long term goal (this is typical of musicians who come to me without any prior music career training). This makes it even more likely that the musical skills and the music business experience you acquired all contain contrasting weaknesses that can in many cases overpower your positive sides if you let them go unnoticed. 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 process of expanding your music career, it is necessary to find out how to exploit fully the positive elements you already possess, while at the same time working to reduce the conflicting risks that each of them carries for your music career. Every successful professional musician has done this in the process of reaching their goals, while the majority of wannabe pros go through life wondering why what they are doing to build a music career isn’t working.
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 coaching musicians to develop a career in music, I see the problems listed below VERY frequently (among many others) and these are the reasons why a typical person has a hard time making it in the music industry even while possessing many impressive 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
|Your Opposing Weakness/Vulnerability
|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.
|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.
|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.
|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.
|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.
|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.
|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.
|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.
|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.
|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.
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 things that may at first glance seem very important and necessary may very well diminish your overall music career potential (as you have seen in the examples in the above list).
2. You must assess your current profile of strong and weak elements for your music career. Determine this by taking this pro musician assessment.
3. Design a plan for organizing the actions you plan to take to grow your music career. This means to write out the music career value assets you must develop to reach your specific goals and also think about how you will seek to eliminate the conflicting weaknesses that come along with them. You will have a much easier time doing this step of the process if you work with a proven music career trainer who has already coached musicians just like you to reach success in the music business.
4. Get used to the fact that music career success depends on having a laser-like focus on your goals, as well as ongoing training. Most musicians (similar to entrepreneurs) lack the perseverance needed to plan their career in a strategic way and instead rely on instincts and intuition alone. Although it can be helpful to rely on your gut feeling occasionally, doing ‘only’ this will make your music career results unpredictable and random.
Additionally, realize that all things that you do to grow your music career will have limited effect on your progress until you get clarity on elements of your psychological profile of strengths and weaknesses as described in this article. The good news is that after discovering the best ways to mine the maximum results out of yourself, you will find yourself moving much faster towards your goals as a professional musician.
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About The Author:
Tom Hess is a successful professional guitar player, composer and the guitarist of the band Rhapsody Of Fire. He also trains musicians to reach their guitar playing goals in his rock guitar lessons online. Visit his website, tomhess.net to read more articles about guitar playing, get free guitar tips and guitar playing resources.