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Why Some Musicians Make It In The Music Business And Others Don’t

Tom HessIt’s a fact that out of thousands of musicians each year, only a handful succeeds at realizing their dreams of making it in the music business. Why do so many musicians fail to make it in music? It’s not because they lack musical skills. Actually, it’s almost always because they have made many assumptions about how the music industry works (that aren’t really true) and the actions that they took abased on those assumptions ensured their failure. I discussed this topic in a previous article I wrote about becoming a pro musician.

With this in mind, highly successful musicians do not rely on these same assumptions. Instead, they work on developing specific personality traits and other valuable skills that are proven to generate long-lasting, successful music careers. Fortunately, these things are not ‘trade secrets’, unavailable to the public. Anyone can learn them and use them to advance their music careers (this includes you). In this article, I will discuss these qualities and help you use them to begin growing a successful music career for yourself.

Get ready to be surprised, because the qualities I will be mentioning will not have anything to do with your musical skills. The reason for this is because it is ‘understood’ in the music industry that you must develop ‘pro’ level musical skills (by working with a great teacher) at the same time as you work on your career. Having great musical skills is really only a small piece of the puzzle for music career success. In fact, there are countless people who are great ‘musicians’, but never go anywhere in their music careers.

Most of the qualities I will be discussing have to do with the way you ‘think’ rather than the specific actions you take. It is rare to find someone who has the right mindset that contains all of these qualities. However, you can get ‘trained’ to develop a success oriented mindset and thus massively increase your chances for making it in the music industry.

Here are the most important qualities to develop for yourself in order to build a highly successful music career:

The Right Work Ethic Mentality

Of course it is obvious that you will need to work hard to build a successful music career. However, most musicians do not understand what ‘kind’ of working mentality is required to truly ‘make it’. The type of dedication needed requires more than just working a lot on your career. It requires:

1. Fully understanding the correct actions to take to move your music career in the right direction towards your goals. Simply working a lot of hours every day will not help you unless it is moving you closer to your goals.

2. Doing things the correct way (while wasting as little time as possible). It’s common for musicians to be ‘busy’. However, despite being busy, most musicians never really accomplish anything of great importance.

3. Being aware of how everything you do factors into the growth of your music career in the long term.

4. Having the patience and commitment to do all the hard work ‘up front’, long before you get a payoff of any kind. A common example of this would be recording a full length album in the studio before actually making any profit from it.

To develop the right work ethic mindset, work to clearly understand your long term music career goals and find a mentor who will help you determine the steps you must take to reach them.


As with any other industry, it is very difficult to become successful on your own in the music business. All music companies, band mates, managers and other musicians you associate with will be your ‘business partners’ in every project you pursue in the music industry. By working together, these people will be investing their personal resources into you and will expect you to maintain loyalty to them (just as you will expect the same of them). Disloyalty is punished harshly in the music industry as those who are disloyal are usually banned from future projects and career opportunities. Many musicians take this concept for granted and forget about maintaining mutually beneficial business relationships with their partners as soon as come across a better opportunity to advance their own music career further.

Certainly there are many different concepts of what it means to maintain loyalty to someone. In this case, loyalty describes not taking advantage of an opportunity to ‘get ahead’ while simultaneously creating conflict with those who you are working with. At the same time (of course), you cannot let others take advantage of you and bring you down for the sake of ‘loyalty’ itself. You must learn how to become perceptive in this area in order to truly achieve high success in your music career.

To get a better idea of what music companies are looking for in musicians, fill out this short music industry assessment.

The Ability To Create Value Outside Of Skills Related To Playing An Instrument

No matter if you are working as an independent musician or together with a music company, you will greatly benefit by knowing how to negotiate, book shows, build a following of fans, put together a tour, communicate effectively, think of profitable business ideas and much more.

Certainly you do not need to be the ‘best’ at all of these things (you should find others who are strong in the areas that you are weak in) and it isn’t always good to attempt to do everything on your own. That said, when you can do these things yourself, you become capable of adding a lot of value to any situation. This gives you the ability to:

1. Stand out as the ‘obvious choice’ for bands who are seeking new members

2. Determine different ways to earn a living in the music business

3. Reduce the amount of money you need to spend on hiring others to do the tasks you can’t do

4. Earn a lot more money because you have more value to offer to others

5. Transform any project you are working on into a success

The idea to take away from this is that the most successful musicians do a lot more than just play their instruments. This is why they are able to quickly climb the ranks and make good money by working together with others.

A Win/Win Thinking Mentality

It is common for most musicians to get into the music industry and only look out for their own best interests. There is nothing wrong with getting your own needs met (of course). However, there is a big difference between getting your needs met and doing so at the expense of others. To be highly successful in the music industry (or in general), you must develop the ability to find solutions that benefit everyone involved in any particular interaction. This approach can be applied to almost all interactions by simply taking the time to think things through from the perspective of all involved. This kind of mindset involves thinking in an entirely different manner than how most people think. This style of thinking is very rare and highly valued in the music industry. It is for this reason that I spend tons of time training musicians in my music career program to think this way.

Freedom To Pursue Music Industry Opportunities

It’s a lot a less difficult to pursue any music industry related opportunities when you are free to do so. Gaining this freedom while putting together a music career is part of becoming a successful musician. To learn how you can do this, read this article about how to start a career in music.

Being Able To Work Well In Situations Of High Stress

In the music business you will need to do things like tour, complete recording sessions and work on several projects at once – while at the same time working together with musicians who all have different personalities, desires and ways of thinking than you. This will create a lot of stress, but is an inevitable and unavoidable aspect of working as a professional musician. Being able to move a project forward without becoming overwhelmed by everyday causes of stress is something most musicians struggle with.

Highly successful musicians have the ability to press forward through situations of stress and excel, while others (who think they are skilled in this area) are surprised when they find themselves crumbling under pressure. In my music career mentoring program, I help musicians prepare mentally for situations of high stress. This helps most musicians avoid very negative consequences that could hurt their music career.

The Ability To Always Think About ‘The Big Picture’

The music business is full of great opportunities as well as obstacles, difficulties and challenges depending on the specific road you take. Regardless of what you do in your music career, you will always have limited resources to work with. To make matters more difficult, you will frequently need to do all your work in advance before you ever reach your ultimate goal.

Unless you are totally clear about where you want to end up in the music business, you will probably be pulled in all different directions that will either take you down a wrong path or drain you of all your energy so that you have no time to work towards anything you really want in your music career.

The musicians who become successful in the music business are always focusing to align their actions up with the end goals they desire most. This gives them the ability to judge what is best for their music career and make the right choice whenever a potential opportunity comes their way. By doing this, they are able to achieve their goals quickly and effectively.

Now that you have read about the crucial qualities needed for success in the music business, here are 4 things you should do to start building a successful long term music career:

1. Become clear about the things that will lower your chances of making it in the music business by studying the information in this article about becoming a pro musician.

2. Find out how ‘ready’ you are for success in the music industry by filling out this music industry assessment.

3. Using the results from step 2 above, put together a plan for how you will improve your weaknesses and make progress in your music career.

4. Get trained by a mentor who has already achieved the things you want to do in the music industry to reach your music career goals faster.


About The Author:
Tom Hess is a touring guitarist, composer and a mentor to musicians. Tom also trains musicians internationally on how to get into the music industry. Visit to get free music business tips and music career resources.

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