A few weeks ago, I noticed one of my musician friends was really bummed out. I didn’t know why, he just seemed particularly blue one evening.
We were at a local bar, and I was wondering what could be wrong with him. Naturally, I thought he was suffering from a “beverage-deficiency” (high school kids lurking around these pages: no such deficiency exists for you until you’re 21). So I pulled out my wallet and ordered what I believed would be my very best surefire remedy.
Turned out he was still super bummed after that. Slightly offended my offering didn’t work, I finally asked him what was going on.
He relayed to me that the teacher he was working with at school just wasn’t working out for him.
He said “I really felt this teacher would be able to take me to that next level. His students often get ‘hooked up’ with good things. It just hasn’t happened for me yet.”
He admired his teacher tremendously, no question. And my friend is an exceptionally talented musician, you better believe it.
And so we have found the true core of the problem.
It’s hard to iterate this one problem to talented and accomplished musicians like my friend, especially without sounding like “hey I’m a blogger on the subject so you should totally listen to me, ey?”
But essentially, here it is: only YOU can take you to the next level. Whether you want to be a music performer, composer, producer, conductor, director, arranger, agent, manager, salesman, representative, publisher, church chorister, etc., there is only one person who has the power to take you there.
Always, always, and always – no exceptions.
Don’t get me wrong, teachers are incredible resources. Don’t ever disrespect your teacher. They can show you cool techniques, share with you their years of distinguished experience, and improve you as a musician. Teaching is a wonderful and critical vocation I would never disparage.
But when the going gets tough, the tough need to get going. And if you want to be “the great musician of all time,” or at the very least a successful musician, you need to have some toughness and grit in you.
There is a temptation to believe that by doing things “the right way” you will naturally succeed. And it is true that there is a good semi-standard, semi-common sense model of doing things the right way in college music programs – practice, do your homework, respect your teacher, etc.
But in reality, unless you’re the 1% of musicians who end up finding stable, high-income employment from ensemble performance, chances are you’re going to have to find a unique path of what works “the right way” for you specifically.
This isn’t going to come from your teacher. Your teacher surely knows one way to succeed – the way that worked for his or her career. Your teacher may know what worked for some of his or her previous students.
The truth is, only you can find out what is best for your music career.
So at this point, we’re talking much more about effort & endeavor than anything else.
If you put some thought into and create an action plan for your musical efforts, you will likely find tremendous reward in either success or learned failure.
If you decidedly place “resolute” in front of this “action plan” of an endeavor, you’re damn near unstoppable.
Maybe your friends will balk, your teacher will question, and your parents will have concern…
Keep in mind, most emotional reaction of any kind when pertaining to the arts (in the absence of doing harm) is usually a positive indication of moving forward. How many times has a controversial or just simply unique musician made a career for himself or herself!
So why aren’t more individualized, unique approaches more commonly advocated?
The pain of fearing musical failure is tremendously worse than the feeling of actual failure
So what happens if you actually fail in a personalized quest? Your friends will talk about you and what you did with some hesitancy and questioning, your parents might express concern for you, your teacher may feel disappointed, and you will feel a slight bit of pain in the retrospection of your work.
I know the feeling of actual failure because I have felt it.
A few years ago I lived in New York City and had a group called Symphony Z (Z standing for my last name, Zuckerman). We played shows at Merkin Concert Hall, Make Music New York, Bowery Poetry Club, etc. We headlined a major music festival, were deemed a “Critic’s Pick” regularly in Time Out New York, and I was sure as hell convinced that I was succeeding.
I was at the time, certainly, but I ended up having to leave New York because of health issues. Although I am fully recovered now, the pain of leaving my group and my music career in New York assuredly felt like a failure to me.
I can remember some friends talked behind my back, and that some others were disappointed, and some other people just didn’t get what happened…
But in all honesty, dealing with the critics is significantly less painful than dealing with the conjurings of an imagination. Failure in retrospect isn’t so difficult after a couple of days, because you will naturally be working toward your next goal or task and your mind will no longer be focused on the previous failure.
Failure in a conjuring foresight, however, is painful, as it can last forever.
I took the experience of my failure and have channeled it into a new kind of career. You can thank my former health issues and leaving New York for the very website business you are reading.
The real truth is, your teacher can give you an excellent education. But education is useless without your personal effort and action plan to move forward. Every resolute action plan is destined for success or failure, but even a failure can result in tremendous gain and motive to move forward. So in a sense, failure isn’t really all that painful.
Someone very, very, very successful that I admire tremendously once said to me “I fail every single day.”
Didn’t Michael Jordan tell all of us that the reason he is great is because he failed more than all of us have?
My Challenge To You
The night at the bar with my friend, he and I talked over his feelings, and what he could do to get on with his life. It was essentially along the lines of this below:
1. ||: Stop overly-caring about what your teacher thinks about you, or your friends, or anyone. Listen to the good suggestions they say, but you are your own master.
2. Get off your ass and out of your bedroom – action doesn’t happen in the bedroom (you know what I mean!).
3. Truly examine the careers of a wide range of musicians you admire. Review their history, how they got to where they are, how they make their money, how they promote themselves.
4. With this knowledge of studying people you would like to emulate on some level, create an actual resolute action plan for yourself.
5.Commit to the action plan.
6. Measure the success of your plan, and keep working with & revising it to get it right.
7. :|| (that means repeat)
It’s simple, but hard because of our natural fear of failure. The only cure for overcoming this feeling is consistent effort & endeavor.
Now I Think You’re Ready to Win
Whether your teacher, mentor, business coach, etc. thinks you are the Second Coming or just another one of his students, you have so much power to determine your fate.
People listen to music now more than ever, and thanks to the internet, an audience for every major genre literally grows every single day. Someone wants to hear your music. I guarantee it.
Keep me in the loop on your progress with the comments below.