By Tom Hess
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 List Of Music Career Values And Assets||Your Assets’ Matching Element Of Risk|
|You are very friendly and considerate of others.||Musicians who go out of their way to be too accommodating often get taken advantage of when negotiating contracts and business deals (that happen all the time in the music industry).|
|You have played, performed and toured with many different bands.||This seemingly positive thing can often be misinterpreted (by other people) to mean that you lack loyalty or dedication to a single project (particularly as you seek to enter a new, more successful band). Ironically, your true amount of commitment and loyalty may be in fact very high, but the credential of having played in many bands can often be perceived in the opposite way from what you intend.|
|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 a musician who plays multiple different styles of music.||Unless you want to make a living mainly as a songwriter for hire, it will be better for you to establish your musical reputation as a specialist in a single genre of music. Most bands and record companies prefer to work with someone who is an expert in the specific music they do. Think hard about where you want to see yourself in the music industry and take actions appropriately.|
|You are a jack of all trades player 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 are good at thinking things through.||People who are too analytical in everything they do have a tendency to get stuck for too long in ‘planning’ and spend too little time actually ‘doing’ the things that will move them forward in their music careers. Although it is good to analyze issues from all angles, it is important to keep this quality balanced with the ability to take consistent action on a regular basis.|
|You very self-reliant and dependable.||As valuable as it is to be resourceful and independent, musicians who spend too much time working by themselves often have a hard time working on team-oriented projects. This can be very damaging for your music career, because being a professional musician will require you to collaborate with MANY different people on a variety of projects. Moreover, no matter how skilled you are, you simply cannot do everything you must do in your career ‘by yourself’. To succeed in the music business you must learn to love teamwork.|
|You have a high level of work ethic and persistence.||All too often, people with the best work ethic can become too stubborn to change the course of action in their music career, even when the actions they are taking are not bringing them the desired results.|
|You have great musical skills.||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 went to college for music.||Unless all you want to do is teach music as a professor in a college, a music degree is hardly worth the MASSIVE investment of time and tuition money if you want to be a professional musician. The reason is because in music school you are not going to learn anything about building a successful career at the end of your education. In the vast majority of cases, your resources will be better invested into actually expanding your music career directly and receiving ‘specific’ music career training from someone who is already a pro in the industry.|
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.
About The Author:
Tom Hess is an electric guitar teacher online and a music career mentor. He plays guitar and tours with the band Rhapsody Of Fire. Tom also trains musicians on how to succeed in the music business. On his professional musician website tomhess.net you can read many more articles about making a living with a music career.