Today I want to address a topic that is a little more esoteric than the technical aspects of the music business that I often discuss, but nonetheless is just as important. The topic is how to cultivate the right mindset and attitude for achieving success in the music industry.
I really think to be successful in the music industry you need to have both talent and very thick skin, and the latter is probably the most important. You need to be extremely determined, ambitious and motivated. I know I'm not telling you something you don't already know, but let's think about what this really means and how it relates to you.
Let's break it down, step by step.
The music industry is an industry a lot of people are drawn to because, let's face it, writing and playing music is an incredible amount of fun! There’s a reason a lot of teenagers grow up wanting to become rock stars. For a lot of people, playing music is their ultimate dream job. The idea of travelling the world, doing something you love, being adored by the public and getting paid handsomely, is the ultimate fantasy. Who wouldn’t want that life?
Because of how appealing the idea of being a successful musician is, a lot of people pursue music, both as a hobby and as a profession. This creates a lot of competition, on all levels. Everything from getting a good slot at a nightclub, or getting your song onto a TV show or Film, or landing a record deal, involve in one way or another, you competing with somebody else.
Now I don't think competition in its modern day form is insidious or bad. For the most part, here in the western world, we are not beating each other with clubs to get what we want. Competition has a tendency to make us work harder, and if embraced in a healthy way can make us better musicians and better people. When we know something isn't easy we tend to work harder for it and are forced to expand and grow and we also appreciate our success that much more if and when it happens.
It's when the inevitable rejections and setbacks we face get the best of us that the competitive nature of the music industry turns into an ugly and insidious thing. But if we cultivate the right mindset we can take these events in stride and move forward un-phased.
A few years ago I ended what was nearly a six year relationship with my girlfriend at the time. After about six months or so of being single and not dating very much at all I asked a girl out who was drop dead gorgeous and to my surprise she said yes. We went out and I was a complete nervous wreck. I placed so much pressure on myself and on her to make this night a success that I came across as stilted and weird and I never heard from her again.
I was disappointed the next few days but I immediately realized what had happened. I then decided to cast a much wider net, so to speak. I started meeting girls online, in clubs, on the street, in trains. When I really opened my eyes I realized there were opportunities to meet girls literally everywhere. Over the next few months I started actively dating many different women and what happened was really amazing and eye opening. I was meeting so many different women that I stopped looking at each date and interaction as such a big deal. This allowed me to be myself and just meet women being very present and in the moment. As a result my interactions were much more successful and enjoyable and I eventually met another girl who I ended up dating for several years.
Why am I telling you this story? Why I am sharing such a personal detail about my private life? Well, I realized a valuable lesson from this period of my life that has served me in all aspects of life. I think this same sort of strategy and mindset can be applied to anything and works particularly well when applied to your music career.
When you're pursuing one or two opportunities it's easy to get discouraged when they don't work out. But if you're pursuing many different opportunities, not only are you exponentially increasing your odds that one of them will come through for you, but you will relax when you realize that in reality there are many different ways to achieve success with your music. If you don't get your music on one show, pursue another. If you don't get booked into club x, pursue club z. This is the mindset you need. Don’t get hung up any single opportunity. Instead pursue so many opportunities that some of them inevitably come through.
Now, of course, you still need to listen to the feedback that you get. Not everyone will like everything you do. But if you get consistent feedback that something about your tracks are not working, use that information and make changes if you need to. If you’re single and going on dates, not everyone you meet is going to fall in love with you. But if you go out with a hundred people, and they all say you have a body odor problem, you should probably address that. In the same way, if you send your tracks to a hundred people and they all say you have a production issue or a performance issue, then you should take their feedback seriously.
Your job is to separate the people that are rejecting your music for reasons that you can’t change, from the people who are passing on your music for reasons that you can. I can’t make every girl I go out with like me, but by doing things like going to the gym, dressing well, not being a drug addict, having a stable job and so on, I can greatly increasing my odds of connecting with someone. In the same way, by doing things like producing your tracks really well, writing great songs that work for tv and film, performing your songs really well and so on, you will greatly increase your odds of finding licensing success.
The reality is that not everyone is going to like everything you do. But if you’re writing great songs and you’re taking massive action, you will find people who appreciate and support your work. Don't worry about any one particular goal, pursue them all with equal fervor and enthusiasm and success will become a matter of when and not if.
The blog of musician and thinker of deep thoughts, Aaron Davison.