If there’s one thing I’m guilty of that in retrospect has probably prevented me from going further in certain ways career wise, it’s taking on and pursuing too many goals at once. It’s both a blessing and a curse that I have so many different interests and passions. Over the years I’ve pursued a myriad of endeavors related to music and the music business, often pursuing many goals at the same time. At different times, I’ve simultaneously hosted a podcast, wrote a blog, started a Youtube Channel, played in bands, wrote and recorded music for Sync Licensing, owned a music marketing company, taught guitar, created and ran How To License Your Music dot com for many years, travelled extensively abroad, created several side businesses and the list goes on.
My rationale for taking such a wide-ranging approach to music and my career is that it’s good to have multiple revenue streams and it’s not smart to “put all your eggs in one basket”. There is a certain wisdom in this philosophy, but only to a certain extent. It’s probably a good idea, for example, to at least have some sort of a way to support yourself financially if you’re a struggling musician or if you’re simply not making enough revenue from music to pay the bills. There’s nothing wrong with having a “day job” while you’re figuring out how to make music work financially.
This was my rationale for starting How To License Your Music dot com in the first place. At the time, when I first created the site, I was a guitar teacher and I was playing in bands while starting to break into licensing. I wanted to figure out a way that I could quit teaching guitar and focus more on performing and licensing and so I did. I launched HTLYM dot com in 2008 and was able to eventually earn enough extra money from the site to quit my job as a guitar teacher and focus on just doing music and running my website.
Then, over the years, I started doing a lot of different things related to music and the music business; all the things I mentioned above. It sort of worked for a while. At one point my music business podcast cracked the top 100 in the music business podcast section on Itunes. My website was bringing in plenty of money, I was starting to license more and more of my own music at the same time and I was also continuing to perform live on a regular basis. It felt like my plan was really coming together.
A few years ago I had what, at the time, was my best year ever financially. I don’t want to say how much I earned because I don’t really like to discuss money publicly and it’s beside the point. But to me, it was a lot of money and it was a culmination of a lot of hard work I had put into all my different endeavors over the years. I was really proud of how far I had come on one hand, but to be honest, at the same time, by the end of the year I was feeling pretty burnt out and I wasn’t particularly happy at the time. I was feeling really excited about how far I had come, but I was also pretty stressed out about all the different plates I was spinning at the same time.
I had a conversation with a good friend of mine around this time, a friend who is a highly successful copywriter. He was working far less than I was and making quite a bit more money. Granted, we work in two completely different industries. But I remember one day we were having lunch and I was discussing all the different projects I was involved in and everything I was up to and he looked at me sort of befuddled, paused for a second and said, “dude, you’re doing way too many different things”. “You should just pick one or two things you’re doing and focus 100 percent on that”, he said. He went on to say, I guarantee you that you’ll make more money and be a lot more relaxed.
My initial reaction to my friend’s advice was to be sort of defensive. “You don’t understand my industry”, I said. “It’s not good to put all your eggs in one basket”, I declared and so on. I said all the cliché things people say to defend pursuing multiple goals at the same time. My friend, sensing my defensiveness, dropped the subject and we started talking about something else.
However, the more I reflected on the advice my friend gave me, the more it really resonated with me. Perhaps I am trying to do too many things at once I thought. I’m only one person after all and although I’ve hired assistants from time to time over the years, the vast majority of the work I take on falls on me and me alone. It can get to be overwhelming trying to juggle so many different things at once.
Despite this realization, For the next year or two, I sort of carried on with business as usual and my income dropped a little each successive year. Nothing dramatic, but I was simply struggling to keep all the plates I had spinning, spinning. Then the pandemic happened in 2020 and like a lot of people, I slowed down a lot that year and did even more reflecting during this period. I realized my friend really was right after all. I was simply trying to do too much and it wasn’t sustainable.
Over the last couple years, since the pandemic, I’ve scaled back a lot. If you’ve followed me for many years, you’ve probably noticed I’ve done less podcasts and videos and have put out less content in general over the last couple years. I’ll sometimes get what I think is a great idea initially, like an idea I had for creating a new podcast promoting other artists last year, announce the idea and then upon further reflection, change my mind. I’m really trying to simply be more careful about how much I take on and where I focus my energy. At this point, I’ll only start a new project if I’m certain I can give it my all. All or nothing.
I’ve realized, when I look around and observe highly successful people, the vast majority of them became successful by focusing on one thing and becoming really, really good at that one thing. Yes, there are exceptions to the rule, people like Elon Musk, Richard Branson, or Joe Rogan who is a podcaster, comedian and UFC commentator, come to mind. But I think people like this are the exception to the rule and they’re also building multiple careers and businesses on top of a foundation that took them years to build initially. They’re not just coming straight out of the gate doing ten different things.
These days I’m focused primarily on two different things, making and marketing my own music and running my member site, HTLYMPremium.com. That’s it. Oh, and writing blogs when the inspiration strikes.
As always, I have other ideas in the queue, other ideas “on deck” so to speak, that I may act on when the time is right, if I can figure out how to execute them properly with 100 percent commitment. I haven’t completely eliminated my addiction to taking on new challenges and exploring new ideas, but I’ll only move forward with something if I’m fairly certain I’ll have the time and dedication to see the project through. Otherwise, it just feels like a waste of time.
My advice, for whatever it’s worth, as someone who has been working in the music business for many years, and wearing a lot of different hats over the years, is to think really hard about what you actually want to do in music and focus all your energy on that. You may, out of necessity, need to wear a few different hats at times and it's certainly ok to pivot in your career if you find that you need to, but be careful not to spread yourself too thin. Diversification works to a point, but if you push it too far you simply become a “jack of all trades and master of none” and that rarely leads to massive success.