Let’s say that you really, really wanted to make it in the music business. Let’s say that this goal of yours was so important and that your desire to make it a reality was so strong that you simply couldn’t be stopped. Imagine that your will and determination were so powerful that you simply figured out a way to make it happen. Can you imagine that it would be possible? What if your goal of making your dreams come true were actually a matter of life and death? Do you think if your dreams were actually that important to you that you could figure out a way to make them come true? Do you think you would take your goals more seriously if they were actually urgent goals that you simply had to achieve?
I think one of the main reasons most musicians don’t realize their dreams is because ultimately, in the grand scheme of things, realizing our dreams isn’t that urgent. For most of us, whether we make it or not in the music business isn’t really a life or death situation. If we don’t realize our goals as musicians, it’s all too easy to fall back on other things as a way to pay the bills and get by in life. We take jobs we don’t really love but pay the bills. We work odd jobs utilizing different skills we have to carve out a living. We start completely unrelated businesses and enterprises as a way to support ourselves and do music on the side.
There’s nothing wrong with supporting ourselves doing something other than music and pursuing music on the side. But let’s imagine a scenario, just for fun, where you succeeding in the music business was literally a life or death situation. Imagine, again just for fun, that someone had a gun shoved to your head and you had to figure out a way to make your dream a reality or you would lose your life. Let’s say that you were given two years to make it a reality. If you failed your mission, you would die. If you succeeded, you’d get to live your dream life. Do you think you could come up with a plan that you could execute to make your dreams come true in this scenario? I’d imagine in this scenario you’d be able to look at your situation in a way that made you see things differently. I think it’s fair to say that most of us aren’t really pursuing our goals with this sort of intensity and urgency. I think most us, at the end of the day, aren’t really that worried about whether we make it big in the music business or not. Sure, we have goals and they’re important to us, but we know either way it will all work out. It’s unlikely that anyone reading this will end up on the streets if their dreams don’t come true.
That’s good and bad. It’s comforting to know that no matter what happens in our lives, we probably won’t end up destitute and in despair. Most of my readers live in countries that are developed to the point of relative economic prosperity. Most of us don’t have a problem getting by and supporting ourselves. Most of us have food in the refrigerator and a roof over our heads. Sure, we all have our struggles and challenges, but for most us, our lives aren’t literally dependent on making our dreams come true. I’m sure most of you reading this would love to realize your dreams, but you know deep down, that if you don’t, you’ll probably be ok.
But what if this weren’t the case? What if you actually HAD to come up with a plan to succeed, whatever that means to you, or you would literally die? I know if I were put under this pressure I could probably come up with some new and unique ways to both define what success is to me and figure out a map for getting there. If there really were that sort of pressure for becoming successful in the music business, I’m confident I could at least come up with a plan to become more successful than I am currently. Do you think if making it in the music business were actually something you HAD to do you could figure out a way to make it happen?
I propose we do an exercise. Let’s pretend that making our dreams come true is actually a life or death situation. Let’s pretend, just as a sort of intellectual game, that we really have to figure out a way to realize our dreams or we actually lose our chance to keep living. Of course we’ll know that it’s not real, so that might allow us to cheat a little bit. But imagine a life where you were actually living your wildest dreams. What would that look like for you? Now imagine that you have a gun pointed to your head and you have two years to make this vision of your life a reality. Our imaginary gunmen is reasonable though, not only is he giving you two years to make your dreams come true, he’s also going to let you define what success means to you.
Of course, I’ve already established that success, as most people define it, doesn’t make us happy (see my recent blog post). But imagine creating a life where you actually met your own expectations in terms of success, and got to live a life doing more or less what you wanted to do and made plenty of money as a result to meet all your basic needs and then some. I think there would be some very tangible benefits to living this sort of lifestyle. So, play along with me. Let’s pretend we have to figure out a way to make our version of success a reality. The stakes are high. It’s all or nothing.
If I had a gun pointed to my head and I had to figure out how to make my dreams come true, I imagine the first step would be to actually define what my dreams and goals are. What they really are. Not the childish version of my dreams where I simply had the vague goal of becoming a “rock star”. For this exercise, let’s dig deep and really examine what our goals are, why we have them and how to make them a reality. Of course, I can’t do this for you. You’ll have to figure this part out for yourself. But I’ll walk you through my thought process, so you can do the same.
If I’m really honest with myself, I don’t really care If I become a rock star or not and truth be told, that’s probably why I’m not a rock star. It’s just not that important of a goal, if I’m really, really honest. That particular dream of mine was a sort of adolescent dream I had when I was much younger. If I’m honest with myself it was largely based on ego and not really having an understanding of what makes people happy and what true success is. I think it’s important to really develop goals based on who you are now and not who you used to be. We all age and evolve and it’s normal that our goals change as we get older and mature. I used to imagine that having tons of money, being a household name, having girls throw themselves at me and getting paid to travel the world would be pretty cool. Ok, I admit it, it still sounds pretty cool, but these days I’m much more concerned with leaving a legacy behind and getting my music and message out on a wider scale than becoming a household name ala “Bon Jovi” or “Justin Bieber”. This might sound like the same goal, and it probably does overlap a little with the idea of wanting to become famous. But it’s rooted in a much different place.
When you’re simply chasing success and fame, you’re really coming from a place of ego and your need for validation. But when you’re really in it for the love of creating art and spreading joy in the world you’re coming from a much different place, that, at least in my opinion, is based on something more solid. It’s much easier to not get discouraged and stay positive and focused if you’re simply trying to share your love of music with the world. If you’re doing it for egotistical reasons it’s easy to get discouraged and take things personally if you don’t succeed at the rate you think you should be succeeding.
So, in my case, knowing that I’m not really that worried about whether I become a bona fide rock star or not, but that I do really do want to get my music out on a wider scale and work on leaving more of a legacy behind, I need to plan accordingly. Although I often talk about how there isn’t really a clear formula for “making it” in the music business, the reality is there are things we can work on every day to move forward in the music business. It’s just a matter of getting really clear about what our goals really are and determining what steps we need to take. Sometimes it’s a matter of really doing some soul searching and being honest with ourselves about both what we want and what we truly believe we’re capable of.
For me, ultimate success in the music business would mean making plenty of money to live on from my music and being able to wake up every day and create music that a large audience would listen to and appreciate. It wouldn’t necessarily involve touring the world and playing stadiums, but it would mean getting my music out on a much larger scale, to a much larger audience and gaining more respect for the music I make. Think being able to tour and play small theatres versus playing stadiums and having hordes of people waiting for you everywhere you go like U2, The Rolling Stones or Katy Perry. Think of having enough of a devoted following to support my independent album releases versus going platinum like Taylor Swift.
So with those goals in mind, here are a few things I can think of right off the top of my head that I would need to do if I had that proverbial gun pointed to my head and had to figure out a way to be more successful:
The bottom line is that I think most of us could figure out ways to move our careers along faster if we really had to. If we really had a gun pointed to our head, I bet most of us could come up with some pretty creative ways to become more successful. Of course, the reality is that for most of us, making our dreams come true isn’t a life or death matter. But what if it were? What would you do differently if your life literally depended on you figuring out how to succeed in the music business? Share your thoughts below.
The blog of musician and thinker of deep thoughts, Aaron Davison.