Louis Armstrong smiling

Louis Armstrong

“What we play is life.”
–Louis Armstrong, trumpeter and composer

Would many musicians dispute Louis Armstrong’s words? I doubt it.

With each turn of a phrase, we performers spin out some of the essence of being alive, and we relish every moment.

But we don’t create music for ourselves alone. Music is a social art that peaks in the interaction between performers and listeners.

And through our relationship with the public, we achieve both artistic and financial success.

That is, we create music to share, and, by selling tickets, recordings, lessons, and merchandise, we earn income that sustains our art-making.

“Through our relationship with the public, we achieve both artistic and financial success.”

Art and Career in Partnership

Nonetheless, many aspiring musicians behave as if creativity and career-building were antithetical. They might put off promoting their work or booking concerts, let’s say, and then they suffer economic consequences that cause them to abandon their musical dreams.

But such dismal outcomes are avoidable.

In my view, the artistic and business sides of a musician’s life interact like two partners in a dance.

Creative urges can foster profitable ventures, such as when we make recordings that listeners flock to buy. Similarly, opportunities in the marketplace can drive our creativity, such as when we’re hired to put on concerts and we compose music in response.

What’s more, few of us can keep up our chops unless we stay active within the music industry, so career and entrepreneurial know-how are essential to our long-term creativity.

In fact, over time, our entrepreneurial habits interweave with our musical ones to make us the artists or underachievers that we become.

“The artistic and business sides of a musician’s life interact like two partners in a dance.”

Harmonizing our Twin Roles

Still, let’s acknowledge how consuming it is to grow musical expertise and forge an artistic career.

Daily practice demands our best. Likewise, launching new ventures, lining up recordings and shows, updating websites, arranging travel, and so forth can eat up bundles of time and energy.

The key to our mastering the art-career tango without burning out lies in our establishing lifestyles in which we dance each role an appropriate amount each day.

In that way, we practice or compose with all our hearts, and we tend to our careers with comparable passion and discipline.

Sure, we’ll typically enjoy the art-making more. But we don’t dance the artist role alone. We honor the partnership between art and entrepreneurship, we work steadily, and we thrive as a result.

Here’s a basic framework for maintaining a vibrant artistic and career-building practice.

Five Steps in the Art-Career Tango

1.  Document your goals and action plans

Create a file, and write down your short, medium, and long-term artistic/career objectives. Concise bullets will do. Short-term goals might span a period of months; medium ones could extend several months to years into the future; long-term objectives would represent top artistic and career attainments. Revisit this file often; perhaps post a printout in your home.

Next, itemize your daily or weekly action plans – consider using a notebook or practice sheet as described on pages 7-10 of The Musician’s Way. A downloadable sheet is freely available on MusiciansWay.com (list career tasks under the Musicianship category). Most of all, connect your daily activities with your artistic/career objectives.

2.  Abide by a schedule

With your goals and tasks clear, devise a schedule in which you tackle a number of musical and career duties every day. Many people note their plans on lists or calendars.

Bear in mind that, although we should think expansively about the future, we have to work in increments. So set a manageable agenda that fits your level. If you’re new to career development, then, on top of practicing or composing, maybe allocate time for 2 or 3 career-boosting tasks per day such as creating website content or sending emails to prospective presenters. Then, as your confidence increases, add on more tasks each week (see the Music Careers page at MusiciansWay.com).The Musician's Way book cover

3.  Work efficiently

Steady accomplishment will charge up your motivation and ensure your success.

So set up a distraction-free workspace, focus on each artistic or business task, and move from one thing to another. I make lists and check off items as I go.

4.  Pace yourself

Besides taking on a manageable workload, employ healthy practice and computer habits, and slot in regular breaks. For instance, you might pause twice per hour to do restorative movements such as those shown on pages 76-82 of The Musician’s Way.

Also make room for your inclusive self-care needs. With your goals, schedule, and work habits in place, you can be intensely productive and then relax when you aren’t working, confident that you’re advancing on your path.

5.  Stay open to possibilities

As we evolve, so do our opportunities. It’s vital, therefore, that we pursue lifelong learning and fresh creative avenues. Those avenues might include trying out novel collaborations or expanding our online presence.

Regardless, by committing to both artistic and career growth, we reap the spiritual and financial rewards of connecting with listeners and giving voice to our musical souls.

Strategies for acquiring comprehensive musical, collaborative, and career skills abound in The Musician’s Way.

Related posts
The abundance mentality
Avoiding avoidance
Music: The practical career?
Optimizing practice time
The self-motivated musician

© 2010 Gerald Klickstein