Image of cellist playing alone in wheat field“Probe every aspect of what ‘being a successful musician’ means to you.”
The Musician’s Wayp. 302

If you aspire to a career as an independent musician, you’ll find lots of “how to” advice online.

This post takes a reverse approach: I highlight 12 unwise moves that are common among inexperienced performers, and then I counter them with thoughts for building flourishing careers.

I hope it will inspire you to enthusiastically pursue your musical dreams.

How Not To Pursue a Music Career

1. Don’t perform unless you can present complete concerts
Almost all developing musicians can prepare a piece or two for a public show, and they can partner with peers to put on full-length events. By doing many such succinct performances, students build up their performance skills and fan bases. Those who avoid public appearances are less likely to grow into compelling artists and capable professionals.

2. Ignore feedback
Evaluations provide us with external views and help us counter distorted self-perceptions. Shirking critiques almost ensures mediocrity.

3. Do only what teachers require
Music curricula encompass the basic elements of musical competence, and many fail to address strategies to build sustainable music careers. Successful graduates, therefore, exceed basic requirements during their student years, taking on projects beyond what’s expected.

4. Shun learning about the music industry
Artistic excellence anchors any music career, yet lasting careers are forged by merging artistic abilities with those that generate income. For career-minded musicians, industry knowledge is as essential as musicianship.

5. Focus solely on competitions
Only the grandest contests propel the careers of winners. Competition experience is beneficial, of course, but it’s far more crucial for rising musicians to develop distinctive artistic identities through presenting diverse public performances and creating innovative audio and video recordings.

6. Perform nothing but standard repertoireThe Musician's Way book cover
The Web and concert halls abound with classical musicians performing standard repertoire. To be remarkable, musicians do well to champion distinctive styles and new music along with mastering classics.

7. Seldom attend concerts nor listen to recordings
Few things are more nourishing for our imaginations than to hear diverse performers, styles, and compositions. And when we step out of our habitual listening patterns, untold creative possibilities can germinate.

8. Skip participating in festivals
Students who take lessons, rehearse, and perform at festivals go outside their familiar musical environments, expand their professional networks, and otherwise feed their creativity and careers.

9. Abstain from contributing to online communities
Via websites and social media, we can connect with artists and industry pros worldwide. Plus, we can amass followers who resonate with our visions. Musicians who turn away from such opportunities impede their chances for independent careers.

10. Practice incessantly
Musical growth, career building, and self-care entail balancing the demands of practice with everything else. Musicians who do nothing but practice risk injury and isolation.

11. Avoid collaborating
Along with listening to a range of performers, making music with others ranks among the most impactful things we can do to nurture our artistry and careers.

12. Fear making mistakes
Creative work involves taking chances, which means that some of our musical explorations will take flight and others will fall flat. Still, our flubs help us grow. Students who fear errors become constrained by perfectionism. By embracing the adventurous nature of the creative process, we benefit from the indescribable satisfaction of making and sharing music, despite the risks.

For more guidelines to develop your musical and professional abilities, see The Musician’s Way

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© 2014 Gerald Klickstein
Photo © Ollyy, licensed from