“Probe every aspect of what ‘being a successful musician’ means to you.”
–The Musician’s Way, p. 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, fearless performers, and confident 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 typically encompass the basic elements of musical competence. And many schools and faculty haven’t updated their programs to align with 21st-century realities. As a result, many programs fail to address the competencies graduates need to build sustainable music careers in today’s music scene. Successful graduates, therefore, exceed basic requirements during their student years, taking on performance, community, and other projects beyond any standard requirements.
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, therefore, music industry knowledge – e.g., the know-how to license compositions or promote performances – is as essential as musicianship.
5. Focus solely on competitions
Only the grandest contests, such as the Van Cliburn piano competition, propel the careers of winners. So, nowadays, competitions provide minimal career advancement for the vast majority of participants. 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, building communities of followers, and creating innovative audio and video recordings.
6. Perform nothing but standard repertoire
The Web and concert halls abound with classical musicians performing standard repertoire, with the result being that most are undifferentiated. 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 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, perhaps in pursuit of one competition after another, 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, build networks, and advance our career potential.
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. In contrast, 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.
Related posts are categorized Entrepreneurship.
© 2014 Gerald Klickstein
Photo © Ollyy, licensed from Shutterstock.com
This is a fantastic list and I feel every point is fully grounded. One of the points about collaborating is true in all of life. You can grow and become a better person by being with and around good, positive people as well. I personally can take pointers about the fear of failing:).
Thanks for contributing, Kathrin, and for the support. I concur that music graduates typically know next to nothing about the music industry, which impedes their ability to forge sustainable music careers. Even though high-level music schools claim to prepare students to succeed as professionals, sadly, most do not.
Hi, being a cellist (and also a coach) I agree with you – it’s an unusual perspective of typical behaviours… in other words, a “don’t” seems to trigger common fears even more 🙂 personally I think #4 can’t be emphasized enough, and is sadly a missing in traditional musical education. Thanks for your work, much appreciated.
Thanks…it is an very nice article written. Yes it is really very necessary to take care of some of the things in an music career. Ofcourse there are some do’s and some dont’s to be performed.As you said some things and mistakes are being made and also being taken into consideration.but by reading and will try to make lesser mistakes than before in this career. Great written Mr.Gerald…
Thanks for contributing, Martyn. Regarding mistakes, I’ve found it beneficial to view them as neutral information. More in my post “The Meaning in Mistakes” http://musiciansway.com/blog/2011/04/the-meaning-in-mistakes/
Excellent advice Gerald. Although I’ve been playing the piano for over 20 years, I still struggle with some of these. The biggest hurdle which I’ve learnt to overcome is #12, the fear of mistakes. It used to terrify me. Now, I accept mistakes and understand they will happen from time to time. Will the audience notice? Highly unlikely, unless they know the piece inside out. As a result, I make far fewer mistakes than before. Thanks for sharing Martyn
I appreciate your comment and honest words, Alex – very meaningful. Lots of rising musicians contend with these issues – you’re not alone by any means – which is I wanted to bring them into the open to inspire performers to overcome any resistance and make productive moves.
Thanks, excellent article. I’ll be honest it was a bit tough to read given my struggle with many of these mistakes as a performer. It’s funny, as a teacher I can tell my students to avoid these things and even provide opportunities to do just that but for some reason I really struggle confronting these issues for myself. I’d say my biggest struggles are #01, #06, and #08 through 12. Good things for me to now confront.