Why Some Musicians Almost Always Succeed In The Music Industry And How To End Up Among Them


What do you think is the reason why some musicians develop highly successful music careers and most others end up either becoming ‘starving artists’ or abandoning music industry entirely? I have written about this topic extensively in the past and have explained that the answer ultimately comes down to having the skills needed to ‘add maximum value with as little risk as possible’ to all organizations, bands and people you collaborate with in the music industry. (If you don’t understand what this concept means, take this brief music business test to find out.) Even though there is a huge number of things that this idea relates to, it is the core concept that should be the basis for all actions you take in the music business. That being said, while the idea itself is easy to understand, it is quite a bit more challenging to fully assimilate it into your life as a professional musician.

As a trainer to musicians, the main thing I train people to do is to learn how to become effective at offering maximum value with minimum downsides/risk with every action taken. In my experience I noticed that most musicians easily grasp the idea of lowering their risk in conventional/obvious ways, however many people do not realize that even their ‘positive’ traits and skills can hold elements of severe music industry risk. It is the lack of understanding of this fact that proves to be the weakest link in the music career plans of most promising musicians, even those with a great deal of talent.

To end up as one of the few highly successful musicians, you MUST find out how to reduce the inherent weak points that lie on the opposite extreme of your music career strengths. As you read the rest of this article, I will demonstrate how to do this and explain how this analysis will bring you closer to the music career success that you want.

The Introspective Character Of A Professional Musician

On your journey to become a successful music business professional, you have without a doubt spent a lot of time and effort developing the necessary skills and value to offer the industry. At the same time, if you are like most musicians, all your skills were acquired in a random fashion, lacking an underlying plan of how these ‘assets’ will fit together to enable you to build a music career. As a result of this random planning, it is more than likely that your positive pieces of value will also contain contradictory weaknesses that can be interpreted as damaging elements of risk if they remain unchanged. I have witnessed this firsthand with hundreds of musicians, and the saddest part was that this happened without them being aware of it.

To accelerate the process of expanding your music career, it is necessary to find out how to exploit fully the positive elements you already possess, while at the same time working to reduce the conflicting risks that each of them carries for your music career. Every successful professional musician has done this in the process of reaching their goals, while the majority of wannabe pros go through life wondering why what they are doing to build a music career isn’t working.

To help you perform this analysis on your own, consider the list below. I will list for you several common music career credentials (written in the left column of the table) that many musicians have. Next to it, I will describe how each of these assets can also become a very serious weakness (element of music career risk). The items listed below are some of the most common problems I have to correct when working with musicians in my program about becoming a professional musician(although the list below is by no means complete). There are many more elements of music career values and risks that I could list, but to keep this article on point I have narrowed it down to the points described below.

Note: Of course as a general rule, the items you will read about in the left column of the table are good/positive (at least when taken in isolation). However as you will see, when taken in context of your specific goals they also often contain unexpected weaknesses that can hurt you unless you take proper actions to prevent this from happening.

Your List Of Music Career Values And Assets

Your Assets’ Matching Element Of Risk

You have great musical skills.
As important as it is to continuously work on your craft as a musician, too many musicians make the mistake of focusing all of their time ONLY on their musical skills at the expense of investing any time on their music ‘career’. Unfortunately, superior musical skills alone are NOT enough to guarantee you a thriving life in the music business. Therefore it is critical to have balance between how you invest your time.

You have played, performed and toured with many different bands.
This ‘credential’ can very often be perceived as showing a big lack of loyalty and commitment on your end to any one project. Even though your ‘actual’ loyalty and commitment may both be at a high level, you must be careful about controlling the perceptions that are created (in the minds of others) when you mention your past experience in the process of trying to advance your career.

You have pursued getting a music degree.
Unless all you want to do is teach music as a professor in a college, a music degree is hardly worth the MASSIVE investment of time and tuition money if you want to be a professional musician. The reason is because in music school you are not going to learn anything about building a successful career at the end of your education. In the vast majority of cases, your resources will be better invested into actually expanding your music career directly and receiving ‘specific’ music career training from someone who is already a pro in the industry.

You are a jack of all trades player on many instruments.
While having skills on many instruments is often (but not always) important for being a session musician, if you want to do anything other than work in the studio, in most cases you will be better served by becoming an expert on your chosen (one) instrument. Here you need to determine by yourself what it is you want to be known and perceived as in your music career and act congruently with that vision.Note: I don’t mean to imply that having general knowledge of more than one instrument is ‘bad’, but there CAN be a problem (depending on your goals) with trying to communicate to others that you are trying to make a name for yourself as someone who plays many instruments.

You are a musician who plays multiple different styles of music.
Unless you want to make a living mainly as a songwriter for hire, it will be better for you to establish your musical reputation as a specialist in a single genre of music. Most bands and record companies prefer to work with someone who is an expert in the specific music they do. Think hard about where you want to see yourself in the music industry and take actions appropriately.

You are a fountain of new ideas and excitement for expanding your music business career.
Musicians to whom this description applies often have a tendency to begin a number of new and exciting projects, only to let them wither away, unfinished. Over time, this leads to not only extreme frustration and overwhelm but also to a vicious circle of taking actions in your career based largely on emotional impulses rather than rational thought.

You are good at thinking things through.
People who are too analytical in everything they do have a tendency to get stuck for too long in ‘planning’ and spend too little time actually ‘doing’ the things that will move them forward in their music careers. Although it is good to analyze issues from all angles, it is important to keep this quality balanced with the ability to take consistent action on a regular basis.

You very self-reliant and dependable.
While self-reliance is an excellent personal attribute, musicians who are not used to working (effectively) with others will have a much harder time getting ahead in the music industry which REQUIRES one to be an experienced team player. Moreover, relying only upon yourself for everything can make it difficult for you to request help at times when your music career can truly benefit from it.

You are highly determined and have a tireless work ethic.
All too often, people with the best work ethic can become too stubborn to change the course of action in their music career, even when the actions they are taking are not bringing them the desired results.

You are very friendly and considerate of others.
Musicians who are generally considerate of others run the risk of having themselves taken advantage of in competitive music business negotiations (that you will often find yourself in while building your career). This may often happen even without you realizing how/why it occurred.

With the above understandings in your mind, here are some additional actions you can take right now in order to speed up the progress of your music career:

1. Understand that not all elements of music career value are ‘positive’ when taking into account YOUR long term music business goals. Certain things that may at first glance seem very important and necessary may very well diminish your overall music career potential (as you have seen in the examples in the above list).

2. Make it a priority to obtain the most clear picture of your present arsenal of risks and value items for your career in music. To help you with this, fill out this short music business test.

3. Design a plan for organizing the actions you plan to take to grow your music career. This means to write out the music career value assets you must develop to reach your specific goals and also think about how you will seek to eliminate the conflicting weaknesses that come along with them. You will have a much easier time doing this step of the process if you work with a proven music career trainer who has already coached musicians just like you to reach success in the music business.

4. Keep in mind that compiling a comprehensive plan for reaching your music career goals demands having a clear image of what you want to achieve and supplementing that vision through ongoing training. Fact is that the majority of musicians are not hard-wired for thinking in this way. They, as most creative business minds, tend to act on impulse and intuition. While those attributes are certainly valuable at times, it is important to know how to balance them with strategic planning and careful implementation.

Additionally, realize that all things that you do to grow your music career will have limited effect on your progress until you get clarity on elements of your psychological profile of strengths and weaknesses as described in this article. The good news is that after discovering the best ways to mine the maximum results out of yourself, you will find yourself moving much faster towards your goals as a professional musician.

To help you find out more about your current potential to launch or expand your music career, take this free music business test.

About Tom Hess

Tom Hess is a highly successful guitar teacher, recording artist and the guitar player for the band Rhapsody Of Fire. He helps people from all over the world learn how to teach guitar. Visit his website tomhess.net to get free guitar teacher resources and to read more guitar teaching articles.

Comments [3]

  1. Nice article. These are all great points about “beginning with the end in mind.” You are spot-on in your evaluation of the “artist” personality…

    I don’t totally agree with “You have played, performed and toured with many different bands” as any kind of problem unless you have been unethical and mercenary in your conduct. I think it shows experience and adaptability as well as the ability to manage a complex schedule. The freelance musician is the long-term survivor. It’s nice to have something musical to do while waiting for your “ship to come in.”

    I think It is also important to define “success” more realistically in this new millennium… There are plenty of “famous” people who don’t make nearly as much money as one might think, and their career arc is laughably short. Better to think about building a specialized, loyal audience to support your music than to strive for mythical “rock star” status. This kind of stadium-filling fame is mostly a thing of the past, and is mostly about political and commercial position rather than musical value. Most musicians reading this will want to do something artistically valuable, while making a decent living… totally possible.

    Thanks for a great article!

  2. Great article! Most of the things you mentioned are total common sense yet we don’t do the simple thing that can make a huge difference in our career. I definitely fit into the “fountain of new ideas and excitement” catagory and while it’s great to be on a creative high, it becomes extremely frustrating as things pile up and I usually end up overwhelmed and stall…Reading all your other articles has made me spend quality time writing down my goals, getting clear and working a plan! Thanks so much! I’m glad I found you and look forward to more.

  3. Seriously Tom?
    This article is like so many ‘generic’ how to articles I’ve read. It is like saying, to be successful, you must learn to be successful! The ideas presented are, as another commenter wrote, common sense. Where are the specifics? How about suggesting places to go to make music connections, how to promote a new song, how to find a good recording studio that is a good fit for your style, how to copy write your songs…? You’ve actually given NO direction for a musician to take, other than, you must find a path.

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