Years ago, when I was a music teacher, I had a student who came in one day and said, “Man, this stuff is a lot harder than I thought.”
Now justified or not, I took a bit of offense to that. Not because he was being insulting, but because the nature of being a musician is often underestimated by people that are just fans or simply love to listen to music. At the time, my response was a bit snarky when I replied, “Well…yeah. This isn’t something you just learn at a 4-year college, and then go get some job. It takes a lifetime to master it.”
My sharp tongue aside, there is truth to that. The cornerstone for a career in music is some modicum of talent. But the fuel that will make that career happen is obsession. And this can be applied to just about any career path. In a competitive world, if you want to be wildly successful, then you better be obsessed with your craft.
As a kid, when I decided that I wanted to be a musician in a successful band, I was pretty green. I remember being in a music store with my guitar once after a guitar lesson, and a couple of the guys that worked there were sitting behind the counter. They were having a conversation about what they used to think as kids themselves; about what they wanted to be when they ‘grew up’. One of them pointed to me and said, “Hey kid, what do you want to be when you grow up”?
So of course, with guitar in hand, I replied “I want to be a rockstar.”
After they both stopped laughing, one of them finally managed to gather himself enough to say, “Get in line, kid. Get in line.”
But I didn’t care. I was obsessed. In my mind, these two guys were too old to be rockstars. I had no illusions about how competitive the business was- even as a kid. I went home and practiced more hours. Which eventually led to attending Berklee College of Music, and becoming good enough to write dozens of transcription books and magazines for guitar, like Guitar World Magazine and others. Presumably, those two guys may have been selling the books I wrote, if they were still working there years later. Hopefully they weren’t.
What I learned from my own experience and from others, is that every artist that I’ve worked with that created a successful life in music (or any other business) got there because they were obsessed with it. But what exactly does that mean? In my experience it means giving into your ambition instead of giving in to your fear. You can’t be ambitious and obsessed part time. It’s a lifestyle. And loving that lifestyle through everyday actions will create compounded results over time.
When you decide you want to be a successful music artist then you first have to determine what success looks like to you. If your goal is to be successful in the music business, then you better pay close attention to the business part. If success means going to the top of the charts and having a record deal, then you’re basically talking about winning an Olympic medal in the industry. And if that’s the case then you better train like an Olympian- everyday.
There’s no taking time off from your obsession. It’s omnipresent. Everything you do everyday is a stepping stone towards your ultimate conquest. There’s also no looking back and no excuses. Living in the glory days of when things were going well is also not part of your daily regimen. As Babe Ruth once said, “Yesterday’s home runs don’t win today’s games.”
Do It Everyday
You should be working on it everyday, and all day if possible. And if you don’t have the time, make the time. Success doesn’t care about your circumstances. You have to create the reality you want by forcing it into existence. A singer will sing- everyday. A guitar player will play- everyday. A songwriter will write- everyday. What you do everyday is what you are. Whether you’re a painter, and programmer, and lawyer, a doctor, or a musician, if you want the world to see that that’s what you are, then you have to be obsessed enough to do it everyday.