Career Musician: Where to Start

Getting Things Done

When it comes to getting things done, it would be nice if we could just get to it: do the things that needed to done, when they needed to be done. But it’s rarely as simple as that. First of all there’s deciding exactly what it is we’re supposed to be doing at this moment, then there’s how to go about doing it, wondering if you’re doing it right or wondering if it should be done it at all. Combine this with the fact that our lives are busier with more options than ever and it’s a wonder that anything gets done at all.

If you’ve done any reading on career management you’ve probably come across the same basic concepts: decide what you want to do, make a list of all of the things that you must do to accomplish that goal and go about doing the items on your list one at a time. There are many variations of this but these are the essentials. So even though we know this, how is it that we still have so many troubles getting things done? I don’t know how many to-do lists I’ve made in my life, there must be thousands. Yet when I check these lists months after the fact, very little is done. Why? I’m not lazy or completely unorganized. Let's look at a couple of factors.

Ummm...Now What?

The biggest problem the musician faces is unlike most other careers, there is no one blueprint. As many different careers there are in the music industry, there are paths to get there. The good thing about being a musician in today’s society is that there is more information available and ways of making it than there ever were before. With all of this info comes the problem: what applies to me and what doesn’t? What can I use and what is useless? Since there are so many ways in making in the music industry, it won’t be the same for everybody. What may be good for you may not be good for somebody else.

There are a few general guidelines that you can follow: for example if you want to release an album, there are certain things that need to be done. The specifics though, are up to you. For example how you go about marketing the album is entirely up to you. Since most musicians don’t have much of a budget for marketing, you may have to come up with some creative ways to get your name out there. If you’ve been in a band and that hasn’t worked out, what do you do next? Like I said there is no blueprint. Do you join another band, go out on your own, try to capitalize on another musical talent that you have? The only way to know is to make a decision, then get in there and get dirty. Experience above all, will allow you to make better decisions. Once in there, you’ll gain knowledge and meet other like minded people that will help in your journey. In the beginning, since you don’t have the experience, you may just have to jump in there and see what works. Once you’ve started and got your feet wet, it becomes clearer of what you need to learn and do.

So it can be said that sometimes things don’t get done because we’re not sure what to do and even when we do, there can be so many things that come up that it’s easy to get discouraged and lose focus. One of the things that we’re going to have to deal with on a constant basis on our journey to get somewhere is figuring out what has to be done, and then having the discipline to see it all through. One of the big factors why we don’t get things done is because we may lack long term focus and discipline. You may be saying at this point ‘Wait a minute, I have discipline, I get things done everyday!’ The problem with the music industry is that it takes a long time to get where you want to go. It takes long term focus and commitment. Think about how long it took you to learn your instrument and apply the same principles to the rest of your music career.

You Already Know The Way

You learned your instrument by practicing everyday. This included practicing when sometimes you weren’t in the mood. Sometimes you practiced things like scales and sight reading when you really hated doing them. You also followed a path and tried to go a bit further each day. For those of you who had professional lessons, your learning path was maybe more conventional but even those of you who were completely self taught, had a method by which you learned and grew. If might have been haphazard and sporadic, but it’s there. It’s this same type of method that we’re going to apply to your music career and things that you want to accomplish.

When you first started learning your instrument, you may have bought a book, took lessons, learned from a friend or even just started noodling around on your own. You didn’t know what you were doing in the beginning so you just kind of muddled your way through. The more you played though, the more obvious it became of what you needed to learn and want was missing from your knowledge. You may have learned a couple of chords and were quite proud of yourself until you got together with a friend of yours and saw how he could solo without knowing the song. So you started asking questions. ‘How did you do that? What's a scale?’ You now had a couple more nuggets of knowledge that you applied to your playing. It was at this point that you realized that you needed some help and either set up some lessons or went out and bought a book. Or, maybe you went on the internet and downloaded some tabs of guitar solos to see what they were made of. The point is you took it step by step without really thinking about it.

This is what we've got to do with our music career but we should be more organized and deliberate about it. Every decision will have a lot more impact on your future and be time consuming so we want to be more thoughtful about the steps we take. It becomes a little more daunting when applying all of this to your music career because now you’re going to have to be out there, in the thick of it. It’s one thing to try different things in the safety of your practice, but it’s another to go into a room full of professionals and sell yourself. Like your music practice, there are many different directions you can take, and the ones you decide will depend on you, your talents and personality.

Help, I Need Somebody

So are you going to do it on your own or are you going to get some help. I hate to be the one to tell you but it’s going to be both. So if you’re great one your own and have trouble asking for help or vice versa, you’re going to have to make some changes. Here’s why.

As a career musician you’re going to have to be incredibly self motivated and have a lot of confidence in yourself. At the end of the day it’s your career and it’s a tough industry so you’ll have to keep focused and learn to develop a thick skin. Rejection and disappointment are part of the course, not exceptions. There are going to be times when it feels like everything is going wrong and you don’t have an ounce of energy left to deal with it. It’s then that you’re usually on your own and the only person you have to really depend on to pick yourself up is …you. It’s also easier to get other people motivated and to get help when you’ve got it all together.

Herein lies the second part of the dilemma. No matter how tough, organized and together you are, you’re going to need other people to get where you want to go. The music industry is a relationship industry. Managing a music career on your own is also way too much work for one individual to do it effectively. The sooner you get used to asking for help and getting people involved, the sooner it will all happen for you.

Next we'll look at some principles in project management.

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