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Top 5 Mistakes Musicians Make on their Art and Career

We all make mistakes. When it comes to music, there is undoubtedly no one way to go about it. There are however a number of things that musicians do on a regular basis that are counter-productive to their development. Sometimes it's just a matter of not knowing another way. Most of the time it's simply a matter of not taking the time to evaluate the process and and deciding on the best course of action.

A lot of things we do, we do without thinking. We simply take a particular route the first time and let it go at that. For simple, unimportant things, that's fine; but when it comes to your career, it's not.

There are better ways to do things but we don't find them because we fail to examine the process in the first place. How many times have you taken a particular route and then use it for years without thinking? One day that route gets shut down and you're forced to reevaluate, only to find there was a better way to get there. When it comes to your music and career, it pays to take time everyday and make sure you're heading in the right direction. You need to stop and think, evaluate what we want, how to get it done, and make sure you're making the most of your time and resources.

Here are the top 5 mistakes musicians make when working on their art and career.

1. Not getting out there/the artist recluse - too many times I've heard musicians complain that there is no support in their community. Or it's too hard to make connections and a living in this industry. Everybody knows the saying that 'it's not what you know but who you know'. The fact is that in order to make the necessary connections, it's going to take time. Nobody is going to work as hard at your career as you are. Like working on your craft, it's something that has to be done everyday. Whether it's making industry connections, getting gigs, or trying to get fans on your mailing list, it comes down to getting out there and connecting with people. If you do this on a regular basis, you may find things happen unexpectedly. Many times something will come up just because 'somebody heard your music somewhere'. As you get to know other people and players in the music community, your learning goes up exponentially. Everybody you encounter has their own experiences and wisdom which they're usually all too happy to share. Make sure you're spending just as much time making those connections as you are in the studio.


2. Doing it all on your own - in this day it's easy to think that you can do it all on your own. All of the tools are out there. You can record your next CD on your computer, set up a website to market it, and use the internet sell your music and get people to come to your gigs. The trouble is that not only is this a staggering amount of work, there is a learning curve involved in each. It's not easy to write and record your music on your own. Marketing and PR are a whole other ball of wax that takes time and money to be effective. A lot of musicians try and do this all on their own. Not only is it not wise, it's actually counter-productive. You're much better off sticking to what you do best and getting others to help you with the rest. Find others that are good at the things you suck at; then help them with the things that you do best. Also, have a support system. It's a full time job trying to get your music out there and you can go crazy trying to manage it all. Having a support group helps keep you motivated and your spirits high when you get down.

3. Not learning the business - being musicians we're good at the creative thing, not the business thing. The fact is that you have to work hard on both. Once you've got a handle on your art, you have to think about the two other major principles: marketing and distribution. Marketing is all about getting your name out and to connect to as many people as possible. Distribution is getting the material into the hands of the people and hopefully making some good money. This is a lot easier now with all of the online tools, but still takes a lot of time and energy. When finishing up your first demos, you should be thinking about how to get this to as many people as possible. The fact is that once you make the music, marketing and distribution should be your two main concerns. It's important that you take time out and think about the band as a business. Think about how specifically you're going to get your music out there and how you're going to make money.

4. No practice regimen/program - musicians are well known for being unorganized. Unfortunately, this applies to their practice regimen too. Musicians love to learn new techniques and skills on their instrument. Unfortunately, a lot of techniques are learned once and then forgotten. We learn through repetition. It's not enough to simply read and try something once; especially on your instrument. The new material must be studied, practiced and then reviewed. The material can be understood but without the practice (real world use), and review (making it part of your musical language), the material simply won't be absorbed. You may spend some time learning a new scale, but without practicing the scale in different applications and reviewing the scale over and over, the new material will simply be lost.

How many times have you started something without thinking about the results or what you're trying to achieve? How many times have you learned a new skill on your instrument only to forget about it the next week? How many times have you practiced a particular technique only to learn you were doing it wrong? This is because some musicians take a haphazard approach to their development and career. They try/learn something one day, only to forget and not follow up the next.
5. Practicing mistakes/the same old thing - this is the number one reason why musicians take longer to learn new skills on their instrument. When learning a new piece, you're eager to get it up to speed and make it sound good. So you take a minute or two to learn the fingering and then try and play it up to speed. This is the worst thing you can do. First of all, you're fingers aren't ready to to play the notes properly. It's important that you take the time to play the piece at a slow tempo and make sure that you can hear every single note. Every note (including mutes, scratches and slides) must be deliberate. Too often in their hurry to learn a piece, players will fluff over certain parts and carry on. What happens in effect is that they continue to practice even though they can't play the piece properly. They will practice the difficult parts, mistakes and all over and over again, thereby reinforcing the errors in their playing. As hard as it may seem at first, it's much more beneficial to practice at a slower speed for a longer time at the beginning and work up the speed gradually.

How much time do you devote to learning new skills on your instrument as opposed to going over the same things. Musicians will pick up the instrument and 'just starting noodling'. Is this is your usual method of practice? Not only is nothing new studied, the same old things are gone over without any thought. There is no program and there is no actual development. This also applies to writing and improvising; you need to challenge yourself daily. It's all too easy to get into familiar habits and go on without any development.
Putting It All Together

It's easy to get into some bad habits. It's easy to think you're actually making some progress and getting something done. It's much harder to gauge for musicians because you're usually on your own. To be the most effective, you're going to have to get organized and get some systems together. This includes: a regular practice regimen/program, a business strategy, time management skills, and a support system. To be a really effective musician you have to make sure you're doing the major three on a regular basis: creating your art (product), connecting with your fans (marketing), making a living from your art (business). Remember, you need all three. Creation without marketing and distribution is not a business, it's a hobby.