How To Find Your Musical Goals

There was a comment recently about tips for trying to figure out your goals. This seems to be a tough thing for most people, especially musicians. There are tons of articles out there about how to get things done and succeed. They start off with you making a list of your goals and then move on from there. Unfortunately, figuring out your goals is usually difficult and timing consuming. Some people go through their entire life not knowing what they're goals are. Yet you're supposed to figure this out in a short time and then move on from there. Figuring out what your goals are like asking you what your favorite color is. It's all personal and one person's answers are going to be different than another. The key to figuring out what your goals are is all about asking questions; tons of them. Once you start asking yourself the right questions it will become easier figuring out what direction you should take.

Where Am I?

This should be your first question because all of the others stem from this. If you're just starting out, in the middle of your career, changing directions or trying to look for something new., this will impact all of your other decisions. For example if you're just starting out, you will have tons of options as far as where to start but be limited by your experience whereas if you're in the middle or your career, you will have different priorities. Part of this question relates to other things going on in your life. If you're in your 20's, you'll have different responsibilities than if you were in your 40's. You will have different resources available and different opportunities. For example; you might be in your early 20's, just out of school, not much money but no responsibilities. You are willing to travel and don't need much to get by. Your goals would be different than somebody who was in their 30's who may have experience touring and teaching, newly married and thinking about staring a family. You can see that their goals would be different just based on these few factors. It's important to start here is because any decisions you make are going to affect the rest of your life in some way. Looking at all of the variables allows you to make better informed decisions.

The first step in figuring out your goals is to brainstorm. It's important that for this first session you just let it all go and not think too much about details or even if the goal is realistic or not. It's all about just seeing what moves you and what you want out of life.

The Big List

We're going to start with the big list. We're just going to let it all out here. One exercise that I did when I was going to college was a 'where do you see yourself in 5 years' paper. I still remember what I wrote and to this day most of what was on that paper applies. I was thinking in general terms of all of the things that I wanted to do with music and wasn't worried about being realistic or even succinct. I put down everything that I wanted to do. I'm amazed at to this day how accurate this list was. The only thing that was off was my timing...I was only off about a decade.
Just start writing. Don't worry about how or even why, just write. You may find yourself not believing what you're writing but do it anyway. There are no limits here. Start with your biggest dreams and aspirations and go from there. Don't leave anything out.
You may find that when reviewing this list that it's all over the place. Some of the goals seem to go in a completely different direction than others. While others seem very doable and achievable others seem impossible. Let it go, don't dismiss anything yet.

Long Term Vs. Short Term

There are two sets of goals that you have to create and they all depend on the size and importance of the goal. Generally, the bigger the goal, the longer it will take to accomplish that goal. Also, once you have decided on a big, long term goal, you will have to break it down into smaller, more manageable goals.  One important note, think big. Decide what you really want. These will usually be big dreams and that's perfect for our initial session. We do this because we want to make sure we're aiming for something that we really want and not something that we're willing to settle for. All too often we base our goals on smaller things that we assume will be easier and much more realistic. There are two problems with this; first of all things are rarely as simple as they seem and two, we may end up spending a lot of time and reaching a goal that we weren't all that crazy about in the first place. If you're worried about being realistic and creating manageable goals, wait until the next part of this process.

Keep Em Separated

There's a famous story about Walt Disney who used to keep all of the 'creative' people (artists, writers etc) separate from the 'realistic' (managers, accountants, lawyers etc) people. He would let the creative people roam freely with their ideas and creative output. He would later put the ideas through the administrative people to see what was possible. You want to do the same with your goals. When deciding what you want to do, wait until later before you work out the details. After all you're a musician, it's all about possibilities. Once you've got a good idea of the direction you want to head, then you can sit down and see what's realistically possible in the next year or so.


You may notice that throughout this post I've used the word direction when describing your goals and career. That's because being a musician is about trying different things, taking different routes and figuring out what to do next. A musician's career is rarely straightforward and simple. You should get used to this process because you're going to have to do it on a regular basis. There are going to be wrong turns, great runs and a lot of not knowing what to do next. Get used to it.

Reality Check

Ok, it's about that time. Time to go over your list and make some decisions. These are usually tough because we're bent on making the right ones first. Let me tell you straight won't make all the right decisions. In fact some of your decisions are going to be completely wrong. But of course, you won't know that until you've actually done them, so don't worry about it.

Keeping Track

It's a good idea to just get started. It's a bad idea to keep doing something just because you started and made some personal investment. It's important that you step back periodically and see if you're happy with the way things are going. Are you getting any results from your actions? Is this something that you feel that you should keep on pursuing? People are really reluctant to give something up once they're put enough time and energy into matter how fruitless the endeavour seems to be. Once again I'm speaking from experience here. I don't know how many times I've stuck with a band simply because I've made such a huge investment in time and effort. It's really important that you step back on a regular basis and take stock at where you are.

There's A Fork In The Road

We do all of this is to give our career some sort of direction. You will want to stick with your decisions and see if they're working. If you've made an effort and see that there's another direction you want to take, then do it. Remember to go through the same process so you don't end up waving all over the place, doing a million things without really getting anything done. Some musicians are guilty of trying to keep all of their options open thinking that this will increase their opportunity for success. In fact, your chances are much better when you have focus and specific direction. Mostly because you're not being pulled in a million directions and not really accomplishing anything. There will come a time however when something unexpected springs up. This happens more when you're doing things right than wrong. For example you may be doing really well with your band when you get approached by another band to do a major tour. This is when your lists really come in handy. What do you do; stick with your band or take the risk and join the other? Of course this a completely personal decision but if you've been regularly checking your goals and making conscious decisions about your career, the decision may be easier to make. If touring is really high on your list your decision would be different if you were bent on getting a new CD released with your current band.

Not A Clue

At this point if you're sitting there and still don't have a clue what you're going to do don't worry, you're not alone. Even with all of this information it still may not be clear to us what direction to take. Either you have too many things you want to do (typical) or no idea whatsoever. The long and short of it is; you're going to have to do something. It's better to do something and get started than to do nothing. Sometimes you may want to put it off and try and figure it out later. There's nothing wrong with wanting to figure out what exactly it is you want to do but you don't want to wait too long. If it's been a couple of months and you're still trying to make out your lists and figuring out the perfect thing to do next is...then stop. Pick something and do it. If you're worried about wasting time heading in the wrong direction don't, remember you just wasted a couple of months not coming up with any ideas of what to do next.

On Your Mark...

This is just the beginning. It's also one step in many. It's important to get into the mindset of figuring out what it is you want to do and how to get there. This list will change. That's typical, especially for musicians. Don't worry about making the perfect moves and decisions. It won't happen. Pick something that you believe in a get going. Stick with it and see if you're getting the results you want. If you aren't, re-examine and start again. Repeat until you get there.