There are two qualities many musicians seem to lack that hinder their chance for success: patience and persistence. The converse of this is also true: musicians tend to have abundant quantities of impatience and share a lack of determination and resolve. While some believe that it is possible to succeed without patience and persistence, in highly competitive situations like the entertainment industry, the scarcity of either of these essential qualities will almost certainly lead to failure. Let's take a look at why musicians, in particular, seem to be such an impatient group of people, and why developing patience and persistence are so important to a successful future.
A good number of musicians who have mastered their instruments and dabbled in songwriting and recording, may rightly conclude that the time has come to release a CD or cassette of their original music. After spending months writing and recording the music, they finally deliver a master tape to the duplicator and within a month find several thousand CDs at their doorstep. They begin to spend time promoting their record and watch as sales begin, slowly at first, then more rapidly. However they suddenly realize that their goal of selling 2000 records in twelve months will not be possible. They had planned to use the 2000 unit sales benchmark as validation of their talent, and since that goal is now unachievable, they get discouraged and eventually give up.
What's wrong with the artists (and there have been many) who have followed this recipe for failure? Was it the goal of 2000 CD sales in one year? I don't think so. Goals, such as sales, radio play, or good reviews, are important - whether they are achieved completely or partially. Was it the fact that their sales were tied to their self-perception as meaningful artists? Almost. Since artistic merit and sales should never be linked together, that was an unfortunate mistake on their part. However, I think the most critical error was only having short-term goals that must be achieved in order to proceed. In situations like this, longer-term goals (five to ten years and beyond) are necessary to keep any short-term failures in perspective. The absence of long-term goals is a direct cause of impatience - a feeling that you are running out of time to achieve success.
If you've ever overheard an unknown musician that has stated, "Our CD is just out and we're going to tour and promote this record until we hit it big, " chances are that they have a very short term goal - namely, to hit it big with one record. When the good news is slow in coming in the first few months, a sense of impatience will begin to take over and rule the decision making for the future. Once their judgment is clouded by impatience, nothing will seem to happen fast enough, and inevitably, the effort required to achieve their goal will diminish - until total inactivity has been reached. At that point, they'll quit in disgust.
Some of you might have thought that one- and two-year plans and goals ARE examples of long-term thinking. That only proves that you are with the majority of musicians who were almost born impatient. You need to learn patience and long-term thinking just like you had to learn scales, barre chords, rhythm and song structures.
At this point, I'd like to draw a comparison between an independent-minded musician who desperately wants a successful recording career and an eighth-grade student who wants to be an accountant. As a musician, once you've learned your way around your instrument, achieved a decent musical vocabulary, and have written a number of average-or-better songs you are about even, career-wise, with the eighth-grader who is starting high school in the fall. The difference is that the eighth grader knows he has eight years of study ahead of him before anyone will consider hiring him for real money. Additionally, the student knows that even with hard work and persistence a good job is still not guaranteed.
Time for some honesty. How many musicians can you name that if they knew in advance that they were looking at eight years of recording, rehearsing, writing, touring, practicing, producing, releasing, promoting, publicizing, enduring, persisting and persevering before even having a chance at a regular musical income (much less the great financial success that comes with a hit record) would even begin working towards such a goal? The eighth-grader knows what lies ahead; the musician looks to record one, maybe two records, spend a year or three of half-hearted effort and then complains when success seems distant.
If you are at the stage where you've released your first CD, as the typical impatient musician you probably would liken yourself to the college senior, meaning that within the year, you expect some significant financial happenings in order to boost your ego and build your confidence. After all, how can you consider recording another record if you can't sell out of the first release? The truth that you really need to grasp is that you are actually at the stage of the high school freshman or sophomore. No one is going to pay you yet - you're literally just starting out! If you are honest with yourself you will realize just how much more you have to learn about composition, dynamics, rhythm, mood, production, mastering, promotion, publicity, etc. The best part is you've got seven or eight more years to perfect your craft. You see, your true craft is recording and releasing records and almost no one gets it right the first couple of times.
So if we follow the analogy through, if you've released a record a year for four years, you are about at the stage of the high school senior. You've got some significant accomplishments behind you but you may need to step back and further assess which direction you want to take for the future. And you may be broke (sound familiar?) just like a high school senior. Expect to be broke financially but expect to be rich emotionally and tough enough and persistent enough to make it through your 'college' years. Take all you've learned up to this point and be prepared to compose and release some of the finest music you are capable of producing. Keep an open mind and get help when you need it. Get rid of any people who have not supported you fully over the past four years, especially drummers that can't keep time! You can learn a lot more about recording, producing and releasing in the next four years - make sure you do it with rising professionals like yourself.
Am I suggesting eight years is the minimum required effort to achieve any success in the music business? No! Go back and reread the last several paragraphs. My point was to demonstrate what real long-term thinking is so that you can mentally prepare yourself to commit to four years of 'high school' and four years of 'college' in the ultra-competitive music business. Every year you will record and release then notice what works and what doesn't. Change what doesn't work, enhance what does work and do it all again the next year. Commit to this. Sign off in blood if you have to. Don't take the mental 'easy way out' of the typical impatient musician and expect one year at G.I.T. or one or two CD releases to be your ticket to success in music.
This kind of mental toughness will support you as you encounter the typical apathy and ennui of the jaded music consumer of the '90s. But instead of making excuses and complaining that, "no one gives unknown artists a break," you'll be channeling your efforts into better and better material, expecting and demanding that each release you produce will be superior to the previous release.
Giving yourself a long time frame in which to perfect your craft will allow you the freedom to try a number of different approaches to your music and to each post-release promotion effort. Most of your bright ideas will fail and that's where you need to apply persistence. Persistence is a healthy form of stubbornness that allows you to say to yourself, "I don't care how many ways I have to try to solve this promotion problem (for example) or crack this distribution network. I will continue to try new ideas and listen to other people's approaches until I find the key." Looking at it another way, long-term thinking almost gives you the time you need to be persistent. You won't be focused 100% on short-term thinking so you'll be more likely to try a hundred ideas until you find one that works.
The bottom line through all of this is that you can never, ever give up. A whole bunch of small failures is nothing compared to giving up entirely on your dream. Be prepared and expect that success will come - but on its own time and schedule, not yours. When success does come, it will come so quickly and suddenly that you'll be shocked. But you'll also know in your heart that it was no 'overnight success' - it was your patience and persistence coupled with your preparation and hard work that finally paid off.
Dan McAvinchey is a guitarist and composer living in Raleigh, NC.
He believes every musician or composer has the power to write, record and release their own music.
His 1997 CD release on Guitar Nine was entitled "Guitar Haus".
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