What do you think is the #1 thing that holds people back from starting their music career? Is it lack of musical talent? Lack of music industry connections? Lack of opportunities? Lack of money? Not living in a big enough city (or country) with a huge music scene?
The answer is none of the above. Although there are many reasons why musicians fail to make it in this business, the above things are nothing more than cover stories for the truth. The most common reason for failure in the music industry is… FEAR.
Most musicians self-sabotage their own music careers by letting their fears control what they do (or don’t do). Some fears are felt on a conscious level, while others are subconscious and may not be that obvious. Yet the results of fear are as predictable as they are ironic: the very things that you are afraid of end up ruining your career. As an artist consultant, I have seen this scenario played out countless times.
Here are probably some of the most common fears that musicians face, how they end up sabotaging their careers before they even get out of the chute (you cowboys will probably understand that term best).
Musician Fear #1: Fear Of Going Broke. What’s the most common warning you hear from friends and family about starting a music career? Usually you are told things like: “You’d better have a safe and secure job as a backup plan” “You can never make good money working as a musician” “Most musicians are starving artists………..”
Although the above statements are generally told to you with good intentions, they are usually based in unsubstantiated fears. How many artists that we would consider “average” when it comes to talent that make a very decent living.
Now I do agree with having a job until you are able to phase it out because your music career is replacing it. The idea of slowly phasing out your day job while building your music career is good, but in order to work, it needs to be done in the right way. Most musicians have nothing planned or prepared that will allow them to gradually decrease the time spent at their day job and focus more on music. When choosing a “backup plan”, musicians typically find a job that is the most “safe and secure” and the one that pays the most money. However, most people fail to plan the “exit strategy” and think ahead to the time when their music career will allow then to focus less of their time on the day job. When they finally reach that point, they realize that they are trapped in their day job and are unable to “gradually” phase it out. They are faced with the choice of either quitting the job entirely, or sticking to it until the “ship has sailed…….” The best exit plan is to have a job that will allow you to gradually decrease the number of hours you spend on it.
Musician Fear #2: Fear Of Failing In Your Music Career. Too many musicians self-sabotage their music careers by being afraid that: They are too old to have a music career. They are not talented enough to make it in music. They don’t live in a city with a big music scene. They don’t have a music degree. Their musical style is not popular in their city/state/country. If they fail, they will look stupid in front of everyone who “warned” them about the possibility of failure and only prove their naysayers right. Besides the overwhelming number of reasons why these fears are COMPLETELY irrational:
Musician Fear #3: Fear Of Success In Your Music Career. Think it’s impossible to be “afraid of success”? Think again. While the above fear of “failure” is common to less-experienced musicians who are just entering the music business, fear of “success” is common to more experienced musicians who are just on the brink of a huge breakthrough in their music careers. These musicians can sabotage themselves by worrying about how their lives will change as they become successful pros in music, what other people will think of them, how hard it will be to maintain their success or thinking subconsciously that they do not “deserve” success. As a result (as crazy as this sounds), many musicians begin to intentionally do things that they themselves know are against their own best interest (such as turning down opportunities to join bands, go on tour or get the training that they know they need that will lead them to success).
Musician Fear #4: Fear Of being taken advantage of” by Record Companies, Promoters And Other Music Industry Executives. The music industry is full of stories of failed musicians who claim that someone in the music business has forced them to sign an unfair contract, refused to pay them more money or in one way or another took advantage of them – causing their careers to fail. Stories like this make many musicians fearful of entering any business deals in the music industry and often prevent them from pursuing a music career entirely.
It’s not the “musicians” who should be afraid of being taken advantage of by companies in this business – it’s the COMPANIES who should be (and are) afraid of being taken advantage of by the MUSICIANS they work with. Contrary to popular belief, most music industry companies are NOT out there to rip off musicians. Instead, they are hungry for new talent, for win-win partnerships and for ways to leverage their resources (with the help of musicians they work with) to grow everyone’s career in a mutually beneficial way.
At the same time, these companies are also fearful of investing huge sums of money into musicians who: Are emotionally or mentally unstable. Feel “entitled” to the company’s money and resources simply because they may be good musicians.
The so-called “mental game” has become widely discussed in sports as many athletes have admitted to receiving help from sports psychologists, therapists, etc. Most professional athletes realize that at a certain level the playing field is so competitive that the difference between winning and losing is truly all in your head. This concept is well known to sports enthusiasts because they’ve seen the drama unfold before their very eyes. Whether an athlete cracks under the pressure of a big game or rises to the occasion when it’s all on the line, the mind is usually the defining factor in these situations.
The Mental Game Of The Music Business. Musicians are the same as athletes in this regard. Instead of pitching out of a bases loaded situation, we might have an important audition or performance. Instead of being tormented by a past mistake such as a game losing fumble, we might have been scarred by an abusive teacher, a bad performance, or a negative association with a song we can never seem to remember. Now, I don’t want to sound like a self-help guru here, but I believe that the mental game might be the single most important aspect involved in being a professional musician. There is so much talent and competition in the music industry that a strong mind could be your best asset in separating you from the pack. Also, this mental fortitude can help you overcome other obstacles as well. Many mentally tough musicians battle physical odds/handicaps and become successful despite their disadvantages. For example, the late, great jazz guitarist Django Reinhardt lost use of his third and fourth fingers (on his left hand) in a caravan fire. This probably would have caused many musicians to quit and find new professions, but Django vowed to relearn the guitar despite his new handicap. He eventually emerged as one of the best jazz guitarists who ever lived, which is a testament to his strong mind. I’m not denying his insane innate talent, but his mental fortitude and unwillingness to accept defeat was the reason why he was able to bounce back. You may or may not have a physical handicap like Django, but the music business will find ways to throw adversity at you at a rapid pace. If you don’t adopt this survivor-type attitude you will most likely fall by the wayside.