“Probe every aspect of what ‘being a successful musician’ means to you.”
–The Musician’s Way, p. 302
If you aspire to a career as an independent musician, you’ll find lots of “how to” advice online.
This post takes a reverse approach: I highlight 12 unwise moves that are common among young performers and counter them with thoughts for building flourishing careers.
I hope it will inspire you to enthusiastically pursue your musical dreams.
- Don’t perform unless you can present complete concerts
Almost any developing musician can prepare a piece or two for a public show. And by doing lots of succinct performances, we build up our performance skills, stage persona, and fan base. Student musicians who avoid public appearances are less likely to grow into compelling performing artists.
- Ignore feedback
Evaluations provide us with external views and help us counter distorted self-perceptions. Shirking critiques almost ensures mediocrity.
- Do only what teachers require
Music curricula encompass the basic elements of musical competence, but successful students exceed basic requirements, taking on projects beyond what’s expected.
- Shun learning about the music industry
Artistic excellence anchors any music career, yet sustainable music careers are born from merging artistic prowess with ways that we can generate income through our art. For career-minded musicians, industry knowledge is as essential as musicianship.
- Focus solely on competitions
Audiences care little about competitions, and only the grandest contests propel the careers of winners. Competition experience is beneficial, but it’s far more crucial for us to develop distinctive styles, repertoires, and artistic identities through public performances and recordings.
- Perform nothing but standard repertoire
The Web and concert halls abound with musicians performing standard repertoire. To be remarkable, we do well to champion distinctive titles and new music along with mastering classics.
- Seldom attend concerts nor listen to recordings
Few things are more nourishing for our imaginations than to hear diverse performers, styles, and compositions. And when we step out of our habitual listening patterns, untold creative possibilities can germinate.
- Skip participating in festivals
Students who take lessons, rehearse, and perform at festivals go outside their familiar musical environments, expand their professional networks, and otherwise feed their creativity and careers.
- Abstain from contributing to online communities
Via websites and social media, we can connect with artists and industry pros worldwide, plus we can amass followers who resonate with our visions. Musicians who turn away from such opportunities impede their chances for independent careers.
- Practice incessantly
Musical growth, career building, and self-care entail balancing the demands of practice with everything else. Musicians who do nothing but practice risk injury and isolation.
- Avoid collaborating
Along with listening to a range of performers, making music with others ranks among the most impactful things we can do to nurture our artistry and careers.
- Fear making mistakes
Creative work involves taking chances, which means that some of our musical explorations will take flight and others will fall flat. Yet we need our flubs to grow. Students who fear errors become constrained by perfectionism. But by embracing the adventurous nature of the creative process, we benefit from the indescribable satisfaction of making and sharing music.
© 2014 Gerald Klickstein
Photo © Ollyy, licensed from Shutterstock.com