Most musicians aren’t getting the education they need – and what’s worse – they aren’t even aware of this fact.
From my perspective, there are essentially four pillars to success in music. What most musicians receive is an education in just one of those four pillars. In other words, they only tap into 25% of their potential – ever!
Some musicians will go onto pursue the second pillar (marketing capacity; see below), but very few will ever go beyond that point. Why is that? Because they aren’t aware that they need more than just music theory, songwriting ability, and skills as a vocalist or instrumentalist to make it as a musicians.
“What? You mean to say that there are things besides music that musicians should be focusing on?”
That’s exactly what I mean to say. If you’ve been brought up to believe that talent is all you need, you have been misled. This relates to the first pillar of success in music, so let’s jump right in…
Pillar 1 – Talent & Creative Ability
I will never say that you don’t need any talent to succeed as a musician. However, if you take a close look at the pop world, it doesn’t take a discerning eye to see that many of the acts in the spotlight don’t really have a lot of talent where most musicians think it counts.
What musicians in the pop world possess is good looks (marketability), dance moves, production value, songwriting ability, controversy, some other asset, or a combination thereof. In my opinion, most pop songs are pretty vapid these days; they’re cash-ins on quickly passing trends. However, you can’t really say that it doesn’t take any smarts to know what the masses are going to resonate with.
Arguably, pop musicians (and the people that write for them) know exactly what trending topics to tap into. You can call them shallow if you want to, but you can’t call them stupid. They know exactly what they’re doing.
Further evidence to this; just watch the music videos that have been coming out as of late. They are edgier than ever. Losing their place on most TV channels (even so-called “music” channels) has seemingly empowered labels and artists to make videos as controversial as they want them to be.
Labels know what sells, be it sex, death, or something else. They continue to invest into music videos, which means they must be working for them (Taylor Swift’s “Shake It Off” video currently has over 278 million views).
The good news is that musicians get to define success on their own terms. They don’t have to set pop stardom as the standard, and there’s definitely nothing saying that skilled musicians don’t make it into the charts either (just look at John Mayer). You get to determine your own focus. Moreover, it’s still possible to have a profitable and sustainable career outside of mainstream success.
The main issue here is that many musicians come out of school or lessons knowing how to play, but little else. They don’t know what steps they should be taking next.
So, let’s explore the remaining three pillars together to learn what is needed.
Pillar 2 – Marketing Capacity
A musician finally begins to unlock their marketing capacity when they start searching online for articles about Twitter marketing or YouTube tactics. It’s not that they are entirely conscious about their need to learn about marketing, but as their awareness of the online space grows, they almost organically start reaching for it (though some musicians never arrive at this point).
It’s unfortunate that musicians aren’t taught the importance of marketing from day one. They would probably have less of a struggle with it later on.
Let’s be realistic about this. In a world with mobile devices, constant access to the internet and millions of content pieces published online every single day, will there ever come a time when marketing is unimportant?
No. If you want to stand out from the crowd, creativity and innovation will have to be applied to marketing as much as it is to the production of music itself. There will always be a need for good marketing.
This isn’t to say that musicians have to do it all themselves, but when they’re just getting started, often that’s exactly what it means. A lot of musicians wait around for someone to come alongside them to help them out. That happens so rarely nowadays.
Even if musicians hope to hand off their marketing duties at a later date, there’s no harm in getting started. Musicians with time challenges need to do some problem-solving. If they’re practicing for three hours every single day, they should take at least 30 minutes of that time and put it towards marketing instead.
Musicians that know how to market themselves will do better than those who are merely skilled. Skill is an asset, but only when you have a way of getting it out there. How many talented, under-recognized musicians are there? Too many.
The good news is that there is a growing awareness of the need for marketing. The information age has helped many people come to the important realization that trust must be earned, and credibility must be built. How is that accomplished? Through good marketing.
The remaining two pillars are where most musicians have very little or no knowledge at all.
Pillar 3 – People Skills
This “hidden” skill should be talked about more often, be it at home, in schools or at workplaces. If you have people skills, a huge number of opportunities will open up to you. So why do we avoid this subject? It’s simple, really.
Most people think that charisma and people skills are something you’re either born with or not. I used to think the same way. Then I came to understand that charisma is merely your ability to focus on others (thanks, John Maxwell). The more you put others before yourself, the more charismatic you become.
Do people skills always need to be taught? No, not in every case. Some people are naturally good at it. Or rather, they had a good role model to follow.
Notwithstanding, there are no courses called People Skills in school, are there? You could argue that it’s common sense, but the rules have all but changed thanks to instant messaging, texting and mobile devices. Bottom line – we all need refreshers in this area of life from time to time. We could all benefit from more training and education in dealing with people.
Imagine being able to negotiate better deals. Imagine connecting with more people and making more friends. Imagine asking for what you want more often, and actually getting it. Imagine being respected and admired for your ability to solve problems for people.
No matter how much awareness builds around the music industry and musicians in general, there’s still something magical and mysterious about it to those who are on the outside looking in. You may not think it’s glamorous or particularly interesting, but you have to remember that the average person isn’t living the life you are.
Musicians have to get good at interacting with their audiences. In many cases, they will have to initiate. They have to let their fans in on the magic.
It’s almost as if Jesus knew what he was talking about when he said:
Not so with you. Instead, whoever wants to become great among you must be your servant, (Matthew 20:26, New International Version)
We have to be careful with our perceptions, not just because we are always at risk of misinterpreting our situation, but for the sake of protecting our own hearts too. Next time you are at a social event, ask yourself: is the most popular person in the room the one who has “natural charisma”, or is it the person who is making an effort to engage with as many people as possible?
Being good with people takes some forethought and planning. However, there are always ways of adding value to people. If nothing else, you can probably find a way to put a smile on someone else’ face. Wouldn’t we all love to smile more?
Pillar 4 – Business Sense
The fourth pillar of success in music is in your understanding of entrepreneurship and business. I’ve talked about the fact that you have huge reservoirs of untapped potential if you don’t have any business sense before.
Entrepreneurship often requires a combination of people skills (see pillar three), personal growth habits, the managing of finances, and more. It’s really the meeting place of many important life lessons.
The tricky part is that entrepreneurship isn’t taught as much as it is caught. You have to be around people who are entrepreneurial to really get it. Teaching often comes down to theory and conjecture, even if it is based in someone’s personal experience. To take someone else’s business coaching as absolute fact is a little dangerous.
What I like about entrepreneurship is that it deals with real, tangible things. You build real relationships with real people, spend and earn real money, and gain real experience. You make mistakes, you fail, you run into challenges, you find yourself outside of your comfort zone… sometimes all on the same day!
However, it’s a lot more fun than waiting for life to happen, don’t you think? Entrepreneurs look for ways to make things happen. I believe musicians should carry that same attitude into their careers, rather than waiting for someone to recognize their greatness. You should be your own greatest cheerleader.
Business is not comfortable. It’s not easy. It’s not a walk in the park. Because that is the case, it tends to have greater rewards too.
In a sense, this fourth pillar encompasses all important components of a successful music career outside of talent and creative ability. A businessperson usually understands marketing and knows the importance of people skills. They know how important it is to manage their money well and grow themselves so that they can become greater leaders.
Business also teaches you how to become a better problem-solver, and I continue to enjoy said benefits on an ongoing basis. When life throws things at you (which it inevitably does), you become better at moving past them. You don’t linger or wallow in your own self-pity for long. You get back up, and look for a way to keep going. Every person needs to know that they can keep going after taking a hit.
A table sits atop four legs. If any one of those legs is missing, it loses its balance and cannot stand properly. Bear that in mind as you reflect on the four pillars outlined here.
The point isn’t necessarily to become good at everything. The point is to identify the areas where you aren’t living up to your potential. Awareness is the first step to improvement. If you don’t know that you aren’t good at something, you have no way of getting better at it.
While this isn’t true of every musician, I find that their weaknesses usually lie outside of talent and creative ability. Becoming a virtuoso is a worthy pursuit, and I admire those who choose to become craftspeople in their own right. However, those who want to take their career to the next level would do well to make careful note of each of the four pillars, and continue to grow themselves in all areas.
Author: David Andrew Wiebe
David Andrew Wiebe has built an extensive career in songwriting, live performance, recording, session playing, production work, investing, and music instruction. In addition to helping musicians unlock their full potential, he also continues to maintain a touring schedule with multiple bands.