There is no middle ground for musicians. Your art will be discovered or your career will end in obscurity. No matter how much natural ability you may have, it will not save you from obscurity. The one and only way to fight obscurity is through consistent, efficient, and targeted effort.
“When we turn pro, we give up a life that we may have become extremely comfortable with. We give up a self that we have come to identify with and to call our own.” – Steven Pressfield
Below is a clip of author Malcolm Gladwell as he discusses the Beatles path to initial discovery and the power of a consistent targeted effort.
The crazy thing is that all of this occurred after the Beatles had put in their 10,000 hours. They played cover songs 8 hours a day, 7 days a week to scrape by in Hamburg, far away from the comforts of home.
From the outside, it seemed they had nothing to show from all that hard work. The average band would have given up. But…. through the repetition of playing the hit songs of the day as a group, they were a sleeping giant, waiting to be discovered by the entire world. All the Beatles needed to do was find the right team… which they found in manager Brian Epstein and producer George Martin.
We don’t live in the 1960’s though. DJ’s have replaced the musicians who once cut their teeth playing covers at local gatherings. The redirection of the music industry revenue streams has left record label development funds depleted. No longer do you have a gentleman like George Martin sitting inside a studio on Abbey Road, waiting for the opportunity to take a chance on a new artist.
No. We live in 2016. In today’s world, getting minimal exposure is much easier than it was fifty years ago. The problem is that this exposure is exactly that…minimal. Spotify, Youtube, Facebook, Twitter, Soundcloud – you name it. For most people, that minimal amount of exposure is enough to satisfy their ego and give them a sense of accomplishment. This is why Next Big Sound reported that under 10% of musicians in the whole world will ever be considered “discovered.” Who knows, if these avenues would have existed in 1964, maybe the Beatle’s would have taken the easy way out. After all that rejection, no one would have faulted them. Although, I’m glad they didn’t.
So what is a musician to do if they want to get past the level of minimal exposure and beat obscurity?
Start with maximum effort. Move past the point of relying on your natural talents. The talents and abilities you were born with will not get you much further than “YouTube Sensation,” if that far. Making the leap from exceptional to professional requires correct practice, concentrated thought, and fundamental mastery. Someone once said to me,
“To break the rules, you must first master them.”
I realized the “rules” are not so much a strict, regimented way of practicing music as much as they are a fundamental mastery of your craft; a craft that can be different for every musician.
For example, if you are playing as the guitarist of a rock band, your craft is not only mastering the guitar in a way that allows you to experiment with different and new sounds, but also entails mastering the art of being a performer, and the art of getting along in with your fellow band members. Are you one of the chief songwriters? Well, add the mastery of songwriting to the list as well.
You can not get to a level of mastery without consistency. One of the hallmarks of being a professional is being able to do your job regardless of extenuating circumstances. There is no such thing as “writer’s block” to the professional songwriting musician.
Think about the life of a touring professional musician. Some of them spend over 300 days on the road a year and still manage to work on a new project to release the following year. Do they have bad days? Do they ever have moments of self-doubt? Do they ever feel like what they’re doing doesn’t matter? Of course. What puts them in the category of professional is that they push through their self-doubt and bad days and get the work done that needs to be done.
The professional musician requires a unique skill set. A heart surgeon can attend specialized schooling to be taught their craft, but the musician… not so much. Sure there are music colleges out there, but attending a specialized music school means absolutely nothing if your goal is to become a professional performing artist.
Let me clarify. A medical professional goes through specialized training and schooling, expecting to follow a fairly certain career path upon graduation. A musician goes to a specialized music college, receives specific training while attending said college, only to graduate into a world of uncertainty. However, at this point, he’s four or more years behind every other musician who lives in a world of uncertainty and chose to navigate the industry properly.
This was the exact reason why a record label’s artist development programs were such an important and powerful thing. In an industry that eats its young, where any chinks in the artist’s professional armor have the power to destroy their career overnight, a guiding hand is the key to an artist’s success.
Indie Rock Inc. was created for the sole purpose to illuminate the path of musicians who want to develop themselves past the point of minimal success. We can and will do this by providing knowledge, creating tools, and building communities for you to leverage on your journey. The path, however, is not for the weak-willed. It requires an endurance that only an unquenchable thirst for success can provide.