When it comes to music, success can look like many different things – money, recognition, acceptance, communication, happiness and satisfaction, or simply creative expression. Want to know how to improve pretty much any of these? Read on.
What is it that gets us to act? What truly motivates creative people? If you’re like a majority of the music community, this is a complicated issue. As musicians, we are often intensely sensitive creatures, highly attuned to our environments, our feelings, and the way we are perceived. Many times, we just want to be understood.
But a combination of inertia and the inner critic can get the best of any of us; even the most successful musicians have periods of blocked creativity, self-doubt, frustration – even angst and depression. Let’s face it: Chasing music success can be downright exhausting at times, and staying motivated in music isn’t always easy.
So, what’s the good news? Well…
How would you feel if you knew there were things you could do right now that would immediately improve your outlook, your skills, and your results?
The truth is, there are some very simple mindset changes that not only can improve your daily life; they can also help you up your game entirely.
Now, let’s get down to business.
1. Decide to learn things for yourself.
This is the one that made the biggest difference for me, and I know it will for you, too. This is because learning things for yourself basically equates to freedom.
When you rely on others to teach you things, or expect someone else to do stuff for you, you rob yourself of your personal agency. You cannot take control of your own destiny if you are waiting on someone else to build the road in front of you.
“Ok, but do I really need to do absolutely everything myself?”
Of course not. If you’re a music producer, you don’t need to make all of your sounds from scratch – that’s what sample packs and virtual instruments are for.
I’m not talking about tools; I’m talking about skills you can use to accomplish your goals.
We live in a time of unprecedented access to a wealth of information that’s all available for free (or cheap) online; you can teach yourself just about anything using YouTube, especially when it comes to music production, composition, recording, and performance. For instance, take a look at this huge list of YouTube channels on music production if you want to get a quick idea of just how much is available on the topic.
Want to get better at singing? There are tons of vocal coaches on YouTube. Want to improve your musical technique? There are videos for that, too. Want a professional mixdown of your track, but don’t have enough money to pay a mixing engineer? Watch mixing tutorials and learn for yourself.
This approach is especially useful when it comes to promoting your music, too. If you learn a few basic things about graphic design, you can make your own cover art.
And before you say that you can’t afford to pay for Photoshop: There are web apps like Canva that enable you to make event posters, social media graphics, and more for free online. The same applies for music videos, using a smartphone and free software like Blender (or iMovie if you have a Mac), and websites using free site builders like Wix and Weebly, for example.
There are great tools out there for little-to-no cost, no matter what you’re trying to accomplish.
What I’m saying is that the power is in your hands.
You can certainly hire experts and specialists if you have the budget, but for the people who either can’t afford it, or feel like they are being held back by a skills deficit, this is one of the first and most important mindset shifts that can be truly game-changing.
“Take your life in your own hands, and what happens? A terrible thing: you have no one to blame.” – Erica Jong
Part of why we forget to learn things for ourselves is because we are afraid of failure. What if we do everything right, and we still don’t succeed? Then the blame is on us.
But, accepting responsibility for yourself and your status is powerful; it’s a choice to look at the world with an attitude of gratitude and self-assured competence, rather than disempowering yourself with excuses and attempts to avoid all risk.
2. Stop worrying about what other people think of you.
I know you’ve probably heard this a million times, but it’s true! Worrying about what other people think of you – especially your peers, or even your family – can stop progress in its tracks.
Being boldly unashamed of yourself and your music is easier said than done; it’s who you are, and it’s personal. But, there’s a big world out there, and it’s pretty likely that there’s a niche waiting just for you.
Sure, not everyone is going to like what you do, but who cares? Somebody out there is going to relate to your work, your message, and how you present yourself. Maybe they just don’t know you exist yet.
Being overly concerned with what other people think is just another way of relinquishing your personal power.
Of course, being unapologetic about who you are, and standing by your work no matter what, doesn’t mean that you don’t take advice on board – constructive criticism is essential for growth, after all! The point is that the very core of self-belief is developing the confidence to pursue your passions in spite of criticism and failure. You must develop the strength to do this, or you won’t be able to withstand the harsh realities of the music industry.
Wanting to know where you stand in comparison to your peers is normal, and so is wanting to put your best foot forward. Just remember that allowing yourself to be deeply affected by the mere thought of criticism is usually just an ego defense mechanism on overdrive. Let it go. Do your thing.
3. Celebrate what you do like, instead of bashing what you don’t.
“The world is changed by your example, not by your opinion.” ―
If you want to make serious strides in your career (or on long-term goal, for that matter), focusing on the negative is one of the worst things you can possibly do. Celebrating the things you do like gets you inspiration, motivation, identifiable goals, and more. Bashing what you don’t like gets you a whole lot of wasted time and bad energy.
Think about some of the more successful musicians you know. Are they spouting off about music they don’t like? Putting down other musicians? Complaining about the industry, or declaring their oppositions to certain genres? Probably not.
Sure, they may express criticisms; that’s normal, and should be expected – even welcomed. However, it’s important to remember that your energy is limited, and how you spend it will determine where you end up.
If you regularly focus on negative things, you use up your mental bandwidth, leaving a lot less room for joy, creativity, and motivation.
Not to mention that the people in music who really want to go places simply don’t have the time for (or the interest in) constant negativity. If they start to associate that with you, you could find yourself missing out on important networking opportunities, camaraderie, and new connections with otherwise like-minded people.
4. Seriously, let go of perfectionism.
Look, I know your music is important to you; nobody wants to perform or release music that isn’t up to their standards. But unfortunately, perfectionism can sometimes do more harm than good – especially if you’re undergoing rapid growth.
One of the best ways to build confidence as a musician is to create a body of work. This gives you a reference point for assessing your progress – and something to claim as proof of your talent, skills, and dedication.
But it’s difficult to build a body of work in the first place if perfectionism is getting in the way of sharing your work with the world. On one hand, you only want to share what reflects positively on your abilities. On the other hand, progress doesn’t happen in a vacuum; you need to create and release your work in order to establish your sound, get real-world experience, and build a fan base, for example.
When it comes to music performance, preparation is important (depending on your style and genre), but mistakes are part and parcel of being human, and musicians are no different. The only reason it feels extra visceral is because of the personal, vulnerable quality that music has.
Curbing perfectionistic tendencies is hard, but it just takes practice. Most musicians have things they aren’t super proud of – but nobody cares about that stuff. Nobody thinks twice about the video of Lauryn Hill getting booed at a live performance when she was 13, because it doesn’t matter – she’s created plenty of incredible music since then.
5. Quit preparing and just start.
“What you don’t do doesn’t matter.” – Chris Guillebeau
The reality is there will always be an excuse to not do your work. If you’re looking for reasons to sit on your hands and do nothing, or excuse yourself from taking on the uncomfortable challenges that are required to get where you want to be, you’ll find them lurking around every corner.
This can take the form of endless preparing and planning. You could consider it a form of perfectionism, where the conditions must be exactly right before you can really give it a proper shot.
But, time is like a train that passes whether or not you get on board. Do you want to miss out?
Some of the most influential people in the world started with very limited tools. A good number of them never went to college, and didn’t have the latest and greatest technology at their immediate disposal. Guess what?
They created anyway.
You don’t need the most advanced gear, expensive software, or flashy presentation in order to make an impact; you can start with what you have right now. There are a range of free software programs, tools, and resources that anyone can use – all easily found with a quick google search.
Starting now and adjusting as you go along is one of the most effective ways to build momentum and confidence, while honing your skills over time and developing your sound as an artist. Don’t worry if everything isn’t perfect, or if you don’t have the exact tools or skills you would want in an ideal world; you can do a lot with very little!
Bypass the excuses
It gets hard sometimes, there’s no doubt about it. But the rewards of rising to the challenge are far more wonderful than the relative comfort and secure mediocrity of remaining in stasis and avoiding the risk of failure. Develop the strength to call yourself out on your own excuses. You have the power and the tools to make your music happen.
What have been the biggest game-changers when it comes to your own pursuit of success in music? What are the things you’ve found most challenging in your experience? Let me know in the comments below!