musical talent

Your musical talent isn’t enough (to make it in the music business)

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Your brilliant musical talent (imagined or otherwise) is worthless unless you understand how to stand out in the crowded marketplace. So what does it take? You have to hate to lose.

I’m going to go out on a limb and assert that too many independent musicians – that’s you, reading this post – naively rely on your musical talent as though it were the end-all-be-all to success. I’ll go one further and predict that many of you are dumbfounded by the lack of attention you receive from the music industry and fans – dumbfounded that they don’t recognize and appreciate your musical talent.

It’s a nasty habit, and it has to go.

Your brilliant musical talent (imagined or otherwise) is worthless unless you understand how to stand out in the crowded marketplace.

Great athletes understand

A little while ago, I was listening to one of my favorite podcasts, “The Business of Story” with host Park Howell. In this episode, he interviewed New York Times bestselling author and former associate editor of Sports Illustrated magazine, Don Yaeger. Don has written over 25 books and interviewed over 2,500 major sports stars in his career.

Don had one question he asked in every interview he ever conducted, and he kept a record of each answer given over that lifetime of interviews.

“If you could name one habit or characteristic that you believe separated you from everyone else you competed against, what would that habit or characteristic be?”

How would you answer that question? Would you describe your most compelling gifts or musical talent? “My voice, my songwriting, my performances, my guitar playing…”

I found it interesting that most of the sports heroes Don spoke to didn’t mention their physical or athletic gifts at all. Instead, they articulated that they all had a fear of losing that surpassed their joy of winning. At some point in their lives, they all learned to HATE losing far more than they love winning, and they expect to win because winning is a direct result of the hard work they consistently put in every day.

They hate losing because it’s incredibly painful. It’s so painful to them because it’s personal. It’s personal because they accept 100% of the blame. They feel responsible for 100% of the outcome of any given situation.

If you make excuses, it’s not 100% your fault, is it? That’s the nasty habit I mentioned earlier.

Some of you shift the blame away from yourself to ease the pain of losing. It’s sucks to lose, but if it’s not your fault, there’s nothing more for you to do, right? Maybe the gods will make it different for you next time.

This habit is an admission that your life is a consequence of your surroundings rather than a result of the sum of your decisions and actions.

No room for excuses

You have to stop making excuses when you fail. Period. As long as you make excuses you’ll NEVER really feel it, and failure only hurts when you have no one else to blame. You’re an ARTIST for God’s sake, FEEL THE PAIN! It’s good for you.

In the podcast, Don went on to say he had the opportunity to attend an “old man’s sports camp” where Michael Jordan was one of the mentors, and he ended up being one of a few guys chosen to play one-on-one against Jordan.

Don was proud of the fact that he actually SCORED on Michael Jordan! Who wouldn’t be?

Jordan was pissed. He hates losing.

In his career, Don has interviewed Michael Jordan. Michael never spoke of his 42-inch vertical leap (which is astounding) when he spoke of his success. You can’t learn to jump 42 inches. A 42-inch vertical leap is a God-given talent. You have it or you don’t.

Why wouldn’t the great Michael Jordan, who is 6 feet 6 inches tall, talk about this amazing gift as one reason he was able to not only succeed, but dominate an entire league of talented professionals?

Answer: It wasn’t the talent. It was the fact that he learned to hate losing so much.

Some people are born with this type of drive. Some learn it because they grew up dirt poor and never want to return to that state of living again. Some learn it other ways. But don’t you find it interesting that of over 2,500 athletic superstars interviewed, a large majority of them described this attribute as the highest contributing factor to their success? They all have obvious talent.

You see this same dynamic play out every single day in the music business. The big winners have a very wide range of musical talent. Some are very gifted, some are not – but success isn’t dependent on whether you have enough talent to win American Idol or The Voice.

This is show-business, not show-friendship

Surround yourself with the right people. This means your band. If everyone isn’t on board, get rid of them. It can also include your significant other. If he or she is not adding to your success, they’re detracting from it.

It may sound harsh, because y’all are friends, but here’s a reality check: Imagine bringing your friend to your day job. You vouch for him to your boss, the boss agrees, and your friend comes in and doesn’t hold up his end of the deal. How would you feel?

Would you be surprised if your friend got fired? Would you be the one to fire that friend?

I remember an early gig my band played when we were in high school. We had about five minutes before the show was supposed to start and nobody could locate the new drummer. We went out into the parking lot and found him in his crappy-ass, rusted out, shit-box of a pickup truck – surrounded by a literal sea of empty beer cans.

I wanted to kill him right then and there!

We did the show, he sucked, and then he was gone. No questions asked. Who can’t handle the pressure of high school show for crying out loud?

John Wooden, the great UCLA basketball coach, was quoted as saying, “You’ll never outperform your inner circle.”

Think about that. Then REALLY think about that while you assess your inner circle.

I came from a small town. There are plenty of friends who are still in that small town, sitting on the same barstool, making the same excuses as to why they can’t succeed. Many of them are unhappy and it’s not their fault. Just ask them, they’ll tell you.

The gap

There is a mental dynamic that happens when your circle brings you down. I saw a video with Snoop Dogg the other day where he articulately described what he called “the gap.” He held one hand up in a flat horizontal fashion about two inches above the other one. Snoop said that in order to be friends and hang, the gap has to be small, like the two inches he was showing. Trouble is, when someone starts to rise up, the gap begins to widen. Then there is only one way for the relationship to continue as it has been: the gap has to close.

There are only two ways for the gap to close: either the bottom hand has to step up, or the top hand has to come down. Are you in the habit of coming down to make your friends more comfortable around you?

Don’t be ashamed of your gifts, and certainly don’t believe that your gifts alone are all you need to break out and be successful. That’s a naive story most artists love to tell themselves.

You have to be a student of the game. You have to be mindful of your inner circle. You have to hate losing.

You have to hate losing so much that you learn everything else: the music business, marketing, performance, writing, recording, etc. to stack the deck as much as you can in your favor to give you the best chance of NOT LOSING.

Do that, and you’ll wake up one day making a living doing what you were born to do surrounded by an amazing inner circle.

Johnny Dwinell is a veteran Los Angeles artist/producer/businessman who created Daredevil Production in 2011 to provide innovative artist development in the new music business. In mid 2013 Daredevil Production started a weekly blog as a free resource for artists and songwriters to use for inspiration, advice, support, and knowledge. In late 2013 Johnny Dwinell wrote the bestselling Music Marketing On Twitter book. Thousands of artists and songwriters have improved their understanding and execution of social media with the help of this free book!

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14 thoughts on “Your musical talent isn’t enough (to make it in the music business)

  1. “I read all this drivel. Not sure why I bothered. The analogy doesn’t really stack up. I’m not a fucking ball player, I’m a guitarist and I reject the notion entirely of letting a negative emotion rule my life.”

    “You need to be Neurotically TERRIFIED and full of HATE of not being worshiped as the BEST the undisputed champion in order to have a happy and good enough business if your business is selling your songs! The writer and editor needs a regular attendance and involvement with a good program of mental hygiene!”

    Yeah, the two above quotes really crystalize my thoughts on this blog post, with the exception of the “This is show-business, not show-friendship” section, which I do agree with.

    Personally, I believe the most valuable asset is luck. Yup. You must work as hard as you can and be as prepared as you can, regardless. But no amount of talent, drive or preparation can guarantee you even limited success. Luck (good and bad) is why there are folks for whom opportunities fall in their laps–not speaking abstractly here, I personally know artists for which this is true–while there are talented, hard-working artists who don’t get far.

    To sum up: hone your talents, work your ass off and…cross your fingers.

  2. Real talent always helps,bottom line is people have to love what you do e~nuff to support it,be excited,pleased,and moved by what you do to go in their pockets and pay for it,it’s an audio,visual treat that you,supply to your audience in exchange for their physical & financial support,and you must always leave them talking about it,and wanting more…plus marketing madness helps.etc…Good luck…you’ll need it.

  3. I read all this drivel. Not sure why I bothered. The analogy doesn’t really stack up. I’m not a fucking ball player, I’m a guitarist and I reject the notion entirely of letting a negative emotion rule my life.

  4. I think this is a great article. There are a lot of hurdles in the music business – promoting yourself, performing with conviction, approaching other people with your art and not crumbling when it’s not embraced or you have the inevitable bad performance. That winning mindset is vital to anything – but possibly even more applicable to music than sports. In music you have to have a short memory and a long work ethic. Props on good piece!

  5. GREAT article. Some ‘between – the – line’ reading and wisdom is requisite to understanding what you REALLY the f* said.

  6. Wow ! What a thesis: You need to be Neurotically TERRIFIED and full of HATE of not being worshiped as the BEST the undisputed champion in order to have a happy and good enough business if your business is selling your songs ! The writer and editor needs a regular attendance and involvement with a good program of mental hygiene !

    1. BTW…what’s with the ugly purple and green troglodyte ? you prove me point guys! just cos you have a blog doesn’t mean your opinion has any merit…and when you stick an ugly avatar on my comment it makes me wonder if you understand positive influence and the value of intelligent inquiry.

    2. Please. It’s actually true that many great songwriters feel a sense of competition when it comes to writing. Hearing a great song written by a peer motivates them to write better music. The author takes it too far.

    1. You wouldn’t happen to live near Las Vegas, NV would you? WAY too many other negative comments here. Yours demonstrates intelligent life. A sign of hope.

  7. I think you almost hit on an important point but just missed. Great athletes don’t tout their natural abilities because they know that hard work is what separates the successful from everyone else. Having talent is a prerequisite. But if you have the talent, it’s the work ethic that creates separation from the crowd

  8. And the more untalented people who buy into the dream that will never be theirs – who are also recording and distributing discs – the better for those companies who provide that as a service, correct?

    Hardly the opinions of a disinterested observer in that article.

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