Want a successful music career? Don’t get too comfortable

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Playing it safe is not the formula you need for success in your music career

This post is an excerpt from David Hooper’s book on music career success, Six-Figure Musician: How to Sell More Music, Get More People to your Shows, and Make More Money in the Music Business. Reprinted with permission.

a music career can't be too comfortable

Most people play things way more safe than they realize. The only way you’ll know how fast you can drive a car is to accelerate until you lose control and crash. Anything less, even if you back off just before losing control, isn’t your top speed. Like a car, the only way you’ll know how much you can accomplish in your music career is to reach the point of failure.

If you feel that things in your music business career aren’t moving along fast enough, you may want to “crash the car.” That’s the conly way to take things to the maximum level.

Playing balls-out like this is scary, but also extremely motivating. Most of the time, even when you get extremely ambitious with your plans, as long as you’ve made the decision to “go pro” and have a solid foundation to work from, you won’t crash. You’ll simply find you’re able to work harder, faster, and longer than you once thought.

If you do crash, you get up, dust yourself off, and get back on the horse. Then you push forward again, this time, adding what you’ve learned from your previous experience to hold things steady for a longer period of time. Each time you go after something using what you’ve learned from previous experiences, you’ll be expanding your capacity to handle the intensity of the situation, which means that soon, accomplishing what you want will be easy for you.

Will you always fail? No. A lot of the time, you’ll try something new and it will work out great.

If something isn’t going to work, you might as well find out now. Don’t be the person who sits on an idea for years, only to find out nobody is interested. If no one cares, you want to find out now, so you can either drop the idea or make people care.

Failure is good. It’s how you learn what doesn’t work. Embrace it. If you’re not failing at anything, you’re not putting yourself out there enough or pushing the envelope like you should. Don’t play it safe.

Don’t get too comfortable

Regardless of whether you prefer impact to ease, you’ll want to be aware of (and keep a close eye on) perhaps the biggest enemy to your music business career: comfort. Comfort is so powerful that it can derail a career before it gets started. Many talented people have given up their music business dreams to:

  • please a significant other
  • take a job with more “benefits”
  • get off the road
  • earn a “steady paycheck”
  • have a normal life

All of these things are great. The problem is that they’re not always compatible with a music career. Even established musicians can fall prey to comfort. We’ve all seen artists who get too comfortable and take a nosedive when it comes to their art and business. This isn’t because they’ve lost their talent; it’s because they’re following a creative formula that did work but no longer does.

This is easy to do, and it happens on both the music and business side of this industry. Perhaps the best industry-wide example is the transition from the old-school music business to where we are now. The industry saw it coming, little by little, but instead of working with that momentum of change, it went into denial about it. And when that didn’t work, it fought the losing battle against it.

The old-school music business had been around for a great many years, and for most of the people in the industry, it was all they knew. In the old-school music business scenario, the industry controlled the manufacture and distribution of the product. It controlled the media around the promotion of it. When the product broke (or was released in a new format), people had to buy another one.

It worked … until it didn’t. At that point, it couldn’t be fixed, because it had already been changed significantly.

David Hooper talks music career success

7 ways to get out of your comfort zone and start taking risks

A skill that will help you to be more comfortable with the changing aspects of both art and business is to become more comfortable with change in your daily life. How do you do this? Force change just enough so you get outside your comfort zone, but not so much that you get into panic mode and start making irrational decisions.

When change happens in life, you’re much better off staying cool and being rational. Your capacity to do this happens as you increase your capacity to handle change. How do you do this? Start simple. As they say, “Little hinges swing big doors.”

  1. Work Yourself Up. Start where you are and work yourself up to bigger things. Success means forming the habit of taking risks and totally embracing growth over comfort.

    A baby learns to crawl, and then stand, before he learns how to walk. The first steps are shaky but get smoother and steadier with time. A guitar player learns in a similar fashion. At first the playing is clunky, but with practice, it eventually gets more fluid.

    Are you approaching things in a way that is keeping you crawling instead of something more? If so, work to embrace more risks, even if they’re small, to expand your comfort zone.

  2. Do It Daily. When you do something daily, it keeps you from putting something off until tomorrow, because you’ll also be doing it tomorrow. Will you be a better musician if you practice one hour daily or seven hours one day per week? If you know the answer to this, you know the power of daily practice.

  3. Start Something. You need to go first. Don’t wait for other people to join you, even if it’s just the people in your band. Grunge music was popular in 1991. Nobody cared about the grunge bands who came along in 1996. When you go first, you set the pace.

  4. Be Willing to Fail. Your biggest lessons will be from failure. Remember, if you don’t crash the car, you’ll never know how fast it can go. The best way to learn a new language is to speak it. You’ll never do that if you’re worried about making mistakes. Similarly, the best musicians are the ones who aren’t afraid to take risks when they’re playing. Do you want to be good? If so, you have to play, and playing means you risk making mistakes.

  5. Be an Observer. This habit isn’t so you can judge yourself; it’s so you can push yourself out of your comfort zone and grow. Be an observer, notice what works (and what doesn’t), and keep tweaking what you do so it gets better.

    When you’re on stage, you have a different perspective of the performance than people in the audience do. Think of things from their perspective. Better yet, record yourself and watch and listen like they do.

  6. Own It. If you’re going to do something, you’d might as well go big. If you take a risk that doesn’t work out, own it. It’s not a risk if you don’t take ownership. Ever seen a musician fall off stage? You can’t act like it didn’t just happen, so you’d might as well own it and have fun with it.

  7. Be Committed to the Process. If you’re constantly getting out of your comfort zone, by definition, it will never get easier.

    We are always changing. Nothing is static. As a musician, you know that when you perform, as no two performances are exactly the same, even if you perform the same material.

    You’re either getting better at what you do or getting worse. It might not be obvious, because the changes happen slowly and over a period of time, but when it comes to the anchors in your career (writing and recording a new album, going on tour), you’ll notice. Commit to the process, and you’ll always be moving in the right direction.

Music career advisor

Image of comfy guy via ShutterStock.com.

David Hooper has been serving the independent music community since 1995 and is host of the syndicated radio show, Music Business Radio. This post was excerpted from his new book, Six-Figure Musician, which you can get for FREE at MusicMarketing.com, where you can get music business advice from David’s archive of blog posts and podcasts. Follow David on Twitter @DavidHooper.

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4 thoughts on “Want a successful music career? Don’t get too comfortable

  1. It would be useful, for at least some of us, to move away from discussions about risk and talk instead about taking actions and learning to handle consequences and outcomes. Maybe that’s a trivial change, but “taking a risk” has been used so much that it’s losing meaning. People talk about being afraid to take risks as if it’s just a courage issue, like, just get over your fear of taking risks already. That puts the emphasis on courage, and ignores the part about figuring out what happened and why.

    In an actions and outcomes discussion, you can be a little more analytical about it. Maybe an outcome is rejection, and you have to figure out how to handle your feelings without being debilitated by them. At the same time, though, you need to analyze what you did, and the response you got, and think about whether there’s something different you could do next time to get a different outcome.

    It’s also useful to think realistically about positive outcomes. What happens if you get the outcome you wanted? Sometimes harder- what happens if you get the outcome you wanted, and it was easy? Are you going to stress about whether you should have asked for something bigger, or whether you’re missing something? Or are you going to analyze your actions and the response, learn something for next time, then move to the next step and figure that out?

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