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Want music success? You’ve got to love the grind.

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Every successful artist had incredible setbacks. The difference between them and you is that – so far – they chose to rise above all obstacles to achieve music success.

Are you one of the artists who is bitching about the current state of the music industry? Are you constantly going on about how much easier it would’ve been to find music success had you been an artist 20 years ago? I’ve got big news for all of you. Life is not the future, life is not the past; life is right now. Life is what happens while you’re waiting around making plans. Life is not a grind, life is the grind. The trick to life is understanding that you have to love the grind.

The antithesis of loving the grind is living the dichotomy.

“Never permit a dichotomy to rule your life, a dichotomy in which you hate what you do so you can have pleasure in your spare time. Look for a situation in which your work will give you as much happiness as your spare time.” – Pablo Picasso

Life, and therefore your artistic career, is a numbers game, plain and simple. The more you do, the more opportunities you make for yourself, the more chances you have to gain momentum. You don’t gain momentum tomorrow, you do the work that gains momentum today.

Don’t hide behind society- or industry-created rules, glass ceilings, social norms, and old-school business practices as excuses to forgive yourselves for not delivering on your own dreams. Every artist worth a damn who ends up quitting on his dreams is thwarted by their own doubts and insecurities.


You’re no different than any other artist. You’re no different than your favorite icon. The only variance is your perspective on life. Every successful person faced challenges. At 23 years old, J.K. Rowling was broke, Tina Fey was working at the YMCA, Oprah had been fired as a TV reporter, and Walt Disney filed for bankruptcy. You never saw what they went through to take their place in history. You are only aware of the success.

Here is a behind-the-scenes look at one amazing success story.

Harland David Sanders’ story has nothing to do with music success, but it shows you how any type of success comes to those with a will to make something happen. You are familiar with his brand, and Sanders had quite a life before becoming an icon.

  1. His father came home with a fever and died when Sanders was just 5 years old.
  2. After his father’s death, Sanders’ mother got a job in a tomato cannery, so he was looking after and cooking for his siblings.
  3. By the age of 7, he became skilled at cooking up whatever food his brothers and sisters could forage, while mom was at work.
  4. At 10 years old he was working as a farmhand.
  5. At 13 he dropped out of the 7th grade.
  6. At 14 he was a streetcar conductor in Indianapolis.
  7. At 16 he falsified his age and enlisted in the army (he was honorably discharged when he was 17).
  8. At 17 he moved to Alabama to live with an uncle, along with his brother Clarence, to escape their abusive stepfather.
  9. When Sanders was 26 years old, he started selling insurance for Prudential Life Insurance Company, where he was eventually fired for insubordination.
  10. He moved to Louisville, KY and got a job selling insurance for Mutual Benefit Life of New Jersey.
  11. At 30, he started a ferry boat company that operated on the Ohio River. He canvased for funding: in other words, he asked people to invest. Some did, and the company became an instant success.
  12. Sanders cashed in his lucrative ferry boat company shares for $22,000 (around $307,000 in today’s money) and used the funds to establish a company that manufactured acetylene lamps. That company quickly failed after Delco came out with an electric lamp that they sold on credit.
  13. At 33, Sanders moved to Winchester, KY and worked as a salesman for Michelin Tire Company.
  14. At 34, he lost his job because Michelin closed their New Jersey manufacturing plant.
  15. That same year, Sanders met the General Manager of Standard Oil of Kentucky who convinced him to open a service station in Nicholasville, KY.
  16. That station closed six years later because of the Great Depression.
  17. hat same year, 1930 (Sanders was now 40), he was offered a service station in Corbin, KY by Shell Oil Company, rent free, in exchange for a percentage of sales.
  18. To bolster his income, Sanders began serving chicken dishes and other meals out of his residence adjacent to the service station.
  19. Sanders eventually opened a motel and restaurant from the profits.
  20. When he was 45, Sanders was commissioned as a Kentucky Colonel by Kentucky Governor Ruby Laffoon.
  21. When he was 49, He got a favorable write up in a popular travel magazine from a respected food critic.
  22. Later that same year, Harland’s now hugely popular restaurant and motel burned to the ground.
  23. He rebuilt the Corbin, KY location as a new 140-seat restaurant and motel.
  24. He expanded and opened a new motel in Ashville, North Carolina.
  25. By the time he was 50, Harland had perfected his “secret recipe” for fried chicken in a pressure fryer which cooked it faster than pan frying.
  26. At 51 years of age, WWII broke out, gas was rationed, the tourist trade dried up, and Sanders was forced to close his Ashville, SC motel.
  27. He then got a job as a supervisor in Seattle, leaving his mistress to run the Corbin, KY restaurant and motel.
  28. At 57 he divorced his wife.
  29. At 59 he married his mistress.
  30. At 62, Colonel Sanders franchised “Kentucky Fried Chicken” for the first time. The Utah store’s sales tripled in the first year, 75% of the sales increase was from fried chicken. The Utah restaurateur loved fried chicken because it differentiated his store from the competition with the imagery of “Southern Hospitality.”
  31. After the Utah success with Kentucky Fried Chicken, several other restaurants successfully franchised the recipe.
  32. Harland thought the Corbin location would survive forever, but at 65, he was forced to sell it as the new Interstate had significantly reduced customer traffic.
  33. At 65, Colonel Harland Sanders was left with his savings and $105 a month in social security. He decided to really try to franchise his recipe.
  34. Sanders traveled the country, often sleeping in his car to cook the chicken for a suitable restaurant owner. If they liked it, they would negotiate a franchise deal.
  35. The money required to grow the fulfillment piece of the business (someone had to mix the spices, bag them, and ship them to the rapidly growing number of stores) was not there. Sanders asked 1,000 people to invest, the last one finally did and they grew the chain.
  36. It became too much for him at 72 years old, so Sanders sold the franchise for $2 million dollars. ($15,800,000 in today’s money)

SandersColonel Sanders had it easy, right? He became rich and famous. You’d love to have his life. All you need is great recipe – or a great song – and you can be as rich and famous as Colonel Sanders, right?

You never see the struggle.

I’ll bet you haven’t had this kind of struggle. Yes, you’ve had your share, but all this? In one life? Do a Google search of your biggest problem and find the famous or iconic people who overcame that same issue. I can safely assume that you have it easier than your favorite (pre-2000) icons did when they were coming up. They would have FREAKED over the targeting power of social media and the Internet.

All of the most successful artists had incredible setbacks, don’t fool yourself. The difference between them and you is that – so far – they chose to rise above all obstacles and move forward to achieve music success.

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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15 thoughts on “Want music success? You’ve got to love the grind.

  1. This is called a success story.. And now this is inspiring me for my goal.. Hello Johnny. I’m a guitarist that means I’m also an artist. But for some time I was always getting frustrated with my music career. But your article gives me some intention.

  2. Thanks for this good story. I have a day job that I don’t hate and that gives me plenty of money. I have additional commitments other than work. When they are taken care of I write, practice and record music. I will never give that up. I wouldn’t say I have given up on my musical dreams. To try and assemble another live group at this point will probably be unproductive. I would need more leverage and a clearer product profile for that to be advantageous.

  3. Great article. Just what I needed to read today; it’s so easy to get discouraged when it seems like all your friends are excelling in their jobs and here I am with a music career with lots and peaks and valleys (more valleys). Good reminder to focus on the now–baby steps. 2016, here I come! Thanks for sharing, Johnny.

  4. The point about hard work and dedication is essential for musicians.

    However, the choice of Sanders as an example is far from inspiring; if anything, the opposite. He made is fortune through the systematic killing of animal lives. The artist should aim to elevate himself or herself and the audience of the art, not find inspiration in violence and death.

    “Colonel Sanders had it easy, right? He became rich and famous. You’d love to have his life.”

    No, I would not.

  5. What a miserable life Sanders had. If going through all that misery is what’s necessary to become famous – at 70 yrs old, no less – then please dear God help me from pursuing dreams that are little more than ‘pies in the sky’.

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