“Be professional as a musician and agreeable as a colleague”: if you’ve paid attention to my last few blog posts, you might have noticed this advice crop up more than once. But what does it mean in practice?
Stay down-to-earth on big stages
A few years ago, I recommended a colleague for a job with a big German artist. He went to the audition, was perfectly prepared and won the gig. Initially, this made me proud – I was pleased it had worked out for all involved. Unfortunately, after rehearsals were done and the tour had kicked off, my acquaintance began to change. I still have no idea what caused it: up to that point, I had known him as a friendly, skilled and reliable drummer who got along with all. Not so over the course of the tour, where he became increasingly inflexible, failed to keep appointments and berated the crew regularly over minor issues. To help alleviate some of the tension, I apologised on his behalf (and secretly wished I had never mentioned his name). In the end, he played just seven of 49 gigs before getting the sack – and thus missed the chance to play an amazing tour, earn good money and establish himself as a dependable session musician. If he’d behaved differently, he might have ended up as one of the most sought-after German session musicians on the scene today.
Soft skills for musicians
If this example shows one thing, it’s that success in the music industry doesn’t depend merely on your instrumental skills. Your soft skills – your manner of dealing with colleagues and business partners – are equally as important. To be able to land regular jobs as a musician, it’s important you’re perceived as a pleasant, friendly individual with an upstanding character. Whenever I’ve been recommended for projects, it’s not only been due to my professional experience, but also the way I’m perceived as an individual. In my experience, cultivating an great reputation from the outset is a vital determinant of your later success. Never forget this! Conversely, I’d also argue that in some cases, a musician’s personality is what prevents them getting better studio jobs, playing bigger tours and, ultimately, achieving greater success. More than once, I’ve found that technically savvy, musical “workhorses” are preferred over absolute virtuosos of their craft, simply because they are easier to work with. Always keep in mind that the easier you make it for your colleagues to work with you, the greater the chances they’ll recommend you to others.
6 questions musicians often fail to ask themselves
With this in mind, I’d suggest that instead of practising as normal today, you take time to answer the following questions:
- Would you class yourself as an upstanding person; one who does not shy away from hard work?
- Are you a team player who is able to go “above and beyond” when the situation requires it?
- Are you easy to work with, or do you tend to think that those around you owe you something?
- Do you generally think you compare unfavourably to other musicians your area?
- How do you deal with constructive criticism?
- Imagine you are an artist, a producer or a musical director. Would you hire yourself? Why / why not?
4 qualities you need to succeed in the music business
A word of warning: the next step is where it gets really uncomfortable. Ask these questions of a person close to you and prepare yourself for honest answers. Ask them to tell you how you are perceived, and think about why this impression might exist. This will provide you with valuable feedback and enable you to work on your character and soft skills. While I’m fully aware that this step is not easy, I promise it’s worth it. In fact, I’d go as far as to say that success as a musician depends, more than anything else, on the following four personal qualities:
If you’re motivated, you’ll approach every job with a positive attitude. Your enthusiasm will be contagious, and you’ll encourage those around to give their best. Trust me – they’ll thank you for it! Being highly motivated will also give you the ability to take positive lessons from difficult situations and, as a result, to find better solutions. The key question to ask yourself is: how much of your motivation is apparent to those around you? Not every listener can tell exactly what you’re doing with your instrument, but all of them can tell whether you’re doing it with passion. Because of this, I consider it vitally important for musicians to learn how to convey their emotions in a groove, since this is what allows them to really connect with their audience.
You’ve no doubt heard the saying “you reap what you sow”. When it comes to dealing with other people, I don’t think anything has ever been truer. No-one can succeed in the music business alone – and because of this, I show gratitude every time someone helps me or “opens a door”. I do it with a personal phone call, an email, a small card or a gift – whatever I deem appropriate for the situation. For me, it’s a matter of course; why, then, do so few other people do the same? Over a period of ten years, only three (of a total of more than 60) have thanked me sincerely for helping them progress. With this in mind, I urge you to remember to say THANKS when needed – it costs nothing, yet is worth so much. At the same time, be sure not to use false expressions of gratitude as a tool to manipulate others. In the freelance sector, in particular, nobody is bound to work with you twice. Most will remember if you treat someone badly or exploit them.
In life, you’ll be confronted with a whole load of negative people: people who constantly who tell you that what you’re doing isn’t working and that you’ll never achieve your goals. Sometimes, this can be hard and demotivating. A few years ago, however, I realised that many people behave like this purely because of their own limitations. Perhaps they never experienced they success they dreamed of and begrudge others their own, preferring to dissuade them with destructive thoughts. Don’t let that throw you off track. No matter how far away your destination may be, no matter how arduous the path is, persevere with your goal until you achieve it. If you want to make a dream come true, rejection and knockbacks are an unavoidable part of the package. When I’m in need of motivation, I cast an eye over the life stories of successful people like Leo Babauta, David Bowie, Richard Branson, Warren Buffet, Steve Jobs or Elon Musk, who motivate me to keep going when things aren’t going as planned. In my experience, endurance is one of the key differentiators between those who are successful and those who are not.
Impatience is something I observe daily – and in a time when anything and everything is expected to be available instantly, it’s no surprise that it’s on the rise. Earlier today, I saw customers at the supermarket kick up a fuss because of having to wait a minute at the till – a perfect example of how society is changing. People want the best results in the shortest time, and if things don’t quite work like that, they get disappointed. But patience is not an inherent skill or a special talent, but a matter of pure practice. If you want to be successful, remember the saying that “the path is the goal”. As for many other career paths, a drummer’s path to success can be long and full of detours. But if you cannot learn to be patient, it is likely that you’ll give up long before you reach your goal. It’s much easier to give up than to persist with your dreams.
To become a successful sideman, you need not only hard work, but a good helping of patience, perseverance, motivation and gratitude. Of course, these qualities in themselves are no guarantee of success as a musician, but will dramatically increase your chances of achieving what you want.
Now, I’m interested in what you think. What qualities are important for success in the music business? What do you do to develop them in yourself? Let me know in the comments!