I was just nine when I made my plan to become a drummer. I practised a lot, watched endless tutorial videos and drew inspiration from interviews with the greats. But there was one thing that nobody told me: the many myths that exist about the route to becoming a professional musician.
In addition, as I was starting out, there was one question I grew to dread: “Are you sure this is what you really want to do?” It was more annoying still when others told me that my goal was just a pipe dream; that I had no chance of making it in the business. To be honest, it can be difficult and demotivating to hear this. And if there’s one thing I can promise you, it’s that you’ll meet these sorts of people everywhere – even among your closest friends.
Perhaps that’s also one of the reasons why the myths about musical careers stick around so stubbornly. In reality, many of them are simply untrue. Here, I’ve shared five myths and their realities in the hope that they’ll no longer cause you unnecessary sleepless nights.
Myth 1: You need to be a musical genius
Let’s put aside, for a moment, the fact that it’s almost impossible to define what a “musical genius” even is. As a budding musician, it goes without saying that you need to have mastered all aspects of your chosen instrument. Contrary to popular belief, however, you don’t need to be a prodigy to succeed. Much of what you need to know can be learned. Yes, admittedly, the competition is great; many musicians offer brilliantly produced samples from the off, and their professional websites can be intimidating. But that doesn’t change the fact that they, like you, are only human. If you have good organizational skills, determination and a strong sense of will, you’re already halfway to the goal.
Myth 2: A musical degree or vocational qualification is a must
Will an impressive-looking certificate or an “outstanding” degree result really bring big-time performers knocking at your door? Well, it’s possible. Rationally speaking, however, this happens to perhaps one in a million musicians. More usually, clients will find you through word-of-mouth recommendation – and a potential client will always be impressed by positive references. Because of this, the knowledge and experience you accumulate is far more important to you than any piece of paper. Keep in mind, though, that if you can’t get a freelance career off the ground, a degree or vocational qualification will almost certainly be necessary for progression in your field. As such, even if you don’t eventually use it, it’s good to have such a qualification in the bag.
Myth 3: A career as a professional musician can only be successful if you do it full time
With this one, the truth lies – as is so often the case – somewhere in the middle: it can be the case, but is not necessarily so. On the one hand, when you work exclusively as a professional musician, you have time to devote solely to your personal goals. On the other, you have the pressure of obtaining a stream of ongoing work, which can function either as a powerful source of motivation or the exact opposite. In most cases, I think the best option is to start out taking professional music gigs alongside a regular job. If things go well, you can always make the switch to full-time.
Myth 4: It’s difficult to work as a musician
No, it’s not difficult, complicated or impossible – in fact, it’s just as hard or easy as any other job. Contacts are your main requirement, which means you need to invest plenty of time in networking and finding people with whom you can collaborate. It’s important not only that you’re musically compatible, but compatible as people, too: after all, work should be fun! Obstacles and stumbling blocks are as much a part of the music industry as they are any other, but don’t let yourself be discouraged – it’s new challenges that cause us to grow!
Myth 5: There’s no way back in the event of failure
Of course, this is not true! Even if it’s difficult to own up to failure, it’s never the end of the world. The most important thing is to recognise that unlike countless others, you displayed the courage to try and realise your dreams. Unfortunately, there’s no guarantee that taking steps towards a music career will eventually lead to success – but I can only advise you to try it anyway. Read my article “Questions to ask yourself as an aspiring musician” and see if it’s right for you.
What else is there left to say? Perhaps simply that the myths above are unlikely to faze you if you are know what you’re doing and are sure of your goal. For the most part, it makes no difference whether you start out playing part-time or full-time: challenges will come, but there is always, always a way to find your feet again. So what are you waiting for?
Now, I’m interested to know what you think. What, in your eyes, are the biggest myths that exist about becoming a professional musician? What path have you taken so far or do you plan to take in the future? Tell me about your experiences and plans – I’m looking forward to hearing them!