You’re bound to know at least one person who is an undeniable natural talent: someone who learns easily, understands things quickly and whom everyone believes will make it big. In my case, this was a musical colleague with an amazingly good ear and an extraordinary sense for music. While I only played the drums, he’d managed to master five different instruments. Everyone was certain that of out all of us, he’d be the one to achieve great things – or at least, everyone except him. Sadly, he struggled with a 17-year drug habit and never managed to realise his musical potential.
What do I need to do to get to where I want?
I thought about this colleague for a long time. His story helped me understand that success is not determined by what others think of you, but your belief in yourself and your willingness to set goals. I’d go as far as to say that 90% of failures occur due to the lack of a concrete plan. Without a plan – and thus, without a meaningful strategy – success is almost impossible to achieve. With this in mind, I began early to think about what I really wanted and how I would achieve these goals.
The Cambridge Dictionary defines strategy as “a detailed plan for achieving success in [specific] situations, or the skill of planning for such situations”. In other words, it’s about what you need to do and about where, when and how you should do it in order to achieve what you want. I know some highly talented musicians who could certainly have achieved more success if they’d formulated a long-term plan. Instead, they went one way, then another, then came back to the starting line. Eventually, they found themselves on a completely unintended path, realising too late they’d lost control of their musical career completely.
Without a plan, you’ll never reach your goal
You’re probably familiar with the saying “failing to plan is planning to fail”. Of course, nobody dreams of spectacular failure; nobody seeks to pursue a line of work they hate and find unsatisfying. Nobody wants to see those around them achieve success while their own lives remain seemingly stagnant. Nevertheless, many find themselves in this situation. Why? Well, usually, it’s simply because they’ve failed to plan carefully or develop a well thought-out plan. This is why, once again, I’d urge you to establish a strategy as the foundation for achieving your drumming goals. Only once you know what you want and have a detailed plan for achieving can you begin to progress along this path.
At the same time, the mere act of following a plan is no guarantee of not encountering setbacks or opposition. You also can’t control everything that happens around you – so focus on the things you can change. This means good preparation, perseverance, tenacity and, of course, patience. You may have to make some detours or adjust your milestones over the course of time, but even in this case, you should never lose sight of your main goal. A good plan will ensure that you always get back to the path you want to be on.
Set short-term goals for your musical career
One of the best pieces of advice I ever received was to set short-term goals that are conducive to your long-term ones. When I left school with good grades and my Abitur [university entrance qualifications] in hand, there were only two things I wanted to do:
- Make enough money to buy a new drum kit, and
- Take drum lessons to further my musical abilities.
Nothing else interested me. I didn’t want to travel, party or hang around with friends – I simply wanted to fulfil these two goals as quickly as possible. In order to do this, I of course had to look for a job.
Through a lucky accident, I found out that Daimler-Chrysler (as it was known at the time) was employing regular holiday workers, and that the roles were very well paid. I worked on a three-shift pattern and spent eight weeks mounting vibration dampers on engines. The work was monotonous, but exhausting nonetheless: I fell into bed at the end of each day and had little energy to practise the drums. But the hard work paid off. After eight weeks, I purchased a brand new Tama Starclassic drum set and had enough money left to take regular lessons. The feeling was unbelievable: I couldn’t believe how satisfying it was to have got what I wanted through my own hard work. It showed me – and I hope will also show you – the importance of setting short-term goals.
Though many people dream of becoming successful overnight, this generally only happens in the rarest of cases. Usually, success requires a number of small steps that build on one another and, eventually, lead the individual to their ultimate goal. It’s also important to remember that the quicker success comes, the quicker it tends to disappear, too.
How to become successful as a drummer
Once you’ve set your personal goals, I’d advise you to do as follows:
- Structure these goals according to their importance, and
- Develop a strategy for achieving them.
If, for example, you want to become a well-known jazz drummer, the first step would be to take lessons with a respected teacher. You’d also need to be familiar with all jazz standards and to be able to perform creative solos with different chord progressions and time signatures (3/4, 4/4, 6/8). Your action plan could look something like this:
- Research the best jazz drummers in your area
- Identify the top 3 and inquire about lessons
- Get hold of a Real Book
- Spend at least 30 minutes a day listening to jazz standards
- Attend jazz jam sessions twice a week
- Found a jazz trio/quartet
If this example plan shows anything, it’s that the way to success is actually quite straightforward: you simply have to move systematically from one point to the next. By following a systematic plan, you minimise detours and maintain sight of the ultimate goal.
No plan B: focus on your goal
When I decide to pursue music as a full-time career, it was the only goal I wanted to achieve. I wasn’t interested in anything else – and, if I’m honest, there was nothing else I cared about. It’s precisely for this reason that any “plan B” has an increased chance of failure. Would anyone tell an aspiring doctor to pursue a side career in music “just in case”? Of course not – that would be totally absurd. By the same token, I find it equally unhelpful for people to suggest that musicians should have a professional plan B. Yes, no-one should dedicate their entire life to a path that clearly isn’t working – but this doesn’t negate the fact that pursuing two deviating goals is fraught with risks. The likely outcome is that one of the two goals will fall by the wayside, or you’ll pursue both goals half-heartedly and achieve only limited success in both.
Instead, force yourself to stay on the ball and work step-by-step towards the thing you want. If your livelihood depends on something, you’ll automatically devote more time and energy to it than otherwise (believe me – I know what I’m talking about!). Of course, we’d all prefer success, prosperity and satisfaction to hardship, pressure and stress, but it’s a universally acknowledged fact that we grow the most in times of greatest endeavour. Things will sometimes be tough, but in the end, striving to realise your dreams will always be worth it.
Believe in yourself as a musician and have confidence in your intentions
Of course, setting specific goals in itself is not enough to produce success: you also need a high degree of discipline and motivation. Being discouraged by your colleagues or having your goals mocked by friends are no reasons to give up; rather, the key is to have confidence in your intentions. If I could give any recommendation, it would be to work hard and not to shy away from challenges. If you’re willing to do this, you’ve a good chance of achieving whatever you put your mind to.
Now, I want to know about your strategies. How do you plan for success? How do you intend to get there? Let me know your thoughts in the comments!