How To Become a Professional Guitarist & Musician ~ Part 4 ~ “Making it”

by Tom Hess

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You want to “make it” in the music business, right? Does it seem almost impossible to make it happen? The perceived realities of the music industry seem too harsh, too risky, too difficult and too unstable to pursue a lucrative long term music career.

The Myth:

Most people believe there are only two possible outcomes when trying to become a professional musician:

You either “make it” …. or you don’t.

In other words, you either become a successful “star” by making a lot of money touring and selling records around the world (this is what most people refer to as “making it”). Or you are doomed to become a “starving artist” by trying to squeeze out enough money per month just to pay the rent and in the process you must live a hard life.

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This way of thinking (believing in the false myth) is exactly the same as believing that in our society there are only rich people and poor people (and nothing in between). Yes it was once that way in the past but we all know that today there exists a huge “middle class” in our society. And most people fall into this middle class.

What does it mean to “make it”?

Let me answer with a series of questions to you.

  1. Does making it mean one must become very rich and famous? If so, how rich and how famous must one become to have “made it”?
  2. Or does “making it” mean having enough money from music to pay for all the gear you want?
  3. Or does it mean earning a lot of money from music so you can quit your day job (and still maintain the life style you currently have)?

The Reality:

The truth is the make up of the music industry is very similar to our modern society:

  1. There are wealthy people (which includes, but is not limited to, successful  professional musicians who tour the world and have very significant national or international record sales, etc.) 
  2. There are musicians who are without much money and struggle financially to get by in life (these are the "starving artists"). These are the musicians who get into the music business having no idea what they are doing.  

 Now for the truth: 

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  1. There is a MASSIVE middle class in the music business.  Most professional musicians are NOT super stars and most are also NOT starving artists.  Most professionals have relatively safe and secure careers in the business.  

Yes, that is not a misprint. The majority of professional musicians fall right in the middle.

Most professional guitar players and musicians do not have gold or platinum records on their walls. Most do not tour all over the world. But most of them also do not play at shady bars in the worst part of town for 20 people. Most of these musicians do not scrape out a minimal living just to pay the rent.

Wait a Minute, I Have Never Heard That Before!

Why haven’t most people heard of this before? Because most do not fully understand the BIGGER PICTURE of the music business and all the ways people can (and do) make a really good living as a musician and not be world famous. You are not likely to hear of success stories of middle class (or even upper middle class) professionals for two main reasons:

  1. The music press is not interested in writing about such people (featuring famous people sells more magazines). Who would most people care to read about, Steve Vai who made 4.5 million dollars from a series of smart choices he made early in his music career? Or John Doe who earns $90,000 a year as a professional musician?
  2. Middle class professionals are typically not interested in telling the rest of the world (which includes “would-be” competitors) how they earn a good and secure amount of money and live the life they desire.

The Silent Majority:

The middle class music business professionals making a good and secure living doing what they love are the silent majority in the music business. They are hiding just under the radar, almost invisible to the masses (who instead read about the rich and famous super stars). In many cases these middle class professional musicians also understand that the ideas used to create such a good, rewarding and comfortable life (including making good cash) are not that complicated. They also realize that if more people understood how it’s done, that may encourage more competition and therefore many of the  music business professionals are a bit secretive regarding exactly what and how they do things. And this is somewhat understandable since (at least some of) these people need to keep their livelihoods secure.

What To Do Next?

Obviously, the full list of things you must do to succeed in the music business go far beyond the list below. This article (and the advice presented below) is merely a place to begin. This is what I recommend to do next...

  1. Realize that there is a large middle class of professional musicians who do earn safe and secure incomes as musicians (and music related occupations).
  2. Realize that the music bsuiness itself has both stable and unstable components. There are risky aspects as well as relatively safe aspects of it. It is possible to be a part of both components, if you choose to do so. 
  3. Begin with yourself. For more on this check out my previous articles about the music business: Part 1, Part 2 and Part 3
  4. Begin at the End ( )
  5. Become totally committed to your music career goal to make it (whatever “making it” means to you.)
  6. Exercise that commitment in all that you do. Take the actions you must take, if you don’t know what all of those things are, find someone who does and learn from them in as much detail as possible.

In the next part of this series, I’ll talk more specifically about who and what your competition actually is. It’s probably not who and what you think it is. It is critical for you to understand this…. Because in order to “play the game to win” you must know who (and what) the players are….

To learn more about becoming a professional musician, read the other parts in this article series:

  • How To Become A Professional Musician - Part 1: Learn the most common myths people believe about the music business and how this can stop you from building a music career.

  • How To Become A Professional Musician - Part 2: Find out why even the best musicians often fail in their careers and how to not let this happen to you as you enter the music industry.

  • How To Become A Professional Musician - Part 3: Learn how to build your music career success plan to make it easier, safer and more rewarding to find work in the music business.

  • How To Become A Professional Musician - Part 5: Find out why some musicians ‘always’ make it in music and how you can maximize your chances to become a professional musician.

Learn how to get into the music industry and build your career in the music business.

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