How to Become a Professional Guitarist & Musician - Part 3 ~ Acquire an Accurate Map
by Tom Hess
(*The basic map analogy used in this article was inspired and adapted from author Steven Covey’s book, The 7 Habits of Highly Effective People.)
Imagine you are taking a trip to an important destination inside an unfamiliar city without an accurate map. Now imagine the city is filled with hundreds of thousands of other people, 99.8% are also lost and without an accurate map. Asking people for directions would seem rather hopeless. If you tried asking other people in the city for advice, the result would be “The blind leading the blind”. To make matters worse, imagine that reading and understanding a map of this city is very different from all other maps you may have seen. It seems obvious that in order to arrive at the correct destination, one should first acquire an accurate map.
Yet, most guitar players and musicians seeking to “make it” to a professional level in the music business, wander around the proverbial city without an accurate map. (It’s no wonder most parents don’t approve of their kid’s desire to pursue a music career.) With an incorrect map (or without one altogether), your skills, talents, attitude, and determination won’t help you reach your destination. Without a correct map, nothing else matters. You may try harder to improve your musical skills, expand your network of music industry contacts, have a great band with great songs, but if the map is inaccurate none of these things matter. You could try to improve your positive mental attitude, your faith, your determination and perseverance, but in in the end, you will only arrive at the wrong place faster.
... If you DO have a correct map, THEN your musical knowledge, skills and talents matter. A positive attitude and a focused mindset, backed by determination now can make a significant difference, but only if you have an accurate map. Such a map can not only show what and where things are, but how things work. Fortunately, there are several good books written about the music business (see my recommended reading list at the end of this article). Colleges and universities, which have music business programs, can also be of value. These resources are generally a good place to begin in your understanding. But it is important to realize that they too are limited in scope (for reasons which I will write about in a future article), and can become out of date rather quickly.
To know how things work can lead you to see the conventional routes other musicians have taken to succeed (become professionals in the music industry). Although this is generally good, it will not show you the complete range of possibilities of routes to take. In addition to having an accurate map, one also needs to know how to read it. This goes beyond simply having an understanding of how things work. Reading the map means understanding why things are the way they are (beyond the obvious things on the surface).
Learning "the How" (how things work) is much easier than learning "the Why" (Why things are as they are). Let’s further define the differences:
The How = the current processes, practices, methods and systems typically used in the music industry (record companies, music career managers, music producers, music publishers, music promoters, other successful professional musicians, etc.).
The Why = the reasons which drive the how. It is the reasons which are most important to study (after you know the how). The reasons are what is driving the way the current systems work and will dictate how they will continue to evolve (and in which direction).
If you know why things are the way they are, you will know what motivates record companies, music publishers, music producers and managers to do or not do something, to act or not act, to choose to work with you or someone else. Then you begin to understand what they REALLY want from musicians like you and me. (I’ve given some fundamental examples for this in articles such as: How To Become a Professional Musician Part 1 and Part 2.) What the industry looks for in musicians now (vs. 20 years ago) has changed over the last several years.
It doesn’t make a lot of sense to travel into an unfamiliar city with a bad map, or no map at all. It’s sad to see good musicians with good intentions (many of whom also possess a lot of musical talent) aimlessly searching for a way to “make it” without an accurate map. I’m not convinced that “guessing” or “assuming” are the best ways to achieve a life’s dream. This is consistent with the story I wrote about in Part 2. Yes, that article was filled with metaphors and an analogy that may seem a bit strange. The bottom line is: if you want to be a pro, the paths become much easier to navigate when you seek first to understand by acquiring accurate knowledge and then taking consistent, focused and effective actions. (Yes this is common sense, but we all know, common sense is not always common practice.)
Skeptics might argue that there is no such thing as “an accurate map”. Others may argue there does not exist only one way to sell lots of records and tour around the world, etc. – and to a certain extent, they are right. As with real accurate maps of real cities, there is often more than one route to reach any destination. Of course none of that matters if one is trying to find a destination in New York, while looking at a map which was created 275 years ago. The accuracy of the map, and one’s ability to understand it, is key.
Thank you to everyone who sent email of great positive feedback. A few people asked similar questions, which I suspect may be on the minds of others reading this now, so I’m going to address these here:
Questions: “Where are the tips in your articles?” and “Why don’t you tell me something specific that I can do today to become a successful professional musician?”
Sometimes people (or musicians) read articles in search of some specific tip, little secret, or short cut that can be stated in a few words - something that will bring massive results to anyone who reads it with very little effort. I think we all know, that one cannot achieve big results simply from reading a few tips. Of course I believe that some articles do contain great information (whether general or specific) that can be of significant value (if the reader chooses to embrace and apply that information). If I didn’t believe in that, I wouldn’t write articles. However, even a whole series of articles probably won’t make huge differences alone. Articles, such as this one, are simply a place to begin... not the place to search for the ultimate final answers in the music industry or in life. The greater value is in what lies beyond. What you do with these starting points of insight will determine the ultimate value you will receive. We all want to discover life’s little shortcuts to success. If one wants a shortcut, then perhaps auditioning for something like “American Idol” is the way to go.
It is amazing to see how two different people reading, learning and studying the same information can receive very different results. The differences in the each person’s outcome are typically NOT related to their intelligence or talents. What makes one musician excel more than another is usually a fundamental difference in their mindset. This simple truth is more relevant today than when Dr. Napoleon Hill first wrote about it extensively in his book THINK AND GROW RICH published in the year 1937!
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 4: Discover why there are A LOT more ways to succeed in music than most people realize and what it really means to make it in the music industry.
- 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 more about how to build a music career.