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The most demanding and difficult part of being a musician is to get to know yourself and define your own vision of success. | Photo: David Pear
The most demanding and difficult part of being a musician is to get to know yourself and define your own vision of success. | Photo: David Pear
mbx - Fri, June 17, 2022 - 08:00

TOP 5 Unsolicited but Sincere Pieces of Advice for Musicians

Do you ever think of alternative scenarios in your life? About all those ifs..? In the course of our lives, we receive a lot of well-meant advice from parents, teachers, relatives, friends and even celebrities—whether or not we want it, they shape our perception of the world. However, not every piece of advice has the same value and often after years we find out that we have lived in a vicious circle, often based on absurd beliefs and urban legends. I've spent over twenty years of my professional life in the music world, so I asked myself what kind of advice would have really (but I mean REALLY) helped me to do things differently and maybe have been more beneficial at the start of my music career. So here they are: the TOP 5 unsolicited but sincere pieces of advice for musicians.

1. Embrace the hustle (but don't be a d***k)

They say those who want to succeed in the music business must have sharp elbows, constantly look for opportunities and always have to have their foot permanently in the door, so that they never miss a chance to break through. This is a well-known and omnipresent opinion about the reality of this environment.

Often, unfortunately, in my case, I haven't believed in self-promotion and especially in hustling. I felt like it was degrading to draw attention to myself, to walk around with business cards or directly ask for gig opportunities. It resembled the culture of carousers and the slimy teleshopping presenters à la Horst Fuchs, the famous German hustlers with a gold watch and matching earrings, trying to sell to you any imaginable kitchen appliance. My naive, artistic and romantic soul told me to focus on practising, playing, and creating, and I believed everything would naturally come to me. It will just happen! God's will!

Holy macaroni, I don't even want to think about how many opportunities I missed only because of this "artists" game and the arrogant attitude of a pseudo-star. If I just opened my mouth, asked politely and took the number or email from the musicians I wanted to play with! The art of consistently pursuing your interests in an elegant nonchalant manner is priceless.

So the number one lesson: If you want to advance somewhere in your music career, take extra care of your contacts and maintain the best relationships. It can mean everything.

2. Good old comfort zone

Let's go through some of the most common daily struggles and excuses: I do not want to practice, I will postpone that phone call, auditions are embarrassing, I hate those jam-sessions, I do not need this ... and add another collection of procrastination phrases which have always maintained me at a safe distance from my dreams and goals. Thousands of excuses and almost scientific justifications why something can not be done or is not possible to be done. These are the invisible walls we build ourselves.

If the musician "suffers" from similarly strong opinions, he keeps his oasis of comfort in great shape. There is always a reason not to do something, to postpone or ignore the facts. Now is not a good time, this style is out of fashion, social networks have destroyed everything, people are mostly stupid and ignorant, the music business is rotten ... an endless stream of critical observations.

The saddest thing is that even if you may be right about some things, it won't get you anywhere. One of the most difficult things—not only for musicians, but generally for all people—is to step out of the comfort zone, give up excuses and fear of the unknown, and walk into the darkness of unexpected challenges.

3. Talent is overrated

It is good to possess some degree of talent, at least the basic sense of rhythm and pitch will certainly help. However, you don't need to be a musical genius to conquer the world. During my career, I've met a huge number of incredibly talented musicians, who not only did not develop their talent, but I would say that they used it against themselves.

That's absurd, isn't it? Talent should do you good, right? No, not if there are people around you who constantly admire everything you do, who hold their breath during your musical performances, and your musical genius is assured by huge numbers of admirers.

Talent has killed many great musicians. Either it seduced them on the dark path of "too much too early", or on the contrary, conserved the promising musical genius, so content with his delivery of average performances or artworks that always found grateful and eager audiences.

For me personally, one of the greatest talents is being able to smoothly work with different kinds of people. If you can be kind even in challenging situations when you are not in a good mood or because stardom is hitting you hard, and you can retain a consistent human and receptive nature in all situations, then it is almost not possible to become a real star sooner or later. But you don't have to always be nice and have a happy smiley face... you can show the dark side here and there or admit your weaknesses. People will appreciate your honesty when they feel you are always trying your best and looking for solutions, not deliberately creating problems or tense situations.

All the real music pros and high-ranking people with long-term careers in the music industry I have ever met had some characteristics in common. They have always been positive, always kind, open to new ideas and, above all, always humble. Not even a hint of who they were in the hierarchy or putting you in your place. If you are with someone and feel like a star, everything is fine—you're working with the right person.

4. Be brave

All previous points had one thing in common, you need the courage to go through with it. To reach someone to help you in your music career requires courage. Getting out of your comfort zone is a heroic act that will only be appreciated by those who have tried it. Nourish your talent and don't allow yourself to be pulled into a zone of mediocrity, which is many times sufficient for the mass taste. Keep your determination of simply being you.

Some lucky individuals are born with courage, some must be kicked by circumstances to be heroes. But without courage, it is not possible to stay on your path, both in music and in life.

5. Back to basics

I don't know about you, but once my favourite bands reach stadium status, they lose my interest. Their albums begin to sound similar and formulaic, the songs are shorter, production enhanced to perfection, choruses bigger and hookier... well, I don't feel the initial vibes which attracted me to the artist or the band. Of course, there are many numerous exceptions, but this scenario is quite common.

Have you noticed that famous and established bands late in their career almost always create a "back to the roots" album? Understandably, they also want to feel why they started playing, and reconnect with the raw, pure and creative energy of their beginnings.

It is also interesting to see how the musicians who are currently doing well, like to separate from their "amateur" colleagues. Look, I play stadiums and if there are not at least ten thousand people in the hall, I am not leaving my bed. Yeah, but what if the fortune spins? What if they suddenly lose their precious "gig" with the famous artist or their once famous band falls into the shadows of the local league?

I've managed to be on both sides of the barricade and I can tell you that it's painful when you suddenly fall from the high ground. One day an open-air concert with sixty thousand screaming fans and the next day you're working a part-time job giving away leaflets with ads for fast food.

If you maintain the original energy, the reasons why you started playing, if you feel the pure joy of playing music and leave all expectations behind the door, you will always stay fiercely hungry for new musical experiences.

Finally, I would like to add that we all have our own path and what works for somebody else may not work for you. The most demanding and most difficult part is to get to know yourself and define your vision of success.

Do you want to be a Youtuber with millions of subscribers? Do you want to be a professional musician on a tour? Do you want to be a studio/session player? Do you want to be in a band or pursue a solo career? How do you want to create music? Do you want to be a producer, songwriter or performer? There are a lot of questions and during our journey, we're finding answers that will determine our future steps.

What advice that is not easy to listen to, but is priceless, did you receive during your life as a musician? Let us below in the comments.

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Marek Bero
Bass Gym 101 books, touring & session bass player, football tactics aficionado.