Nobody is born with an innate ability to change the world. And yet, nobody has ever changed the world without having their own unique qualities that just can’t be taught.Nature vs. Nurture. Environment vs. Heredity. We’ve heard these chestnuts roasted time and again. And while we’re at it, if you haven’t seen the movie Trading Places, it’s hilarious and stands up to the test of time. Go watch it now, I’ll wait for you.
Okay, welcome back.
Maybe it’s because I’m not a scientist, but I’m considering this from an entirely different paradigm. I’m going to suggest my own two sides to the story:
• Those assets which can be learned or earned from others
• Those unique assets which an individual brings to the party
I’m going to ignore the inevitable shouting at this moment, when somebody yells “WHAT ABOUT LUCK?”, by suggesting that maybe luck is where opportunity meets preparedness, both of which can be covered by the two sides listed above.
Picture it like a box, divided into two parts:
The key to being awesome is to make BOTH sides as full as possible. Considering an artist looking for a successful career, let’s imagine the possibilities:
This kid has raw talent, but that’s about it
…wait a minute. He has good musical taste, too
Let’s teach him how to play
…connect him with a mentor
…and a co-writer
It suddenly becomes easier to imagine why some artists are more successful than others. A more talented artist has a natural advantage. But wait, a less talented artist might be more determined, more organized, and have partners with their own strengths. Who do you think has a greater chance of success?
So, how does that apply to you? How can you make use of this idea?
Boosting the Blue
First, take the easy stuff, the low-hanging fruit. LEARN! Anything you can study to increase your useful knowledge, is going to boost your “blue” side. I’m not talking about sports trivia, unless you write songs about sports trivia. I’m talking about your useful knowledge: music theory, music business understanding, songwriting craft, live performance technique, whatever is most appropriate to your artistic goals. And by study, I’m including not only institutional learning, but books, instructional videos, tutorials, private lessons, and on and on. This also applies to practical learning – proficiency with an instrument, a technology, or a technique. Follow up that learning with PRACTICE.
What about the skills that you lack, which you don’t have the time, or inclination, to study? Time to PARTNER UP with another artist, musician or songwriter, or a business partner like a manager, agent, promoter, publisher, distributor or record label. Sure, it means sharing the wealth, but it also means a better chance at having some wealth to share (just be choosy about your partners). And think about this – partnering up means sharing the FUN with somebody else. That might be the best part.
Find yourself a MENTOR, someone further along the same career path that you’re pursuing, who would be willing to help guide your way. Look to your HEROES, your IDOLS, to see how they’ve reached their goals and set new ones.
Try to be SMART about following your dreams. Trying to pitch circus music to a vampire movie probably isn’t going to get you anywhere. Know your market.
Boosting the Red
This is the harder part, but there are still opportunities to increase the value of your unique offering. Start by treating yourself like a business owner, and being at least a little bit critical of how committed you are to success. LAZY IS NOT AN OPTION. How much time are you committing to your success? Without sacrificing your health or your relationships, look for opportunities to commit more time, energy, and focus to your success.
DO SOMETHING. Okay, maybe this one seems like I’m contradicting myself, but stop studying and start doing. All the training in the world is nothing without some practical experience. So give the “blue” a break and do something with your current knowledge. Adding to your experience, your wisdom, and your perspective will broaden your uniqueness. Because some things can’t be taught… they can only be learned. (Write that one into a fortune cookie.)
BE YOURSELF. Everybody else is already taken. Celebrate your unique perspective, history, and point of view.
KNOW YOURSELF. What is your favourite, most inspiring part of your job? How can you maximize the amount of time doing that one thing, while still being effective? What is the worst, most soul-sucking part of your job? How can you minimize the amount of time you spend on this part, without sacrificing quality?
TAKE CARE OF YOURSELF. Good health (physical, mental, emotional, spiritual) is pretty important to any career success, and if you’re not enjoying every day, you’re doing something wrong.
BE CREATIVE. Look for fresh ways to deliver to your market. Don’t be an imitation!
Remember to fill BOTH sides of the box, or your might find yourself approaching one of the dangerous extremes:
I hope this way of looking at it may inspire you, as you pursue your goals, whether you’re an artist or not. It’s easy to say “go out and grab your dreams”, but it’s harder to pick concrete actions that bring us any closer to those dreams. If you’re envious of another artist’s talent and ambition, and wonder how you can be as successful, look to how you can boost your other assets to compensate.
We’re all different, and that’s a beautiful thing. We’re all going to have a different combination of assets working in our favour, and our make-up is going to change (hopefully, to grow) as we get further into our careers. I think the best chance at success for an artist (and really, in virtually any field) is to fill both sides as much as possible, moving from…
…all the way to…
There doesn’t seem to be a practical limit to the size of the box, so keep growing it!
Now, the question for you: What do your blue and red lines look like?
Of course, my argument here may be totally ridiculous. I’ll call a smart friend and ask for a 2nd opinion. Add a bit more blue to my line…
(reprinted with permission, from “Musings from Bradley’s Corner“)