What does it take to become world-class? Is it the result of passion? What about sacrifice?
What if your passion and interest in something isn’t enough?
The music business is dominated by blockbusters. The vast majority of artists are either just getting by, or stuck. In the middle there are some career artists. However, there are very few artists at the top. Those few artists capture most of the value created by the entire industry.
What does it take to get to the top?
This post is inspired by Cal Newport’s book, “So Good They Can’t Ignore You – Why Skills Trump Passion In The Quest For Work You Love” (which was borrowed from a Steve Martin quote).
We take the key points about becoming world-class at your job and show how they apply in the music business.
THIS POST IS FOR YOU IF:
- You are uncertain about your life direction
- You’ve been stuck in a rut for years
- You don’t feel passionate about your work
- (If you are an artist) You can’t seem to get noticed by the right people
- (if you are an artist) The same, small group of fans come to your shows
HOW TO BE SO GOOD THEY CAN’T IGNORE YOU
APPROACH YOUR JOB OR MUSIC LIKE A CRAFTSMAN
Because of the endless amount of distraction today, it’s nearly impossible to channel your focus on one topic for a meaningful amount of time. Lack of focus prevents you from ever doing or making something great. I once wrote an article about how yacht racing taught me to focus.
So how do you learn to focus? Do you find yourself bouncing from task to task throughout the day, always distracted by the buzz of your phone, or the ding of your email?
What if you approached your work like a craftsman approaches his/her craft?
Start with a singular focus. Spend some time thinking about what you actually want to achieve and the steps it takes to get there.
Write down the goal. Write down the steps. Break big goals into smaller chunks.
Don’t always think about what you could receive, rather focus on what you have to offer.
You should chase your dreams and follow your passions. Right??…well…maybe not.
In a counter-intuitive approach, Cal Newport talks about why following your passion may just be the absolute wrong approach to achieving success and happiness.
In a quote from the book:
There are two reasons why I dislike the passion mindset (that is, two reasons beyond the fact that, as I argued [earlier], it’s based on a false premise). First, when you focus only on what your work offers you, it makes you hyperaware of what you don’t like about it, leading to chronic unhappiness…Second, and more serious, the deep questions driving the passion mindset – “Who am I?” and “What do I truly love?” – are essentially impossible to confirm.
So if blindly chasing your passions isn’t the answer, what is?
Most musicians spend hours every day practicing their instrument. Songwriters spend hours each day writing songs.
How come there are so many mediocre musicians and songwriters?
Various studies have shown, and Malcolm Gladwell popularized, that it takes roughly 10,000 hours, at minimum, to become great at anything.
However the difference between very good songwriters and master songwriters is the result of deliberate practice.
How do you apply deliberate practice? You focus on a very specific component of your goal and work at it until it’s mastered. Your brain will hurt. It will tell you to stop. This is how you know you are truly challenging yourself. If you are enjoying the process, chances are your aren’t deliberately practicing.
Unlike specifically measurable skills like playing guitar solos, becoming a music manager, for example, has a much less defined training philosophy.
How do you apply deliberate practice to a field without a defined training philosophy? There is no silver-bullet answer, but the steps below may help you identify a direction to pursue.
STEPS TO IDENTIFYING YOUR PLAN
1. Decide if you are in a “winner take all” market or “auction” market.
What is the difference? A “winner take all” market is one in which objective quality about something is the only thing that matters. A singer is an example of this. Someone is either a great singer or they aren’t. No one is interested in a bad singer who happens to be good at promoting songs on social media.
An “auction” market is one with less defined attributes and usually rewards individuals with a diverse collection of skills. A perfect music business example is a manager. Managers come from all walks of life and their experiences, relationships and skills contribute to their ultimate success.
2. Identify the skill to pursue
Once you’ve identified if you are in a “winner take all” or “auction” market, you can identify the right types of skills to develop. If you are in a “winner take all” market, the answer is clear. For a singer, the skill is singing. For an “auction” market, the approach is less clear. Cal Newport recommends seeking “open gates,” which means: “opportunities to build capital that are already open to you.”
Are there opportunities that you can easily leverage into? Good. Look for those as opposed to starting from scratch.
3. Define “good”
Now that you’ve identified the appropriate skill for your market, you now need to clearly define your goals. It’s hard to reach a goal if you don’t have one. Set the goal, break it down into small steps, then define what deliberate practice means for each step.
4. Stretch and destroy
In a Fortune article Geoff Colvin explains: “For example, when amateur singers take a singing lesson, they experience it as fun, a release of tension. But for professional singers, it’s the opposite: They increase their concentration and focus on improving their performance during the lesson. Same activity, different mindset.” Deliberate practice is often the opposite of enjoyable. You are pushing your mind and body past the edge of comfort. Expect it to be difficult. If it wasn’t, great success wouldn’t be so rare.
5. Be patient
Acquiring world-class skills takes time. There is no way around it. Dedicate yourself to the process and diligently practice your craft, chipping away at your ultimate goal.
IDEAS FOR THE MUSIC BUSINESS
Remember, music is everything. The quality of your performance dwarfs all other skills or endeavors.
Networking, contacting record labels, and attending conventions are all fine – but none of it matters if you don’t have the goods.
Spend your time honing your craft. Take the time to develop a unique voice and sound.
FOR INDUSTRY PROFESSIONALS
The music business is a funny one. Some of the most successful executives in the industry rose to the top through the gift of gab. Some were music producers who leveraged success in that arena into record label success. Some took the skills, relationships and “capital” acquired at a big company and went on to launch their own companies.
When I look at my career path, I have to laugh. I never would have planned or guessed that I’d end up where I am. Because of my background as a music manager, and then specifically developing an interest and accomplishments in branding led to a position at a major talent agency.
Acquiring a diverse basket of skills, and figuring out which combination of skills makes you uniquely special, is the key to finding a solid path in this business.
I highly recommend you pick up the book “So Good They Can’t Ignore You – Why Skills Trump Passion In The Quest For Work You Love” by Cal Newport. If you are struggling to find your groove in the world, this book can help illuminate a path that might already be in front of you.