As I write this, the Powerball lottery just surpassed $1 Billion in total payout. After daydreaming about what you would do with the money, imagine if there was a way to improve your odds of winning. Other than purchasing a few hundred million tickets, there really isn’t anything you can do.
The lottery, by definition, is a game of pure luck. There is no skill involved, just the slim chance that you might stumble into millions.
The Merriam-Webster dictionary defines LUCK as “the things that happen to a person because of chance: the accidental way things happen without being planned.”
Is success based on luck? You can’t control luck – good or bad. You can’t do anything to improve your luck. The harder you work….you don’t get luckier. Unlike the popular phrase, “the harder you work the luckier you get.”
Let that sink in.
This is something I’ve struggled to understand most of my life. Before I joined the music business, I toured as a guitar player in a rock band. We had an independent record deal. We moved from upstate NY to Los Angeles. Now I work on the business side. How did that happen?
When you are young you think you have more control over things. You don’t realize how little is in your control. I never would have planned to end up where I am, but when I look back, I can identify several lucky breaks along the way – and I can also identify where I was positioned to take advantage of good fortune.
So how do we improve our chances if you can’t control luck? Let’s separate what you can control from what you can’t control.
IS SUCCESS BASED ON LUCK? HOW TO IMPROVE YOUR CHANCES
WHAT YOU CAN CONTROL
1) How you treat people. Every interaction is a choice to either treat someone with respect, warmth and deference, or rudely, dismissive and demanding.
2) What you say YES or NO to. Derek Sivers (founder of CD Baby) says it best with his post: “No more yes. It’s either HELL YEAH! or no.”
3) Your attitude. I once watched a short video about the Seattle Pike Place Fish Company. Every day the employees handle slimy, stinky fish in cold, damp conditions. Instead of complaining, they found a way to put on a show for customers which puts smiles on faces.
4) Who you surround yourself with. Are you surrounded by complainers and people telling you that you will never achieve what you want to do? What are those people doing with their lives? Seek out people who you want to learn from. Find someone you idolize and become friends with them. Surround yourself with people who constantly pull you up.
5) How you present yourself. I’m always meeting new artists and the ones who present themselves well always stick out. If you are a performer, you are almost always “on.” Star quality is a crucial factor in the budding career of a new artist.
6) Where you work (to an extent). Why spend time and effort trying to work with the 5th best company, or the 100th best artist/producer/songwriter? Seek out the top, and if you have to settle, at least you are settling for 2nd best.
7) The quality of your work or material. Your work is a reflection of you. Put your heart and soul into anything you put out. Be open for constructive criticism.
8) How much deep work and deliberate practice you put in. We all have the same amount of time in the day. How you use it is up to you. If you get down to the root of it, there is very little you have to do. Still working at Starbucks because you haven’t hit it big yet? Why not find a way to turn it into a singing Starbucks and entertain people like the Seattle Pike Place Fish Company. Who knows, maybe someone will post a video of it and it will go viral. At least then you are working with purpose. Spend the rest of your time focused on your craft and the skills it takes to find success.
9) How much time you work. It takes me about 4-5 hours to put together every blog post. I do it because I enjoy it and it helps me to clarify my thinking. I sincerely hope you find some value in my writing as well. I could spend that time doing anything else, but I don’t because this is important to me. What’s important to you? Spend your time on that.
10) Your education. Read widely and often. Meet many different people with different opinions. Learn from them. Don’t be closed minded and always be curious. If you write songs, your rich and interesting life will come through in the lyrics. Don’t waste time watching the news all day or cruising social media. Learn about people, concepts, science and culture. You’ll start to find that your business benefits from your new-found knowledge.
11) Where you live. I grew up in upstate New York. I knew there were no opportunities in the music business there. So I moved to Los Angeles. It was hard at first, but now it feels like home. Whatever your goal is, there is a location that will best suit it.
WHAT YOU CAN’T CONTROL
1) How people react to your work. You spend hours and hours perfecting a song and no one listens. You finally get a meeting with an A&R executive at a major label and they dismiss your music. Don’t get mad. You have no control over how other people react. Just focus on what you control and continually improve.
2) Who pays attention to you. You might set out with an idea of who your audience is. You might find it to be something else entirely! Don’t ignore that. Take the new information and react to it. If you are receiving attention from an unsuspecting place, use that to your advantage.
3) Your family. They raised you. Sure there are extreme cases, but most of us are hitched to our families for life. Love them and you will get love in return.
4) People’s opinions. Don’t get angry when someone holds an opinion opposite yours. Why is that such a big offense? Maybe they are wrong, so what! Warren Buffet’s business partner, Charlie Munger says: “I’m not entitled to have an opinion unless I can state the arguments against my position better than the people who are in opposition. I think that I am qualified to speak only when I’ve reached that state.”
5) The weather. Make sure you have good protection in live performance contracts for inclement weather!
6) The markets. Nobody has any idea what the financial markets will do. Nobody can predict whether or not we will be in a recession or a boom in the next year. Don’t listen to anyone who claims to know. If they had a track record of being right, they’d easily be billionaires.
7) Popular trends. Ride-sharing is a trend. Streetwear is a trend. If you chase trends you will always be one step behind. Find your unique position and vantage point and when the world comes around to your style, you’ll be ready to take advantage of it.
8) Who likes your (or doesn’t like you). It doesn’t matter what you do, how nice you are or how right you are, there will always be someone who doesn’t like you. Some people are just bitter and cynical. Don’t let it affect you.
9) How long it takes until your big break. Sometimes things don’t go as planned. So what if you were a child protege and it led to nothing? Maybe you are still preparing for your ultimate opportunity.
10) People’s attitudes. You can control your attitude but you can’t force someone to change theirs. No matter what the situation, each person has a right to choose their attitude.
PROTECT YOUR DOWNSIDE (BAD LUCK) AND LEAVE ROOM FOR UNLIMITED UPSIDE (GOOD LUCK)
So if we’ve identified that you can’t control or influence luck, is there anything you can do to improve your chances? What if there was a way to limit bad luck and enhance good luck?
Nassim Taleb proposes that you should set up your life to be Antifragile. What does this mean? Something that is fragile is hurt by volatility. Something that is robust is steady through volatility. However, the Antifragile being benefits from volatility. You can read about it yourself in his book Antifragile: Things That Gain From Disorder.
Here is the core principle of antifragility and how it applies to artists or those in the music business: Protect your downside (bad luck) and leave room for unlimited upside (good luck)
Let’s pull that apart and identify how to really protect your downside and prepare yourself to accept an unlimited upside.
PROTECT YOUR DOWNSIDE
1) Diversify your income streams. You can do this by pursuing songwriting, producing and performing. Develop these connected, but diverse skills, so you can take advantage of multiple earning opportunities and diversify your risk.
2) Surround yourself with people better/smarter/more successful than you. Some like to say that you are the average of the five people you spend the most time with. I tend to believe that. Check your ego at the door. Everyone you meet is better than you at something. Learn how to identify that. If you develop a strong network, they will act as a safety net when things don’t go as planned.
3) Establish systems in advance and stick to them. The word process could replace systems here. A system can be a specific process of habits. Goals are good, but if you don’t have a system in place to get there, you never will. As we’ve already proposed, you can’t control luck, so having systems in place when things go wrong can protect you from yourself by making bad decisions based on fear instead of rational thought. Evaluate your systems every once in a while, especially when presented with overwhelming evidence that you should change the system.
LEAVE ROOM FOR UNLIMITED UPSIDE
1) Spend most of your time pursuing the highest value opportunities. I think this is a very important point that I often struggle with. Too often I am pulled in many directions and don’t always focus on the opportunities that have the biggest return. Think about your goal. What’s the one or two things that could make the largest difference? Too often we spend time on menial things and never tackle the big challenges.
2) Be careful of restrictive deals too early in your career. How can you have an unlimited upside if you signed a production deal with a producer who had a mediocre hit ten years ago? Too often I come across artists who have strapped themselves to the floor by signing constraining deals that end up benefiting no one.
3) Be prepared when the opportunity comes. There is something I’ve noticed about the first year of real success for artists. They all develop nodes on their vocal chords due to weakness, overwork and not enough rest. When these artists first have a hit, the opportunities start rolling in – concerts all around the world, endorsements, merchandising, etc. Inevitably, somewhere in that first year they end up canceling concerts and events because they are placed on “vocal rest” by a doctor. Sometimes these cancelations can be a real detriment to their blossoming career, leaving a bad taste in fans’ mouths. This is just one small example, but by preparing your body and voice to stand up to the rigor of a crazy schedule is one way of preparing yourself to take advantage of the opportunity when your moment comes. You don’t want to be the one left on the sidelines with “vocal rest” while the rest of the industry surges forward.
HARNESS YOUR GOOD LUCK
I wish there was a silver bullet that told me how to get lucky, all the time. The practice of limiting downside and leaving room for an unlimited upside is the closest thing I’ve found. All I can say is it’s worked for me. It may not be right for you.
There is something comforting about limiting the bad things that can happen to you by protecting your downside and boosting good luck by preparing to recognize it and embrace it when it arrives.
I hope you found something useful in this post. Good luck!