How To Be A Successful Musician – Racers On Your Marks!

This week… I’m in Florida.

Orlando, to be specific.

Why? If you guessed “to see the mouse”, well… you’re kinda right.

Going the distance to be a successful musician

I’ve been a long-distance runner since high school. I love the trial of pushing your limits and finally reaching the goal after giving it your all. It’s how I try to live life.

So, I’m here to do both the Disney Star Wars 10K & the half-marathon, a combination they call the “Challenge”.

More medals to hang above my sock drawer? Check.
But for our purposes, these races remind me of how to be a successful musician. Or should I say, how to be a successful anything? The elements of achievement really don’t change that much with differing career paths. Progress and advancement come down to a few, simple things really, and we can all do them.

Notice I said simple… not easy! 😉

Tools Along the Way

If you’re going to do anything well, you need the correct tools that will enable you to complete the task. Imagine lumberjacks with no saws or axes. Or NASA without computers. News channels without predisposed political views.

Just kidding. But you get the point. To succeed as a runner this weekend, my tools will be:

  • Teaj's running shoes
    a pair of Asics running shoes, called the “GEL-Kayano 23“. They’re my second pair in this line, because I can run farther and faster in them, with no pain or discomfort during or after, than any other shoe I’d tried before. The right tool for the job, no question.
  • a mostly vegetarian DIET, with careful emphasis on legumes and nuts so I get the requisite proteins needed to rebuild muscle after running.
  • a MUSIC PLAYLIST that includes some of my favorite songs that keep me in a specific running tempo range. Without these killer tunes to keep me wired and inspired during a race, I know I wouldn’t do nearly as well. Heck, I even play air drums on a couple as I push through the final miles!
  • My BODY. Keeping it in top form means daily making good choices about food, exercise and environmental conditions. It is, after all, my most important tool of all!

Being a true musician, in the same way, requires great tools like these. This business is no different than any other profession or task we set out to accomplish – if we fail to gather in the best tools, we will rarely be a force to be reckoned with in the industry.

I know, I know, there will always be those who’ll say, “But if you already have one guitar, why would you need another one??” Patiently explaining to them that it’s the same reason a painter doesn’t just use white might do some good.

Then again… it might not. If you’re playing country, you need a Tele. If you’re playing pop, your keyboard had better have lots of usable, modern sounds, as well as vintage patches. If Americana or folk is your thing, you’d better have a stellar acoustic.

A Telecaster will help you succeed as a musician!
A good Tele will always raise your marketability!

So, to sum it up, if we’re going to make good music, we must do all in our power to have two things:

  1. the right COMBINATION of instruments and gear,
  2. the highest QUALITY of instruments and gear.

With this two-pronged preparation, we’ll be able to play at the top of our abilities and, because of the instrument’s inspiration, even exceed them.

Paths of Education

If you want to stay ahead and not behind, both in music AND in running (literally), you need to TRAIN well in how to best utilize your tools. Knowledge is always power, and having extensive insights into your music gear is crucial.

As a runner, I’ve studied how gait, pronation, shoe choice, foot type, breathing techniques, body movement and many other things come to bear upon my running. Each one of these areas of study opened my mind to possibilities, and gave me understanding that helps me to avoid injury, the bane of any consistent runner.

To be a long-term musician, we also need to STUDY. ALL… THE… TIME!! I’ve been at this a few decades now, and I still see there’s soooooo much more yet to learn. I feel like I’m just now becoming my best player self, yet there’s still vast room for improvement.

Still, I’m learning and writing new songs, practicing to become adept at new techniques, trying methods I’ve never needed but that might unlock new skills, and never, ever locking myself into one style or approach, but rather being open to wherever inspiration might lead me, no matter how off-the-wall (you go, Michael Jackson!).

Roads of Consistency

This morning I finished the 10K. Tomorrow morning at 3 a.m. I’ll go line up in a corral to be ready for the start of the half-marathon.
Do you think I’d be able to finish both of these at all, in two days, if I hadn’t practiced? It took months of preparation to get here! Outside, inside, on roads, on treadmills, on old train track paths… each long and winding road played a part in prepping me for success this weekend.

In a similar way, these days I’m pretty adept at some of my instruments. When I think of why, it’s an easy answer: I kept picking up those instruments again and again and simply played them. A LOT.

Now, we don’t have to play those instruments or fiddle with that gear. In most cases, no one’s making us. Except for some drive within, we could never touch ’em again and no one would be that bothered.

But hopefully… we would. They compel us. They motivate us. Day after day, they inspire us… onward… to higher heights, better chops, swifter licks.
It takes listening daily to their voice. This is our COMMITMENT to our craft. Anything less than consistent just will not do.

One of the things I tell all my music students (all the time!) is that if they can get on their instrument every day for some amount of time, even if it’s just ten minutes, it’s better than trying to cram a lot of rehearsal into a few hours one or two days a week. Muscle memory just doesn’t develop as well when given inconsistent practice with lots of time off between efforts.

Do you practice a little every day, to hone your muscle memory into a seriously impressive music machine?! Do you say “No!” to other things in life in order to instead woodshed and craft your technique into a sharp weapon of musical warfare?? Do you spend so much time with your instrument that you notice you are developing your own “way” of playing things, an innate style that’s all your own being drawn to the surface?!
Then you, my friend, are going to go the distance!

Highways of Perserverance

While you’re pursuing excellence on your instruments, with your gear, there will always be set-backs.

Not only will life send huge storms in around you to keep you from your goals, other people and your own thoughts will at times summon up violent storms within you that will threaten your resolve, destabilize your commitment, shake your faith.

To prepare for this weekend’s races, I had to endure cold and rainy weather, a water heater dying, a writing and studio production schedule that was increasingly demanding, meetings and family events that took me out of town…

But with THIS weekend in mind, I consistently trained and prepared my success this weekend.

Are you preparing for your success?

There will always be all kinds of life distractions trying to keep us “too busy”. Doesn’t matter. We either endure, or fold.

Now, there’s no shame in admitting sometimes that life seems to be conspiring to boot you out of the musician’s circle. There’s nothing wrong with admitting sometimes it hardly seems worth the struggle.

But it is. So remember this wise adage: “The road to success is dotted with many tempting parking places.”

And as Edison said, “Many of life’s ‘failures’ are people who did not realize how close they were to success when they gave up.” 

Don’t let that be you. Commit to your destiny as a world-changing and influential musician and just… keep… going!

On the Right Track… of Reason

If you’ve tried to pursue music seriously, you’ve probably heard this one:

“Have something to fall back on.”

Even Egyptians succeed in music
Walk like an Egyptian!

Now, I’m actually not going to argue with the logic and wisdom of that suggestion. There’s a reason why “triple threats” (those who can sing, dance AND act) are highly desirable and honored in Hollywood – they’re good at more than one thing! Who wouldn’t want to be awesome at several things instead of just one?!

But what I do stand against is those who would try to talk you out of a career in music because it has no guarantees and provides little fortune and success most of the time.

What in life IS guaranteed?? And is lots of money really a goal worth pursuing over other more important things, like fulfillment, inner joy and daily inspiration?!

Why do I run races like the ones this weekend? Because I genuinely LIKE TO. It’s fun, and though it might be hard to believe, after the races I actually feel better inside in many ways. Is there pain here and there? Sure. But nothing in life worth doing comes without a little discomfort.

As I mentioned in my “look back at 2017” article (read that HERE), it’s one of the toughest times I’ve ever seen to be a musician, and especially a songwriter, which is my primary passion. Streaming has all but decimated music sales revenues, which is how most classic artists made their bundle in the past.

But obstacles can always be overcome, or circumvented, or even OBLITERATED. Each of us has legitimate REASONS to be working in the music industry, and for most of us, it’s because there’s nothing else that moves us so deeply inside, and inspires us so consistently.

Pursuing music together garners success

We simply can’t imagine NOT doing this.

Regardless of the hardships, current or past, if we keep the faith, work our craft daily, make wise financial decisions, and pursue good working relationships with each other, genuinely wanting to help all of us through these times, we will see the impossible become possible.

It’s amazing what humans can accomplish together. Even though we can go far just on our own I believe we’ll go farther if we enlist the help of others that we trust.

In the final analysis, if you are truly called to music, it won’t let you leave. You’ll be drawn to it again and again, moth to flame, bear to honey, shark to blood.

Meet ya in the water. 😉

The Finish Line

The last energy bean to chew on is this: to maintain an overall positive “fitness level” in the career of music, it’s imperative that you define, quite specifically, what constitutes “SUCCESS” in music to you.

Here are some options that I’ve wrestled with and seen fellow musicians adopt:

  • Fame/notoriety for yourself
  • Monetary riches
  • A steady stream of gigs
  • Fame/notoriety for the songs

Nice outcomes if you can get ’em. But consider this: they are all things you have LITTLE CONTROL OVER.

You can certainly market yourself well, network, put out every potentially desired merch… but at the end of the day it’s not your call whether people want and like your stuff.

So if you define your success by these first four, you’re going to constantly be at the mercy of public whim. And public whim is, as we know, oh so fickle.

Musician success by never stopping!
Keep writing! Keep playing!

Now consider these definitions of success:

  • Being true to your own style/leading
  • Consistently progressing as a musician
  • Always working hard to be YOUR best
  • Committing to being better today than you were yesterday

These are things that you DO have control over. Every day. And that means you hold the reins of your advancement. It means you’ll not have to wait for anyone to accomplish what needs done, according to your timetable, and your decision of what is the important next step.

With these last four options as your defining lighthouse of victory, you will never feel lost at sea, or end up emotionally shipwrecked. Instead, you’ll be calling all the shots and remain in control of what’s really important – your career as you wish it do be.

Drums shakin' the room!

Whichever option(s) you pick, just know they will dramatically impact your daily attitude, direction and level of perseverance. Make your decision carefully, because your choice will define you… for a long time.

So… what is your finish line? How will you know every day that you’ve “made it”?? What is now your personal benchmark of success??

Your answer to this will define you, and dominate you for years to come.

THIS is your Matrix moment. Choose your pill wisely.   😉

The Longest Journey…

The sun is going down behind the palm trees now, and since 3 a.m. comes early, it’s time for me to sign off and prep for a few hours sleep before my loooooong run in the morning.

Like music, running is something that inspires me. It keeps me thinking of the future: the possibilities; the chances for victory; the potential to be better than I’ve been.

Whatever instrument you play, or gear that resides in your studio, don’t give up on their abilities to turbo-boost your musical achievement. You are capable of things you can’t even imagine. Your success, as you define it, is possible.

Let that vision empower you for the days to come. If you’re here, then you’ve already taken the first step of the longest journey, and that was the hardest one. Now just keep running strong and true, with all that you’ve got, to the completion of your vision.

a toast to going the distance!

And afterwards, let’s all go for a drink to toast our victory!

Now, go… make… sounds!!

P.S. If you, like me, are a musician AND a runner, try this trick for fun and rhythmic progress (especially if you play drums):

Most people breathe in simple 4/4 time to their footfalls and/or their music.

Try mixing it up! If your pace or music is in 4/4, try breathing in 3/4. Or (even harder, I find) try triplets or dotted quarters. It’s an interesting, fun way to study music even when you’re pushing your body to new limits. Not to mention it gets your mind off the “12 miles to go”!!


2 Replies to “How To Be A Successful Musician – Racers On Your Marks!”

  1. Great, Jerry! Indeed, passing along that kind of inspiration and encouragement is the reason we offer posts such as these. 

    We know it’s not always easy, as evidenced in THIS ARTICLE about what musicians currently face, but I believe we can still find a way to rise the tide if we stay focused.

    May hopeful commitment to the best life has to offer stay with you… always!

  2. An impressive article on how to be a successful musician and indeed in everything you do. If all the people had your attitude to life, this would be a much different and probably better place to be. A lot of people, for various reasons, lack your kind of commitment. As a matter of fact most of us will never know what they really can achieve when they fully set their mind to it. Sometimes I think this is a sad state of affairs, but reading an article like this gives me hope!

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