Want To Be Successful In Music? Try Thinking Of It Like Your Job

Having musical talent and intuition is good, but if you really want to succeed in music, you’ll need much more than that. Whether it’s the discipline it takes to spend hours at a time practicing an instrument or the planning and communication skills needed to book shows and pitch new music to press outlets, sheer talent isn’t enough to make it in music––especially in today’s DIY-driven industry. If you want to be successful in music, you might want to try thinking about it like your job.

A job is more serious than a hobby

If you want to find any sort of success in music, you’ll have to stop thinking of practicing, playing shows, and writing songs as a hobby. Seeing music as an actual job is a better way to go about it because with a job, the stakes are higher and much more is required of you. People stay in their jobs and do things they don’t always want to do because, well, they have to. And while that strict sense of obligation is something lots of people turn to music to escape from, nothing good in music will come to you unless you work for it. For that hard work to happen, the stakes need to be much higher than they would be if you were spending your time on a hobby.

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People with jobs have to stick to a schedule

As much as we all like to think we can be serious with music without any set schedule, that’s rarely the case for most musicians. Lots of people dread going to their jobs because it requires them to stick to a strict schedule, but that sort of discipline and devotion to time is essential for keeping a band together and making music seriously. No, you don’t need to wake up two hours early and make music before heading out to your actual job, but creating and sticking to a weekly practice schedule is critical in helping you thrive in music, no matter what your goals are.

A job is a commitment

Thinking of making music as being a career is helpful because it forces you to make a real commitment to what you’re doing. Believe it or not, lots of people actually enjoy their jobs and show up to work every day for more than just a paycheck. No matter what you’re doing in music, payoffs like affirmation, receptive listeners, and record sales are often sparse and hard to find, especially if you’re just starting out. This means that you’ll have to find rewards in your commitment to the craft. Committing to something means working through temporary setbacks and challenges and showing up to something every day, whether that’s a job or a relationship. If you really want to do something meaningful in music, you’ll have to fully commit to what you’re doing.

Patrick McGuire is a musician, writer, and educator currently residing in the great city of Philadelphia. He creates music under the name Straight White Teeth, and has a great affinity for dogs and putting his hands in his pockets.

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  • Rob Roper - April 4, 2018 reply

    Schedule? I’m an artist, man. LOL But you’re right. This is something I’ve struggled with for years. I’m still struggling with it. But I’ve realized that if I don’t schedule things, they won’t get done. Actually scheduling things is easy. Sticking to the schedule is hard. Distractions are my enemy.

    Manolo Alayeto - April 4, 2018 reply

    100% what helps me also is setting a deadline for projects, it’ll “force” you to get it done.

    Love - April 10, 2018 reply

    Commitment is an art. 🙂

  • TruSoul Davis - April 4, 2018 reply

    DOPE ASS WRITE UP WE ALL AS INDEPENDENT ARTIST NEED TO READ AND RETAIN THIS PIECE

  • Brickie2x - April 4, 2018 reply

    This is the exact truth

  • Jon Fenton - April 4, 2018 reply

    Sounds like wishful thinking to me. Lets say you commit to working harder on it, to make money. Ok and it works for two weeks. Then suddenly you’re expected to be here or there on your days off. The people you’re around (friends/family) will not understand unless you’re already making money somehow. Again you’ll be expected to be here and there, messing around with something. I believe you have to at some point possibly change what aspect of music you want to work on. Maybe explore another avenue. Being a musician is an uphill battle and those that are “making it” are often replaceable. Unless they are a superstar. Then labels will invest money.

  • AGM - April 4, 2018 reply

    I’m in the Rob Roper boat LOL

  • Timo Standing Buffalo Cano - April 4, 2018 reply

    A true artist has to do what they have to do….I am living it….with a smile on my face…..great article….it made me smile….Chi Miigwetch…..which means thank you very much in Ojibway…

  • King Cosby - April 4, 2018 reply

    I’m 62 years old. I’ve been in music all my life. You may or may not have to do other things for money during your career, but you better know that music is your job. In a lot of ways things are harder now than when I was in the prime of my career. Music will always keep you young at heart if you stay true to it.

  • Dynamic Threads - April 4, 2018 reply

    I absolutely HATE when these types of blogs get published anywhere.

    Like, yeah mate, I’d lave to treat it like my job but there’s that whole “I already work a 40 hour a week job and can’t afford to support a second job freelancing as a musician” obstacle standing in my way.

    This mentality is ASININE. When anyone mouths off about it. But especially when affluent industry darlings say crap like this, and yeah, I’m looking at you, St. Vincent. So easy to push this rhetoric when you don’t have to and never had to worry about your next paycheck, because your family could afford you the privilege of being an uneducated fuck-up until their contact in the industry convinced their boss to invest in your dinky music project.

    Affirmary - April 5, 2018 reply

    The OP is actually accurate. I think having a 9-5 job applies here. For example. Quit your 40hr a week job then play music and see how hard it is living paycheck to paycheck.

    Buzz Lightyear - April 5, 2018 reply

    What you’re saying is a cop out. Yes, a 40 hour work week is a lot. Money’s extremely nice. But musicians are generally broke. It’s “starving artist,” not “privileged artist.” Not everyone who made it in the industry had rich parents. Change your schedule. Make sacrifices. Lose money. Lose friends. Lose family. Lose everything. And then maybe, MAYBE something will happen. Until then, you’re just making excuses.

  • MC BYGONE - April 5, 2018 reply

    although true, this article is VERY obvious. I was hoping for advice for more serious artists.

  • Claudia - April 5, 2018 reply

    I appreciate that piece of advice as I am worked g of bringing out an album and struggle with several things. Schedule for one, yes. Please, a good advice of creating the business plan, marketing and how to get into better gigs would be a great help here. ✌️😘

  • Bassfx - April 5, 2018 reply

    Nope. Ironic to see stuff like this still being published in 2018. Ironic in the sense that NO amount of “treating music like a job” (nor any amount of practice or business plans) will do anything to either help you be successful in music or make money from it. I have 3 music degrees and 20+ years of experience as a professional working sideman and bandleader – nothing big time, just lots of mid-level gigs in almost all genres with one or two notable artists. The music business, as most people except Reverbnation already know – is dying fast. A nickel’s worth of advice for those actually hoping to get something from this article – and from music: do it for yourself, for love, for the fun. Unless you’re Max Martin, Spotify, or a handful of others, don’t expect to be successful in music. Do your thing and maybe something will happen. If it does, more power to you. If it doesn’t, then it’s no big deal. Music does keep you young. It makes you smart. It makes you cool. It’s the best thing ever. But playing it for a living, live or as a studio player, is going extinct fast.

    Buzz Lightyear - April 5, 2018 reply

    So, you’re saying don’t absolutely devote everything you have to music because you want to be successful? I think people are missing the point of this article. The writer is simply saying put much more time (than you think is appropriate) into your craft. I don’t see a problem with that. Even in today’s day and age.

  • T.J.G - April 7, 2018 reply

    I think this blog presents a well-needed “realization” for some, myself included. I have wasted years trying to commit to my music, but it’s only been in spurts and I am not where I want to be.

    I have recently been re-remembering that I need to set a schedule and treat my music like the dreaded JOB – at least a little bit. I am grateful to Patrick for writing this at a perfect time for me as well as others I’m sure!

  • Jonathan Segel - April 9, 2018 reply

    Well… yeah, but.
    Here’s the thing: you do have to be it, and you have to be it all the fucking time.
    But you have to be the musician, and conflating that with it being a job means quantifying it. What we’re after in music is generally quality, not quantity. If you consider everything that you do as a musician to be part of a “job”, then you are inevitably quantifying everything you do, or equating it to it’s financial value. That just means that the salesmen/women are the ones that are “successful.” And yes, I know that entrepreneurialism is seen as a virtue, but every time I hear the word, my first thought is “con man.” One reason that a creative musical environment flourished in the pre-internet world (and be honest, you still like the music that came from the 50s-90s) was that there was a separation of music and business. The current structure is basically the Gig Economy of Uber/Air BnB etc. with a surfeit of organizational structures, (like Reverbnation, for example) to pay into to promote the idea that you, lucky you, will be the lottery winner to go viral via your self-marketing. I don’t buy that, hence my reluctance to accept the tenet of this article.
    Yes, music is my job. It always has been, regardless of other jobs I’ve had. And I take it seriously. But when I think about some of the great artists that I admire, or even those that I’ve worked with, if they had thought that Time=Money instead of Time=Music, I think the world would have been poorer for it.

  • 2nd Samuel - April 11, 2018 reply

    I call this, taking care of your acorn…
    First I would like to begin with a spoiler alert. The acorn is a symbol of your music, your project, and/or career in this industry. Most if us wants an oak tree of a song, or album. To get the oak tree out of the acorn, you must prepare a place for it, dig a hole, drop it, water it at least weekly, and protect your acorn. Protect your music, plan for a place to drop it, water it with promotions, and do not touch it again until it does what it is planted to do. Remember, you can’t make the tree come out if the acorn. Instead, you must let it take it’s course of growth. Don’t complain about not having your glorious tree to rest under later, if you’ve been sitting on it, or holding on to it with your tight grip. Let it grow. Water periodically, again & again… with marketing and promotions. Plant, water, and protect your music. It will create a space of relaxation, in due time. I hope I’ve gotten my point across clearly. God speed. #2ndSamuel

  • Virgil Kane - May 3, 2018 reply

    I’ve always loved music and tried pretty hard and got close to making it big one time in NASHVILLE. I’LL NEVER GIVE UP. IT’S IN MY BLOOD. WRITING AND SINGING EVERYWHERE. MY STUFF AND KENNY ROGERS TRIBUTE SHOWS. THANKS TO EVERYONE WHO’S HELPED ALOT ALONG MY JOURNEY. SINCERELY:VIRGIL KANE-FORT MYERS,FL.

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