Imagine you’ve got two friends. One can’t stop talking and the other measures their words and only speaks up when they want to say something important. Who are you more likely to listen to? Lots of musicians can learn a valuable lesson from the quiet friend, and not just when it comes to playing music. Stepping back, being quiet, and listening is something that might not come naturally to musicians, but it’s essential for maintaining relationships and making the most out of your musical talents. Read on to find out more about how listening can help your music career.
It’s not all about you
Unless you’re a musician who only writes music and never plays shows, performing is a major part of your identity. While some musicians successfully build their presence on stage around being loud and flashy, this approach can’t work for the majority of musicians. Rather than making your musical performances and music-related conversations all about you, placing your music at the heart of your actions and attitudes on and off the stage will help you zero in on your true purpose.
For example, if you’re a guitarist always pushing to add solos into the songs your band writes, what’s really behind your intentions? Do solos truly make the songs better, or are they a chance for you to show off your skills? Letting music be at the heart of your intentions is a never-ending process of shedding away egos, distractions, and selfishness to create the best work you can make.
Listening on and off stage
Have you ever watched a seasoned jazz combo play? Listening, stepping back, and making room for each musician to have a voice is a crucial part of giving the audience a strong, nuanced performance. But when it comes to communicating with other musicians offstage in a healthy and productive way, listening is just as important. Music might be your collective goal and purpose, but it’s not as easy as writing songs and materializing on a stage somewhere in front of a crowd of adoring fans. Everything from writing a song to booking a show to planning an album release takes coordination and communication. You can probably get away with working with other musicians without listening to them for a little while, but not for long. We’ve all heard those stories of remarkably talented musicians that no one wants to work with. Time and time again, egos get in the way of the music, no matter how promising the music is. Listening, letting other people talk, and compromising are the best ways to combat this. For musicians, this often means turning down that show you really wanted to play, not singing that chorus the way you wanted to sing it, and taking time off to write an album when you really wanted to tour. It means sacrificing what you want, being quiet, and letting someone else have the floor for a bit. This all might sound like strange advice that flies in the face of what the world tells us how we should act like as musicians, but it will help your music and relationships thrive.
Patrick McGuire is a writer, musician, and human man. He lives nowhere in particular, creates music under the name Straight White Teeth, and has a great affinity for dogs and putting his hands in his pockets.