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How to Become a Successful Musician with Goal-Setting

October 2nd, 2014

To get what you want, you have to know what you want. So, what do you want from your musical career? What does "success" mean for you? How will you know when you achieve it? We're all looking for this "success," but the definition of that word differs from one musician to the next. You may want to play Wembley stadium someday. That sounds like a nightmare to me.

I can't find the actual quote for the life of me, or remember who said it, but it went something like this:

"If you want to be an actor, ACT. Find a community theater, or an indie film. If you want to be a STAR, well... that's a different story. Move to Hollywood, sell your soul. But that's not acting. There's a big difference."

This quote pops into my head whenever I meet a new fan or fellow musician. The discussion usually comes around to "what are you doing to try and be famous?" or "what are you doing to 'make it'?"

My answer? NOTHING. This reply often confuses people. I'll explain.

Family and friends have encouraged me to audition for American Idol, X-Factor, or the Voice. I politely brush it off. That's not being a musician in the way that I think of being a musician... That's something different... it's being famous. I don't want that. I just want to make and play music.

Now, don't get me wrong, would I love to make a reasonable living with my music? Sure. I would also love to hop in a Delorean, flip on my flux capacitor, speed up to 88 mph, and visit ancient Rome at the height of its power. But with the way things are going these days, the chances of either thing occurring are about equal.

If I wanted to be "famous," I'd move to NYC, LA, or Nashville, and I'd shop a demo to every person I came in contact with. I'm not doing that. I am, however, rehearsing with my band, writing new music, and distributing it myself. In between, we play shows, and try to pick up new fans whenever and however we can. That's what I want to do.

What I DON'T want to do is tour 364 days a year. I don't want to strap into a harness and fly over my audience, or have choreographed fireworks go off during my songs. That stuff is for KISS and Katy Perry to deal with.

Spending most of my waking hours in vans and venues, singing to the point of injury, and acquiring stalkers is not my idea of a fulfilling career. I also don't want to have a label tell me what kind of music I have to make based on current trends, or pay said label back for an advance on a new record. I don't want to force myself into leather pants and a feather boa and pretend I'm cool enough to pull it off.

I want to make and play music. That's pretty much it.

I want to make and play music. That's pretty much it. It sure is nice when people listen to the music, and even nicer when they ENJOY it, but I've kept writing and playing during times when that was not the case, because the doing is what drives me.

Wise people have told me that you should define what success is for you so that you'll know when you get it. Otherwise, you'll spend years striving for an invisible endpoint, like one of those greyhound racing dogs chasing a metal bunny they never catch.

Set goals. Spell out on paper (or in Evernote, which is what I did) what "making it" means for you. Celebrate when you achieve these goals. Revise them if you discover they no longer hold the appeal they once did.

I've even gone so far as to retroactively change my goals, or write new ones after something cool happened, and then check them off. When I started my musical career, I never considered playing my songs at someone's wedding, but I fell into that situation several times, and it was AMAZING. So, I added that goal after the fact, and crossed it off.

Setting and achieving goals is a great way to feel fulfilled, and the best way I'm aware of to stave off regret.

I'd love to hear what success looks like for you. Shoot me an email, or leave a comment below.

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