work the mic

Don't Learn From Your Mistakes... Learn From Mine.


January 9th, 2015

"A wise man learns from his mistakes. A wiser man learns from the mistakes of others." - Zen proverb

That quote beautifully lays out the entire reason why I started writing Work the MIC. There are a million websites, businesses, and scammers out there who will promise you success in the music industry. I want to balance out the scales, and be the one to tell you what not to do.

I've been playing music in public for a few years, and I've done some indescribably stupid things in that time. I've ruined shows. I've pissed off loved ones and alienated fans. I nearly killed a few dozen people with a runaway truck. I've learned a lot from those mistakes.

I've also seen other people screw up, and in a few cases, seeing those mistakes has allowed me to make better choices. However, in many other situations, I've seen someone fall into a pit just a few feet in front of me, and then found myself falling in right after them. The older I get, the more I want to see myself avoiding the pits that others fall into. And then I want to put up a sign that warns others to go around.

IT'S GONNA HAPPEN, LIKE IT OR NOT

"It is impossible to live without failing at something, unless you live so cautiously that you might as well not have lived at all — in which case, you fail by default." - JK Rowling

To me, failure is like an obnoxious member of your immediate family. It has been with you your entire life, it knows everything about you, it won't let you forget your most embarrassing experiences, and no matter how much you want it to go away, it never will. It's best not to pretend otherwise.

Like it or not... if you play music in front of other people, you will sometimes suck.

If you do anything with your life, and especially if you write your own music and play it for the world at large, you will fail, and probably do so at a rate higher than the average person. It's going to happen. Accept it. You will suck. You will bomb on stage. You will write bad songs. If you're a healthy human being, you will probably consider quitting.

In The Band's documentary, "The Last Waltz," one of the band members says that the band (in its various forms and lineups) played to empty dive bars for 8 years before anyone took notice of them. Eight years. That goes beyond a willingness to mess up, that's practically a commitment to failure.

Obviously, some people mess up more than others. It might not take you 8 years to get where you want to go. And, of course, there will be good times and moments of success that will make the unpleasant stuff more bearable. But, you should know and accept that getting to the good parts means slogging through a whole lot of bad ones. That is an integral part of becoming a musician.

IT'S WHAT YOU DO NEXT THAT COUNTS

Knowing that you are certain to fail is only the first step in coming to healthy terms with it. Like that obnoxious family member, you have to sit it down at the dinner table, and hammer out your differences over several bottles of your favorite alcohol. It's likely to be pretty messy. But, how you handle failure defines you as a human being.

You have to sit your failure down and hammer out your differences over a few bottles of wine / whiskey / whatever.

Generally speaking, we are conditioned to only celebrate success, and ignore or downplay failure. We have wedding receptions, launch parties, and farewell bashes, but very rarely do you see divorce receptions, bankruptcy celebrations, and "I came home because the big city was too tough for me" parties. Could we change that attitude? Can we pick ourselves up from the moments when we face-planted into cement, and ask ourselves what we learned? Can we ask our friends to help us in that process?

When you failed in the past, what did you do after it happened? What will you do the next time? Lock yourself in your room and cry to the point of exhaustion? Lash out at your loved ones? Jump off a bridge? Move to a new city and change your name? Only you can decide that for you.

In the spirit of learning from the mistakes of others, I have studied this subject somewhat extensively. I've compiled a few links that I'd like to share with you now. Use the examples of these people who have traveled farther and higher than us, but have fallen harder, to come to terms with the unpleasant relation that is your failure.

If you have your own "trip and fall" stories that could help other musicians, please feel free to email them to me, or drop them in the comments. I may post my own and others' stories periodically.

A talk on failure from Derek Sivers:
https://sivers.org/failure

A Harvard commencement speech from author JK Rowling:
http://harvardmagazine.com/2008/06/the-fringe-benefits-failure-the-importance-imagination

Understanding the "sunk cost" fallacy:
https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=vpnxd31y0Fo

Brene Brown TED Talk on vulnerability:
http://www.ted.com/talks/brene_brown_on_vulnerability?language=en

COMMENTS

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040071

On January 15th, 2015, user Billy D said:

"We have a larger Issue on the horizon. Having no kids you might not see it, but sadly we are raising a generation of kids who don't know failure and never learn to deal wit it from a young age. Not keeping score at sporting events, participation trophies, teachers kowtowing to parents and changing poor grades the list goes on. When they hit the real world and actually do fail something the results are usually catastrophic. To say to a kid these days "hey learn from your failures" is like saying "hey stop playing video games" either one would be earth shattering.... "

 

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