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4 Essential Qualities Musicians Need For Success

I've worked with all sorts of artists since I started producing music over 20 years ago. Some went on to become breakout sensations and festival headliners, some grew thriving cult followings, while some just fizzled.

Looking back, there are four things that are consistent with the artists and bands who "made it" and are still actively putting out quality music and touring (at least pre-pandemic). They are so crucial that they apply to just about any type of creative, but especially so if you're in music:

1. Curiosity

Music is a massive, loaded concept. There's always something new to learn about the industry, artistry, and production. Music tastes and styles are cyclical, but the cycles are getting shorter and shorter. Production techniques seem to change almost every other year (thanks in part to the sheer volume of music and content being put out every single day) and it's only a matter of time before taste shifting becomes seasonal.

If you want to be heard, you've got to master understanding trends while still being true to your sound as an artist. You don't need to reinvent yourself every time you put out a tune, but keep an ear to the ground and empathize with your audience. Curiosity is what lets you ask the big questions about music, and it's also what drives you to look for answers.

2. Patience

Take the long view and do things well over time. You can be an overnight sensation and get millions of streams in a few weeks if you've got a viral hit, but successful careers are made over the long haul.

There are more "one hit wonders" today than ever before thanks to platforms like Tiktok (which is awesome) but if you want to thrive in the music industry and make a living, you have to think of the next 5, 10, 25 years of your career and make moves based on what you want to achieve in those timeframes.

3. Honesty

Be true to who you are as an artist, and you'll never have to put an effort towards being someone you're not. Social media is rife with folks like that, so not only are you swimming in the same pond as everyone else, you're probably not going to make a splash too. Everyone's different, so find out what makes your voice unique and double down on that.

Pretending to be someone you're not might work for a while, but it can be exhausting over a longer stretch of time. The easiest person to fool is yourself, so be careful.

4. Openness

If you think you know everything, you're wrong. Being a closed loop in an ever-evolving, fast-paced industry imposes a significantly shorter shelf life on your career. Consider new ideas (a shift in styles), new ways of working (using new tools and tech), and even new ways of thinking as an artist.

At the same time, don't just absorb everything that comes your way. Being a little bit of everything dilutes your unique voice and perspective, so while keeping an open mind is good, it always helps to check new techniques and ideas against your values and artistic integrity. Discernment comes with experience, and you'll get better at adapting things that help you rather than hinder.

The music industry is a game of inches: big, career-changing breaks are rare. More common are small wins that move the needle forward amidst setbacks and occasional heartbreak. It will be discouraging and frustrating, but the psychological (and even monetary) reward of doing what you love and making a living from it cannot be understated.

Seasoned musicians will say it's the journey that is the reward (though being compensated is always a good thing!).

If you're new to music and you feel stuck, or maybe you've been doing this for a while already but your career has stalled, don't get discouraged. Acknowledge and celebrate those small wins, keep refining your vision, and trust the process. Everyone goes through it.



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