On of the greatest benefits of being a musician is that our is career perfectly suited for for self-growth. But are you taking advantage? Are you seeking new things? When was your last adventure? The way we share music, they way we push ourselves to perform better when playing with others, and yes, even the practice room are all laboratories for improvement and heightened performance. But not applying those skills in new ways is a bit like the guy who buys a ton of state-of-the-art camping gear, reads tons of survival guides– but never actually goes camping.
Professional musicians have a lot to contend with both professionally and personally that can make it hard for us to be courageous. It’s true. You experience success with one piece or genre of music and that success or comfort can make it difficult to explore new repertoire later on. Many people advice young musicians to “find their niche” and while there is some good advice to this, it often means that musicians end up building their own gilded cages.
Remember, above all else, that you are an artist. An artist. An ART-ist. You have musical skills and training that are your tools to interpret and explore the world. Like the mountain climber with his rope, pulley and pick axe you have the tools in hand to do great feats. Don’t ever forget that. So if you are ready to take the next step, if you want something more, then try these 4 steps to exploring the unknown part of your artistry. You might be surprised at what you discover.
1. Step out of the comfort zone. It can be in the smallest of ways, but stepping out of your comfort zone is the first step to self-growth. Whether it’s picking new repertoire, collaborating with unlikely partners, or seeking new meaning in your music (among many other ways!), changing the status quo is the first step.
2. Understand that there is risk. For anyone, no matter the field, there is no reward without the risk. That is what makes the reward so, well, rewarding. You have to embrace the unknown. Embrace the notion that your new idea, or venture might not work– and that is okay. It’s not whether or not you succeed that matters most, it’s what you learn about yourself along the way.
3. Record your adventure. What great explorer or salty sea captain of ages past didn’t keep a journal of their experiences? Sometimes, we can’t fully understand the takeaway from a situation while we are experiencing it. Write it down. Take notes. Be observant. There will come a time for reflection and that is where you will learn about yourself. You’ll want to be able to remember your experiences vividly and writing them down will allow that to happen.
4. Move forward only. The hardest part of self-growth is fighting the urge to slip back into old ways. But think about that mountain climber again. Would he or she, when so close to the summit, turn back because it would be difficult to reach? If they did, we wouldn’t consider them much of a mountain climber would we? Why? Because the point of mountain climbing is to reach the peak– and so it is with you. Keep your sights set ahead of you. Imagine yourself as an adventurer. One step at a time, one tiny inch forward is a change that counts. Remember, everything counts.
You are an individual with unique values, goals, passions, and interests. As an artist, you may have broad and often conflicting interests while simultaneously you are deliciously engrossed in the minutia of a singular niche. For the entrepreneur, there are no rules that say you must give up any of your interests or passions for a career. If someone says you can’t make a living pursuing multiple passions, then you need to run the other direction.
2. It’s a dumb idea to say that a music career can be defined by any one kind of job.
Yep, I said it. That’s dumb. The truth is there are as many kinds of music careers as there are genres of music—literally thousands. When you consider the how many possible combinations of music careers there could be, the options are seemingly endless.
3. Creative people need freedom to create—and it’s okay to honor that need.
Musicians can be wonderfully creative, frenetic, sporadic, and illustrious people. When we have our freedom to create and experiment, we can accomplish truly unbelievable feats. But what happens when you clip a bird’s wings? It can’t fly. The same is true for the musician. When our “jobs” take over we can forget or ignore or suppress our spontaneous creative urges. The creative flame grows dull. This feeling does not just express itself in the lives of many musicians who have taken on the thankless “day job”. It can also be expressed in the lives of performing musicians whose orchestra or ensemble has become more a prison than a blank canvas for their art. Music entrepreneurship is built on the idea that the job/income is built around accommodating your individual artist needs.
4. There is a difference between owning your life’s work, and wishing you did.
That’s a bold statement, but it’s true. When you pursue entrepreneurial projects, you undergo a dramatic mental shift. You realize that your success is now in your own hands. This knowledge will give you incredible energy to pursue the path(s) you love. No doubt, you will face struggles and obstacles between you and your goals. However, you will own that struggle and it will only serve to temper your resolve to see your goal to its realization. Entrepreneurs make their own decisions and for better or worse.
5. Entrepreneurs aren’t victims.
No longer are you the victim in a world where (shudder) “the arts are dying.” Rather, you view yourself as part of the solution the arts need. You will view yourself as a positive force that fixes problems or addresses conflict in the arts world. By setting your own course, you are free to be flexible and agile when making career choices. When you experience a setback, you can change directions in a second and minimize or avoid the setback altogether. You have complete control over your entrepreneurial enterprises and can be free to take the action you feel is best for you. In short, you don’t allow yourself to be the victim of someone else’s circumstances.
Though this list is far from comprehensive, I hope that it showcases some of the benefits that an entrepreneurial career has to offer. It takes bravery to be a music entrepreneur as you may find yourself breaking from your comfort zone. Just remember, there is no feeling like owning your own successes, taking charge of your life, and putting your creativity first. There’s nothing like it in the entire world.
In the past week, many of my friends and colleagues finished their master’s or bachelor degrees. I’ve seen so many happy and heartfelt messages on Facebook and Twitter– so many great memories being made. I’m so happy for all of them. I know all too well the toil that goes into earning a master’s degree. It seemed appropriate that at this time I write my valediction for those artists and performers who are graduating from conservatories and performing arts academies this month. There is one question above all else that I wish someone had asked me when I donned cap and gown several years ago, and today I’ll put it to you.
Now that you are a graduate, how will you connect to the lives of other people?
After graduation, when the honeymoon is over, your calligraphed degree is framed on your wall and the cap and gown have been packed away– you will begin making plans for the future. I hope that you will ask yourself this question and you’ll really consider how you’ll connect to others.
It can be very easy to focus on the I, Me and the Myself. You must do so in order to seek financial security, to realize your dreams, and make grand plans for your future. But as an artist or performer, you must give consideration to how you will connect your artistic work with other people. The longer that you wait to get your art into the public, to perform for audiences, to put your finely honed skills and cultivated talent into the real world– the harder it will be as time goes on and the more hesitant you will become.
Class of 2013, I want you jump in feet first. I want you to go buy a megaphone if you have to and start getting people’s attention. You aren’t in school any longer– and that is a great advantage to you. Watch, listen, and observe people interact with the world around you for any and everything that will lead you to inspiration. Keep your finger on the pulse of society and culture and use your observations to guide your plans for the future.
Build as many relationships as you can to other artists, and people. Network until there is no one you don’t know (that’ll keep you busy!). Keep your family ties strong– you’ll definitely need them later. Talk about your ideas with other people until you are breathless. When you get exhausted, take a nap (but only a short one) then get out there and start connecting again.
Do your best to avoid isolation, except when your creative soul needs it. Constantly consider how your creative work will be received by your audiences and by the public. Your career as an artist, a musician, an actor, a playwright, a composer, a dancer— is eternally tied to public opinion. Therefore, you must be too.
When you consider connections to other people, you subconsciously understand that your creative work is not for you and you alone. Your music, choreography, plays, performances, and writing will be experienced by others and interpreted by those whom you’ve never met. My friends, if you never fail to consider your impact on other people’s lives, then you will stay on the right path.
There is no singular path toward achieving the goals you have for yourself– and there are certainly no shortcuts. What kind of career do you want? What kind of legacy do you want to leave behind– an artistic legacy? A philanthropic legacy? When you are standing at the crossroads of life, I guarantee you that the right path is the one that you and you alone make the decision to take. Others may try to point you in one direction, but it is in my experience that personal intuition is always the best guide in unknown territory.
As an artist, a thought leader or other kind of creative person, you have most likely already experienced that nagging pull within in you that influences your decisions. For me, that’s my inner artist guiding me towards decisions that benefit its agenda for my life. The worst decisions I ever made were those when I tried to ignore my gut instinct– because I “knew” more than it did.
The reality was that I didn’t actually know more than my instincts. We seldom do. Often, it is the fear of the unknown that motivates us to make decisions that are against our will. When you are trying to choose your own path, ask yourself if the reasons you are considering a certain option are reasons that you came up with– or did they come from an outside source? While spouses, partners, friends, family, teachers and coaches can make good advisers; they can often be biased. In truth, it is your feelings that matter most. Your choice to go down a certain path will create a new reality for your life and you have to be okay with it.
In order for you to thrive as a creative person, you have to honor your instincts. When you do decide to listen to your instincts, your impulses, and acknowledge your intuition— you own the decision. The path you take becomes YOURS and not “theirs”. No matter what path you decide to travel, there is no guarantee for smooth travel and easy going. But, when push comes to shove and the struggle to achieve your goals begins remember this: it is always easier to lean into the storm when you have decided to be there than it is when you are there against your will.
Building a career, whether in the arts or in any field is both a worthy pursuit and a challenge. The pursuit will cause you to make choices, take risks, and fight for what you believe. In music, you face years of criticism, years of disciplined practice, and the challenging of constantly re-inventing your performance while staying relevant to your audience. In the face of so many possible paths from which to choose, the best path is the one you feel good about.
Like I said, it really is that simple.
You can’t help but smile a little when you see the tell-tale signs of Spring. More daylight is to be enjoyed, the trees are heavy with buds just waiting to blossom, and you can see the little shoots of green pushing right out of the mud. Spring is a time of renewal and also for contemplation of the future. There is a sense of inevitable possibility and imminent change that fills the air every time you walk outside your door. Maybe it is time for us to lend a feeling of possibility to our careers in the performing arts as well?
It is time to look forward and not on the past. We must innovate and move into uncharted territory– both as individuas and as performing arts organizations. But rather than letting apprehension get in our way, let’s embrace a spirit of discovery and exploration. Let’s challenge each other to be more innovative than any other artist in our respective disciplines. Let’s focus on being problem solvers and strive to always present at least three possible solutions to situations encountered with which we disagree.
This spring, I encourage you to invest yourself in your performance and in your audience. Set aside time to read and research new methods of performance. Think big and set large goals for yourself in the upcoming performing season. Make lists like crazy, collaborate with friends, arrange to meet new colleagues; do whatever you need to do to get your creative wheelhouse turning.
Most importantly this spring, I urge you to think about what you can do in your upcoming performances to make strong connections with your audience. There is no one way to go about strengthening the relationship with your audiences and you should feel free to experiment with all kinds of audience engagement ideas. Brainstorm on this by yourself and with your friends and colleagues. Imagine how you can make stronger connections and then put those plans into action on you performances in the coming months.