6 Saboteurs That Hold Musicians Back From the Big Time

Posted by Cari Cole on Mar 22, 2016 08:00 AM

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This article originally appeared on Cari Cole's Standing in the Spotlight blog.


Sabotage. Sigh. It’s real. And artists are especially victims to it. The margins of error are huge. From wrong advice, disingenuous advice, or just plain lack of good advice, to the challenges riddled with potholes and landmines to trip you up. Here are the top six ways artists and musicians sabotage themselves and how to course correct in a snap. I hope it helps you rise triumphant and avoid countless years of struggle!

1. If I only had a manager, booking agent, etc.

If I only had a manager, a booking agent, or someone (anyone) to help me (plus help me get my sh** together)! This is a particularly deceptive one. A while back, a fellow indie artist posted an article about how she kept waiting and waiting and waiting for a manager and finally got so sick and tired of waiting she started managing herself. And bam, that was when her career started to take off.

Don’t get me wrong, it would be great to have that specific someone to steer the ship, the truth is those days are pretty gone. Today artists are so proactive with their careers that a manager or booking agent are a bonus, not the kingpin of success. And that’s a good thing. Remember hearing stories from the "old music biz" where managers stole artists' fortunes right out from under them? We’ve all heard the stories: Leonard Cohen, Sly Stone, etc. Well, that came from the mindset of having someone "take care" of everything. Not what you really want. Saying you need someone to come rescue you is the biggest saboteur that most solopreneurs fall into because it keeps you a helpless victim, waiting and hoping, and worse, inactive.


Manage and book yourself until the right people come along, because you're making a good living and you are an asset.

2. Fear of success

Fear covers a big domain and seeps into everything, but it's the number-one saboteur we all have to hunt down and bust. Fear steals confidence, fear steals time, fear steals our life right out from under us even with the best of intentions. And it does this without our permission and often without our awareness.

Take Lisa for example. All she wanted was success. But every time she got close to it, she got so freaked out she ran. She didn’t trust anyone in the industry to "get her," and so her "knee-jerk" solution was an exit strategy. That’s how a lot of musicians respond. That’s how I responded several times. I got close to big deals and my fear was so epic I walked away. It’s more common than you think. And let me just say, the fear of being controlled and manipulated is a natural fear when you sign on that dotted line. But knowing who you are, knowing the business are your trump cards. And awareness, so you're not caught with your pants down at a critical moment. Fear plays a major role in your decisions. It’s up to you whether it’s conscious or not. The more conscious, the more you are in the driver’s seat.


Develop a strong relationship with yourself by having these conversations and facing your fears ahead of time. You want to develop an internal trust with yourself so that you can swim in the deep waters and not drown. #superstar

3. Musician anxiety

Musicians and artists are highly sensitive and anxious people, wired with highly amped and often super sensitive nervous systems. It’s part of the nature of being an artist and what creates great art. The downside is that this high anxiety can keep you from getting your best work out there.

Take Scott. An incredibly talented musician, all he wanted was to make music his life. But at every opportunity, his anxiety got the best of him and he would lose hold of his rational self, which in turn made him unaware at critical moments. Or he would push at the wrong times. So much so that he never seemed to get in the saddle where he belonged.


Know that anxiety is an intrinsic part of your nature and take extra steps to take care of yourself. You can take it a step further and nurture your nervous system. Using lavender essential oils (in your bath, hair, hands, temples and your pillow at night), take one or two capsules of organic passion flower at night (passion flower is a nervine that feeds nutrition to your nervous system), take saltwater baths with essential oils often, do yoga to help stay in balance and manage your magnanimous, beautiful, highly sensitive nervous system. Or try take a step further and try meditating. Transcendental meditation is our meditation of choice. It has a deeply profound effect on balancing the nervous system and reducing anxiety.

4. Insecurity and lack of confidence

A little-known fact: often the most talented artists are the most insecure. Confidence itself does not determine how great an artist you are or will become.

Take Adele. She openly admits vomiting before every performance. Being the perfectionist that she is, performing is threatening to her being because she knows the level she has to deliver at, and it’s scary. Once you make a killer album, now you have to go out and deliver it. Not just once, but night after night after night after night. It’s a whole new problem. And it’s not just her – there are many big stars who struggle with insecurity. But Adele’s struggle is a perfect example of how confidence has nothing to do with how great you are. But you can’t let that stop you from performing or moving forward in your art and career.


Admit your insecurities to yourself, don’t let them stop you from moving forward. Get counseling. Get coaching with a music coach (like myself) who understands the nature of artists' temperaments and can help you move forward despite yourself!

[6 Ways to Look and Feel Like a More Confident Musician]

5. The "I don’t have enough money" syndrome

Lack of money can be a real thing. However, thinking you’re stuck there is a disease. Look, artists have to fork over large amounts of cash to get their brand off the ground. This is reality. But poverty mentality goes further. It tells you that you’ll never have enough and therefore you’ll never reach your dreams. It keeps you from investing in yourself at critical moments. It wastes a lot of time and years doing it yourself and staying "stuck in the struggle." The "I don’t have enough money" mantra becomes the reason why you can’t make it. It’s important to know that while you may have challenges right now, that statement is not actually true in the larger picture. Every day, artists, filmmakers, authors, and entrepreneurs rise from the dust. So can you.

Take Nia. She wants to believe she has what it takes to make it, but her mind tells her to be careful because she might fail. She’s got little ones and a mortgage to pay, yet the only thing she knows how to do is music. So in her mind she’s kinda screwed. Music requires a leap of faith – and yes, it’s totally illogical. Nothing great was ever created without risk.  


Ask yourself: if you were at the end of your life and didn’t go for it with your music, could you live with yourself? If you say "no," you’ve got your answer. Don’t let your lack of money dictate the outcome of your dreams. One step at a time. If you want it, the money will come, and you’ll find a way. Maybe not in the time you want, but in time if you stay the course. Get yourself connected to a community of artists to get inspired and learn from. And if you’re the smartest person in the room, you’re in the wrong room.

6. Having unrealistic expectations

We all know that being successful in anything (let alone in music) doesn’t come overnight. But there's something about the expectation that it will that drives even the least hopeful musicians forward! It’s a requirement to have an impulsive, impetuous, impatient, annoyingly restless, and bullheaded temperament that cannot wait to get out of the gate (do I know you or what?!). I know because I, too, was an artist and I was exactly like that. It drove me and everyone around me crazy.

Take Cari. She wanted to be a great singer/musician more than anything else in her life. So much so that it hurt. It was all she could think about. She wanted it so bad she wanted to win a Grammy. But along the way, she was approached by labels that wanted to control her (so she ran) and several industry folks wanted to help, but that was before she really knew who she was, and they were no help. She gave up for long periods of time because she didn’t have any money or was so devastated by things not happening. But her dream wouldn’t stop pushing through. And one day, at 40 years old, after a long and arduous journey (several decades in the making) she released a little record that went on to impact the lives of 40,000 people. What if she had given up? Oh, and the Grammy? She made the Grammy ballots for Best Female Pop Vocal Performance, but none of that matters anymore. It was never the Grammy she was really after. That was just a symbol for a feeling of success.


You’re going to have unrealistic expectations. It’s part of your nature. Just set your sights on the real goal of making the best album you can, and then getting it out there with a team of people who believe in you. Check. You can do this. Do you have a choice?


Cari Cole is a celebrity vocal coach, artist development expert, and new music business mentor. She helps artists and musicians find their voice, build their brand, and create successful careers in music. Grab a free copy of her Vocal Road Warrior three-part series: how to keep your voice healthy while you're out conquering your tour!

Topics: Musician Success Guide, Strategies for Success


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