Growing pains are never fun, especially when they happen within the space you're most passionate about. Though mistakes are always bound to happen and are a part of life, here are three big ones that musicians most commonly make – and have to come to terms with in order to become better.
1. Setting unrealistic goals
We all sometimes have delusions of grandeur when it comes to our music careers. But the reality is, we're not all going to be the Michael Jacksons and Beyonces of the world. And for a good plenty of us who still manage to make a living in music, that's more than good enough. Once you come to terms with the reality that "making it big" perhaps isn't what it seems or all it's cracked up to be, you start seeing your path unfold very naturally before your eyes. Find the place where your passion and the highest chance of financial success intersect, and that is where your aspirations and goals for yourself should truly lie.
2. Paying too much for the wrong things (and not enough for the right things)
We all know a ton of "starving musicians." Heck, we may have even been one ourselves! But that stereotype definitely feeds into the terrible cycle that many artists fall into with not valuing the right things in their music careers. There are some very serious and important things that all musicians must set aside some cash for, and they may not always be what you'd think. For example:
- the "obvious" choice: shiny, new gear
- the "better" choice: long-lasting, quality gear
- the "obvious" choice: bar money for “networking”
- the "better" choice: money towards marketing materials
- the "obvious" choice: scrounging together enough mediocre equipment to do a home studio demo recording
- the "better" choice: ponying up the funds to do a high-quality demo recording in a professional recording studio that meets the expectations required to be taken seriously in the marketplace
It's a common mistake that musicians make skimping on many important investments while allocating far too much cash in the wrong direction. Think smart, think long-term, and think quality.
3. Not treating your music like a business
This is where we separate the "men from the boys," so to speak. If music is your hobby, great. Go out there, jam with your buddies, play a few bars, drink a couple beers, and have a ball! However, if you want music to be your career and something you invest in that pays you back along the way, then you'd better get an education and start treating your music like a business. Otherwise, like with many other things, it's just a money pit and a most enjoyable waste of time. If you truly want to become better, you've got to wise up and get a little savvy with the music business. Learn the financials, understand enough about the legal and contractual sides of things to know what you don't know, and take your craft seriously. The more serious you are about your music, the more seriously other people will take you. And hopefully those other people have the cash to buy your album or come see your live show! Whether it means that you pull a solid team together to make things happen correctly, or assign roles to your bandmates based on their strengths outside of playing, or decide to stock up on your music biz books and tackle the industry solo – you will be much better off and have the highest chances of success once you obtain some important knowledge, gain some experience, and start thinking like an entrepreneur. Because after all, you are your business, and your business is music.
Christine Occhino is the founder and artistic director of The Pop Music Academy and has experience working at Columbia Records/Sony Music Entertainment, in addition to working as a performing artist for over a decade. She has a bachelor's degree in music business & management with a concentration in entrepreneurship and vocal performance from Berklee College of Music, where she was a vocal scholarship recipient and former editor-in-chief of The Berklee Groove. She is also the proud founder and CEO of Hope In Harmony, a 501(c)(3) nonprofit organization that brings music to those in need.