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There are plenty of musicians in the world, but there are undoubtedly a few things that truly set apart the "men from the boys," so to speak. Essentially, we're talking about the things that separate the professional musicians from the hobby musicians. Though everyone defines "success" differently and in their own way, most people can agree that being able to make a living doing what you love is "making it." With that in mind, here are four key things that successful musicians do differently.
1. Thoughtful and methodical practicing
Successful musicians practice with purpose and have a relentless determination to continue improving. Practicing is done with the stage, the studio, or wherever the next gig takes you in mind and is met with serious discipline. Forget the boozy basement jams (though there is certainly a time and place for that!), because there's work to be done. Consistent and thoughtful practice combined with setting real goals make for great success under the spotlight.
2. Taking advantage of all resources and possible income streams
Career musicians know how to stretch their buck and opportunities, and they don't just look in the "obvious" places for success. Forget the touring money pit or trying to get a record deal. What about sync licensing? Session work? Jingle writing? Teaching? Consulting? Songwriting? Publishing? Music writing/critiquing? Arranging? Transcribing? Producing? The list goes on and on.
Successful musicians also know how to tap into all of their resources to maximize profitability and opportunity. Networking and keeping up with your industry friends to always be ready to jump on the right situation when it presents itself is all a part of staying relevant and financially sound in the music business.
3. Wise financial planning and budgeting
Skip pouring one out for the homies or the extra round of shots at the bar between sets. Successful musicians think ahead and budget like business people. As musicians, we don't get a lot of the run-of-the-mill safety nets afforded by nine-to-five jobs. Healthcare, sick days, paid time off, and retirement funds are just some of the foreign things that we musicians don't very often have the luxury of taking part in. But we also have the unique opportunity to be entrepreneurs and make our own way doing something we love. However, with that comes the responsibility of properly educating ourselves on the fundamental requirements of wise, long-term financial planning. Smart musicians leverage their work opportunities and plan for the future, budgeting to ensure many years of financial growth and stability to come.
4. Continued learning and growth
And most importantly, successful musicians know that the learning is never done. There's always room for growth and improvement, no matter how good you are. The desire to want to become better day after day is what makes someone truly great. Take lessons to brush up on your skill sets, listen to popular music to keep techniques fresh and sounds current, go watch the artists you admire live in concert and take notes, read up on the greats that came before you, and study the moves they made to find success. As B.B. King famously said, "The beautiful thing about learning is nobody can take it from you."
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 bachelors degree in music business and 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.