Perhaps one of the biggest differences between a professional and an amateur musician is what I call “showing up.” Now, obviously, this can take many forms. When faced with adversity — be it either real or perceived — one always has the same choice to make: buckle down and keep marching on your chosen path, or throw in the towel and do something easier. “Showing up” may mean, simply, rising to the occasion.
But showing up also boils down to taking your art seriously, day in and day out. This means showing up early and prepared for gigs, networking when opportunity knocks, and honing your skills. Show up in support of your art every day, and put your money where your mouth is. The amateur may be happy where they’re at, wanting all the accolades and to do none of the work. The pro understands that work comes before accolades, and buckles down to the business at hand.
This might not be so easy for the average musician. We’re trained to learn our scales, write arrangements, and how to prepare for road gigs — not necessarily how to self-motivate and set multi-tiered goals. And that’s exactly why we here at Soundfly created our four-week custom mentorship program — it’s like having a personal trainer for your music, with a series of musical workouts, a whole lot of feedback and support, and the chance to accomplish something you’ll be proud of. Learn more here, or tell us about your goals, we’d love to help.
For now, here are some helpful tips on the fine art of showing up.
You don’t (and can’t) know everything
No matter how talented you are, there will always be more to learn, more avenues for thought, and ways to engage. Down here in Nashville, I know many top-tier musicians and songwriters who are still seeking to hone their craft — and some of them are better players already than most of us could ever hope to be. Still, they understand that this “music thing” is a lifelong iterative process.
If you’re passionate about your craft, you’re going to be passionate about improving it. Otherwise, you’ll stagnate — and then what’s the point?
These people are constantly seeking out resources like books, mentorship, and teachers to help introduce them to new directions. Some very talented people I know regularly attend seminars just to learn something new or bone up on old skills. It is easy to get comfortable and decide you’re “good enough” and put just enough work in. For the professional, good enough is never good enough.
Accept criticism with an open mind
Another way of showing up for your art is to be open to what others have to say. True, it may be completely off the mark, but that doesn’t mean it shouldn’t at least be considered. Sometimes a fresh pair of eyes (or ears, often in the case of music) can bring a new perspective you hadn’t considered. An amateur doesn’t want to hear criticism — only praise and accolades. They bristle at the merest mention that something might be able to be better. The pro is constantly looking for any angle to improve on, because they are in service to their art, not their ego.
If the criticism is warranted, it’s considered. If not, fine — it rolls off their back. They’re too busy making art to obsess over bruised pride.
“The Mona Lisa,” considered by many to be one of the greatest painted works of art of all time, is said to have been constantly tweaked by Leonardo da Vinci right up until his death. If da Vinci had no excuse, the rest of us don’t either!
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Here is another great service you can do for your art, perhaps even the most important one: Set aside time each and every day to focus on it.
We all have busy lives with a million pressing things to do, and distractions abound from Netflix to our phones. But carve out time each day, even if it’s just an hour or two, to zero in and put your nose to the grindstone. This can be anything from practicing your instrument, to writing, to re-writing, to working on building your career by booking shows and making connections, and so on.
If you dedicate the time and focus, if you show up for your art, your art will improve exponentially.
Focus on organization
I can’t tell you how many artists I know who are disorganized and distracted. It’s just naturally and unfortunately part of the creative personality, and one that I think has serious drawbacks. What if you strike a moment of inspiration and suddenly realize you don’t know where your notebooks are? Or you can’t find a pen? Or you had an excellent idea in the night, wrote it on a napkin, and forgot all about it? These things happen regularly.
Do yourself a favor and make a “creative nook” in your living space — put everything you need there. Notebooks, fresh pencils, pens, guitar strings… whatever you think you may need. When the time comes, you’ll be ready to go without any delays.
On a somewhat related note: organize your own music! I know way too many writers who try to “keep it in their heads” and never put it down. Do yourself a favor and record your music in its initial conception, even if it’s just a simple recording on your phone.
Even more importantly, always back up your work on hard drives, thumb drives, in the cloud, wherever! Ask any creative — losing your files is a horrible experience that is difficult to recover from. With a little prep work and organization, you can avoid disaster.
These are just some ways you can start showing up for your art. Everyone has their own process that works for them, so feel free to experiment! Whatever form it takes, it truly is a mindset — and if you want to succeed in this difficult field, this is something that can give you a major edge. Self-motivation is an essential attribute for a musician to survive today’s music industry, but it’s equally as important to plan ahead, set goals, and strategize.
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