Imagine how many musicians there are in this world. Out of more than 7 billion people, it’s safe to say that there are probably millions of musicians; some aspiring, some already successful, and some still trying to break through.
In the United States, there are 1,560 full-time independent musicians and 250 label-employed musicians. It’s hard to say how many of these talents are aiming for prominence and how many are just happy to make music. But knowing that they are out there, doing what they love (and getting some form of reward out of it, like money or recognition), you will probably wonder what they have that other aspiring musicians don’t.
Yet, the secret is that there is no secret.
What qualities should a musician have? Fulfilled musicians are those who have the right qualities—the ideal mindset, attitudes, and habits—that are essential for them to thrive in the fickle industry of music.
And what are those qualities? Read on.
Healthy Level of Confidence
“Be your own artist, and always be confident in what you’re doing. If you’re not going to be confident, you might as well not be doing it.” – Aretha Franklin
For a musician to succeed, he must have a healthy dose of confidence in himself and in what he can do. He knows what he is doing and he can be a perfectionist about it to some degree. He is confident that with his talents and abilities, and by devoting his time and energy to perfecting his art, he can accomplish his goals.
Willing to Learn
“If everything was perfect, you would never learn and you would never grow.” – Beyoncé
They say that there is always somebody else out there who can do what you can do, but way better. This is why a musician cannot be complacent; he must continue to learn. Knowing the music theory to make better music is great, but it’s not enough. He must actively learn and put things into practice to hone his skills. After all, there is no improvement without practice. He must keep growing and he must keep up with what is new in their field.
Here’s an excellent video that gives advice to musicians:
Hardworking and Disciplined
“You can do anything that you set your mind to.” – Eminem
Being a musician entails lots of hard work. The hours can be long, and the musician may find himself with not enough time to do everything. But what sets a successful musician apart from the others is his diligence and discipline. He knows how to prioritize things and is disciplined enough to stick to his agenda.
Dedicated to Improvement
“One thing I’ve learned is that I’m not the owner of my talent; I’m the manager of it.” – Madonna
What is the secret to the staying power of the industry’s most enduring musicians? One of their most important traits would be their unparalleled dedication to improvement. They read, ask, search, observe, practice, and ask for feedback, day after day after day, incessantly. They are open to new ideas. They don’t get stagnant, they don’t get stuck; they move forward. They have an insatiable desire to refine their craft. To keep improving is their second nature.
Grace Under Pressure
“I’m trying to keep a level head. You have to be careful out in the world. It’s so easy to get turned.” – Elvis Presley
Being a musician is a lot of work and things can often get overwhelming. There is music creation process, regular practice sessions, meetings, gigs, and others plus his private life outside the world of music. Aside from these things that he needs to juggle, there are also copious amounts of criticism, delays, and sometimes, discrimination. Dealing with all these stress-inducing situations can easily wreak havoc to his will. This is why the musician must have the ability to handle pressure with grace. Forbearance can save him from losing sight of his whys and keeps him aligned with his goals.
Ability to Handle Failures and Criticisms
“Trying to please everybody is impossible—if you did that, you’d end up in the middle with nobody liking you. You’ve just got to make the decision about what you think is your best, and do it.” – John Lennon
Some musicians can easily cave in to negativities; they either succumb to demotivation and risk their chance of success or give up altogether. But the truly committed musician understands that being in this business exposes him to criticisms and judgments. While people may praise his success, they may also pick on his failures. And that is okay; he knows that he cannot please everybody. As a musician who is constantly being subjected to scrutiny, he can’t afford to be thin-skinned. The sooner he accepts the reality that not everyone will love his work, the easier it will be for him to handle failures and criticisms. And instead of giving in, he learns from the negativities; he sees these things as an opportunity to learn.
Modest and Unpretentious
“Endless effort, endless humility, endless modesty.” – Rain
They say that a big ego, as long as backed up with big talent, must be okay. But the truth is, this is simply not the case. Who knows how many doors have closed on some overconfident artists who haughtily believed they can get away with having an ego the size of Texas. Who knows what connections and opportunities they have lost due to their arrogance. The exceptional musician is the one who is a joy to have around and work with because he is genuine and modest. He makes working with him fun, drama-free, and rewarding. Despite being brilliant, he remains grounded.
Personable and Good Communicator
“I don’t know where I’m going from here, but I promise it won’t be boring.” – David Bowie
Musicians are often expected to engage with people and they must lead the interaction. Some musicians may be shy by nature and might find this idea rather daunting. It might paint a wrong picture of them, where they may be seen as uninterested or even conceited. But a great musician knows to wear this invisible mask—the more personable version of him. Because, whether he likes it or not, he will be dealing with various people as a musical artist; he must work on being a good communicator and a people person. This brings us to the next quality…
“If you do something you hate and have success, you’ll still hate it, if you do something you hate and fail, all the worse, if you do something you love and fail, at least you did something you loved, if you do something you love and succeed, double win.” Moby
Excellent communication skills and genial personality are just two of the vital traits of a good musician; equally important is professionalism. To be truly professional, the musician strives to develop professional habits, such as being focused, organized, patient, and a good listener. He must be able to follow instructions and show up on time. He cultivates a good work ethic because he respects other people’s time, energy, and resources.
Has Life Outside of Their Music World
“Life is what happens when you’re making other plans.” John Lennon
Life outside the music is like an equalizer that keeps the musician balanced. He enjoys hobbies that have nothing to do with music; perhaps, he plays golf on Sundays with his old buddies or goes surfing. Then, he comes back feeling refreshed and inspired. He may also engage in other income-generating activities; perhaps he is a computer programmer by profession. The bottom line is that he has a life outside the music world where he can tune out work and just be himself around his family and friends.
“Musicians don’t retire; they stop when there’s no more music in them.” – Louis Armstrong
Becoming successful in the field of music is not going to be easy unless you are thrust into it by fate. But if your dad is not a record producer, or your mom is not a singing superstar, and you don’t have any form of insider connection, expect the road to be long and crammed with cracks, puddles, and potholes.
But if you are armed with the right attitude, mindset, and habits, success is within reach. Don’t let the challenges stop you; you are not on this journey to create a one-hit wonder. You are here to inspire, motivate, and delight the people, while at the same time, attain self-fulfillment and if you are lucky, financial rewards.
Joyce Ann graduated with a Bachelor of Arts degree in Mass Communication and Media Studies at New Era University. She especially enjoyed her journalism class and was nominated for Photojournalist of the Year. Joyce Anne loves music; she is a self-taught piano player. When she's not writing (or baking or watching documentaries), she's probably playing songs on the piano, mostly by ear.