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Making it in the music business
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Making It
By Jamie Andreas

Here is a letter which is representative of a great many. They are in the "searching for direction and answers" category.

Hi Jamie,

I've been playing for about a year and a half now and I just want to know what it takes to play professionally? Playing professionally yourself, I can see how you would know what it took you to get where you are. What kind of things should I learn? What should I be able to play? How much should I practice a day?? What are the odds against me making it?? Also, must you start from a young age to be able to make it professionally? I know you're very busy...but your response would be greatly appreciated. I'd really like to know where I stand. thanks.

Fred W.

Hi Fred,

Yes, well, I think most of us would like to know where we stand, and we may go around asking other people where we stand, but the fact is, no one can tell us where we stand. Most people will simply tell you where they stand, and might try to tell you that you are standing there too!

As far as what it took me to “get where I am”, I am not exactly sure “where I am”. The most definitive thing I can say about “where I am” is that I am in a place where I have the two things I prize more than anything: I can play the guitar as much as I want to, and I can DO anything I want to do on the guitar (and anything I can’t do, I know how to make myself able to do, if I want to). In order to have these things, I have made more and deeper sacrifices than most people would be prepared to make, and I have worked harder than most people would be prepared to work. I suppose most people who are “where I am”, could say the same thing.

So, you may correctly assume from that, Fred, that the answer to your questions will involve those characteristics being demonstrated by you, in some way.

You want me to make some predictions for you about your future prospects in terms of having a musical career. I do not believe in making predictions (in the way you are asking me to), because the future is not fixed, it is a totally fluid phenomenon that is directly linked to our present moment: we are creating our future in every moment of our present. From that point of view, rather than predicting your future, I will help you understand your present moment. Understand that the best way to predict the future is to understand the present, since we are creating our future in every present moment.

I will put it more strongly. Better than being able to predict the future is to be able to create the future. And you cannot create your future unless you understand your present. So, I would like to help you understand your present, and to help you understand the reality of what you are really talking about, what you are really asking. Your questions are not really questions, in that they don’t HAVE answers. They are really statements. Your “questions” are really statements that demonstrate your present level of understanding of some very key truths about life, and about being a professional guitarist.

You ask about “making it”. There IS no IT to make! No one could ever tell what your “it” would be, until you make it! So the simple and short answer is: of course you can “make it”, go ahead, who is stopping you?

Your question tells everything about the way you are looking at things. You think “making it” is like being able to jump up over a bar someone else has set up. You think it is about meeting some kind of standard, or passing some battery of tests put up by someone else, or a bunch of “someone else’s”. You talk like the “it” you have to make is something already out there, like a mountain you have to climb.

There is no mountain out there for you to climb. Listen closely.

You will CREATE the mountain, you will ENVISION the mountain, your mountain, and then you will climb it.

Everyone has there own “it” to make, their own mountain to climb. So, don’t ask me if you can make it, or what the odds are. Ask yourself what “it” you want to make, and then ask yourself if you are willing to go through the effort.

The “it” I have made is very different than most “it’s”, and that is true for a lot of people who have made it.

It has sometimes been put this way: there is no path to success, you make one by taking the first step!

So, first of all, stop thinking there is some pre-formed pattern out there waiting to see if you are ready to conform to it. Leave open the possibility that it may be right for you to do something no one else has done before, or no one has done in the way you need to do it.

I don’t know what your “it” will be after you make it, but I will tell you this: there is absolutely nothing to prevent you from going and making “it”, except perhaps yourself. In fact, you will find that even though making your “it” will take an enormous effort, achieving anything really meaningful in your life will take the same kind of effort, so why not put the effort into your hearts desire?

Let’s look at some of your other questions. You will see that they all come from a wrong, or an incomplete way of looking at what you are looking at.

“What should you learn”? It’s real simple: learn what you love! Do what turns you on, play the music that makes you want to play it! My God, the last thing I ever needed was someone to tell me what I wanted to learn on the guitar! Of course, playing anything on the guitar was such a turn on to me, I don’t think I cared much what it was, I would learn anything. The first time I played a simple melody on the guitar (soon after picking one up), it turned me on so much, l learned whatever I could get my hands on.

As time went by, I learned a few chords, bought a few books, found some songs to strum and sing that I loved (lots of Dylan), and I couldn’t put the darned thing down! When I got my first teacher, I sucked everything out of him as quickly as possible. I believe it has just gone on from there (about 33 years now!).

So, we have that out of the way. Figure out what turns you on, what makes you want to grab the guitar and play it, and do that. Can you do that? Do you know what turns you on so much about the guitar and music that you just have to learn it and play it? If you don’t, that is a serious problem right there, and one you should address before you worry about these other things. If you don’t fulfill this first condition, nothing you play will have much use or value to you or anyone else, anyway.

Now, that would lead us to answer another question: what does it take to play professionally? That is actually a very easy one: it takes you being able to get somebody to pay you for playing, and that takes you being able to give somebody something they want. The first time you do that, you have played professionally. The trick is, of course, to get them to do it again, and again, etc. Then you are what is called “professional”.

The way to get them to keep on paying you is to continue to give them what they want, what it is they are willing to pay you for in the first place. Of course, you will be very creative and enterprising, as you must be in any profession, and think of all kinds of ways to get other people to pay you for playing as well.

I did everything I could think of. Restaurants, bars, concerts in libraries, senior homes. I have had jobs playing in churches, doing shows in schools, and on and on with lots of different things I thought of. Here is a great tip, of a practical nature, that I picked up from reading the great minister and teacher Robert Schuller, on the subject of money: “there are no money problems, only “idea problems”. Simply think of ways to get someone to reach in their pocket, grab their money, and hand it to you. It is done by being able to offer them something they want, which is done by first possessing something of value. Since we want to be musicians, let’s agree that means being able to play music.

Then go ahead, start marketing yourself in whatever way is appropriate to the kind of music you play. Then, you start developing what is called an income. If you can make enough to live on, then everyone will agree, you are a professional.

All of this will be greatly aided if you actually are good at playing the guitar, and good as a musician in whatever style you are doing. And that gets back to the “doing what turns you on” part. If you are actually a musician playing music as it should be played, as an expression of your love for it, and love for playing it, then other people will feel that, and since people need music (fortunately), someone will be willing to pay you for being able to give them what they want from music.

So really, there’s the formula: get yourself able to play some music you love, and then get yourself playing it for some people, and get them to pay you for it.

When I was a teenager, and starting to figure this out, I knew that the playing for other people part was important, so I grabbed whoever was around, my parents, brothers, and friends, just to see if I was good enough to play for somebody for free! I also worked hard to be good, and to develop an intense relationship to music. I sat and played for myself everyday.

I started teaching, I started setting up little concerts, I started being able to make money.

The particulars would be different for everybody. I was playing mostly classical guitar by then, so that dictated what did. Certainly, a more common and conventional route is to join or start a band, get gigs, etc, etc. But the most important things is what I said before: get turned on, and then turn other people on.

From where you are now, it seems that if you do the right things you will have a better chance of "success as a musician". If you practice the right amount of time on the right things, and so forth. Well the fact is, there are people who practice ten hours a day and learn every scale in the universe backwards and forwards, and they do not end up as professional musicians. There are people that learn some basic chords, some basic scales, start playing, keep playing, and do end up as professional musicians, and sometimes as millionaires.

Many aspiring players acquire plenty of knowledge, have lots of talent, and lots of opportunities come their way, but they do not continue in their life as professional musicians. When the inevitable challenges came along, lost opportunities for a “normal” life and career, new responsibilities of mate and family, financial pressures, watching your friends build mature adult lives and buy houses while your living hand to mouth like a bum long after you were supposed to become an adult, friends or parents telling you how irresponsible it is to dedicate your life to something as frivolous as playing the guitar; many people cannot withstand this kind of pressure, and continue on as musicians. They go get a "real job".

Many of us get “real jobs”, or “real part-time jobs”, and still work at our music and our dreams. Many don’t.

When I was 19 I worked in a factory. I refused to work full time, I told them I would only work part time. All my friends had cars, I didn’t drive till 22, I would not sacrifice the time it took to make money to support a car. I worked 4 hours at the factory, and spent it all on bus fare and to pay for my lessons in New York City. I spent the rest of the time studying and practicing. I still have my notebooks where I kept my practice schedules. I was obsessive. All my money went to pay for my lessons. When friends wanted me to hang out with them, the answer was usually, "no, I have to practice". It was always guitar first, everything else second.

I don't know if you have to be as extreme as I was (and am), but I think you need to be at least halfway like that. Anyone who says they want to be a professional guitarist, and is not practicing their instrument at least 3 hours a day is just kidding themselves. (If you are just using guitar to accompany yourself singing, that is different. Learn a few chords, and get rich!).

However you do it, the only thing that is certain is that you are going to meet obstacles, perhaps many of them. And the first and most important thing you need to overcome these obstacles is Desire and Willpower. After that, then, yes, be concerned with the tools of the trade.

What the tools of the trade will be for you is impossible for me to say. It would be ridiculous for me to tell you “spend 2 hours a day on scales, and 2 hours improvising, etc. How do I know what is inside of you that should come out? You have to answer that. Look at all the kinds of professional musicians out there, from Willie Nelson to Yngwie Malmsteen. The only thing all these types of professionals have in common is that they found their way to what they loved, and they kept on doing it! You won’t necessarily find any similarities in terms of their training.

What artists do you love? That will probably tell you what direction you want to move in. Find out what those artists did. Obviously, if you want to play like Yngwie, it will take a lot more practice than playing like Willie.

How much should you practice a day? As long as it takes to be able to do what you want to do. I had to practice from 3 to 8 hours a day, and do other studying besides. Maybe you have to do enough to learn to play a bunch of songs and sing them, or maybe you have to learn to play rock lead guitar. No matter what you learn, you will have to go about delivering what you do to other people, and having them pay you for it.

Understand this, it’s not like you reach some level of ability, and all of a sudden paychecks start appearing in your mailbox! Or, just because you all of a sudden play like Hendrix and somebody calls you up and offers you a job. You will have to go out and “make it” for yourself in any case. If you don’t have incredible willpower and perseverance, you probably won’t be able to “make it”.

It is very important to realize that success as a musician is very unlike success in other professions. If you want to be a doctor or lawyer, the career path is pretty clear, difficult perhaps, but clear. Go to school, study hard, take a bunch of tests, hang up your shingle or go to work for a hospital or firm. For a musician, there is no one path. You can put together your own mixture of activities and pursuits that will enable you to make enough money to live.

You can mix and match any number of possibilities to have some kind of life as a musician. I will describe a few "routes" I have seen people take. Knowing which route you are going to take will help you know what it is you need to learn....

1) go to a music school, get a degree. Set up a private teaching practice AND do playing gigs, and make your living that way. While supporting yourself, you may still pursue a dream of success in some area of the music biz, so you may be busy writing, recording, performing original material. If you do so, it will cost money and time, and if you do something like get married and have kids, you are going to have a harder time making that dream come true.

2) go to a music school, get a real job teaching music in a school and do side playing. All the things mentioned in #1 apply, but people who take this route are usually looking for a more "normal" life, like one that has benefit packages like a real job, so they are less likely to be doing adventurous things like pursuing a career as an artist, but, it has been done.

3) do what people like Angus Young, Stevie Ray, Willie Nelson, and hundreds and probably thousands of other musicians do: decide that you MUST be a musician, start doing it, and don’t stop. Love it, need it, be good, and get better as you go along. This route may or may not involve going to music school, but it will definitely involve going to the “school of life”.

For myself,I put together my own route. I never attended music school, but I studied with many of the professors who taught in them. I put together what I felt I needed as I went along. With the internet, you have the greatest learning resource ever, and the greatest access to what you need to fulfill any goal you have. When I was young, it took me two years to even meet anyone who played classical guitar, much less taught it!

If you feel you are starting late, well, that is one of those "obstacles" I was talking about. It is never too late to BEGIN to move in a direction that feels good to you. There is always, at any moment, a "step in the right direction" for any of us, from where we are. Take it.

I started guitar at 14, and didn't start classical until 17. That may sound young to you, believe me, for someone who wanted to play like Segovia, that is VERY late. The world is full of 19 year old virtuosos! It took everything I had to overcome a late start, not to mention the incomplete training when I did begin classical.

There is a great story in the spiritual literature that is very applicable here. A spiritual aspirant asked his teacher “when will I see God”. His teacher took him down to the river, and shoved his head underneath the water, and held it there. When he finally let his head up, the student was gasping for air. The teacher asked him “what were you thinking about that whole time”? The student said “air, air, give me air”! The teacher told him “when your desire and need for God is that strong, you will see Him”.

Do you get the point? The teacher was trying to convey the intense level of desire that must be there in order to achieve something profound. The world is full of people who say they want different things, but not so full of people willing to do what is really necessary to get them.

When you want to be a “professional musician”, (which means someone who makes their living, in whole or part, playing music), badly enough, you will do it, you will figure it out, and you will tough it out. If you never reach that point, you will either forget about it and stop talking about it, or you will remain stuck, and live with some degree of torment about it.

I wish I could make it sound easy, but it usually isn’t, and it certainly wasn’t for me. Now, I am a demanding type. I have known other people who took routes that seemed to be smoother than mine ever was. It all depends on exactly what you want.

Let me leave you with this thought: there are two types of future. One is called Fate, and one is called Destiny. Fate is what happens when you are not creatively involved in shaping your future, because you are not creatively involved in living your present. Notice how “fate” is related to “fatal”, as in death, which is the opposite of being alive.

Destiny is the opposite. Destiny is what you find when you follow your truth. Fate is for cowards ruled by their fears, and Destiny is for heroes, moved by their desire and courage.The path to either of these futures requires your effort, but only Destiny requires your conscious effort. Fate happens by itself.

When we allow Fate to be the future that waits for us, we are no good to ourselves or anyone else. When we create our Destiny by following our truth, we fulfill the very reason for being here in the first place. - A site aimed at showing players how to reach their next level of playing ability, no matter what level they are currently at. This is done by teaching how to practice to get results, by using the principles of correct practice for guitar. It is also the perfect start for beginners, because it shows how to begin learning the guitar without getting all of the usual bad habits.

Other lessons and articles by Jamie

Why Are So Many Guitarists Masochists? - Discover Your Discomfort!
Changing Chords - Having a little trouble with those "easy" chords?
The Secret of Speed: Finding the Incredible Lightness
What Should I Practice?
Your growth as a guitarist: vertical or horizontal?
Your Hand is Your Band: The Importance of Fingering
Review is Required!
Teaching By Travel Brochure
Natural Talent
On Memorizing - Part One
On Memorizing - Part Two
Changing Bad Habits - Part One
Changing Bad Habits - Part Two
Aggressive Practicing
Thinking: What A Concept!
Conductor's Mind
Stage Fright Part 1
Stage Fright Part 2
Stage Fright Part 3
Teachers Lounge
Becoming a guitar teacher
Lost In Time
Climb Every Mountain
Making it
Becoming the music
Scales, who needs them? Why and What For, Anyway?!
Pulling Up The Slack: Mining Your Potential
Can I Teach Guitar?
Bricks & Mortar
The Inner Master
The Alone Place
The Meaning of Life
My personal work habits
How to nail a solo
Removing The Barriers To Musical Expression
AC/DC - Back in Black
Metallica's "One"
What Is Real Practice On Guitar?
The Learning Curve of Various Styles of Guitar

Copyright 2002 by Jamie Andreas. All Rights Reserved.

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