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6 Qualities to Help Musicians (or Anyone) Succeed in the Real World

By Aaron Stang

Is it ever too early to discuss how to succeed in the “real world” of music with your students?

The qualities required to be successful as a musician are pretty similar to the qualities needed to succeed in many other areas of life—hard work, perseverance, and a good attitude will get you far.

I’ve seen many incredibly gifted people not be able to survive in music because they seemed to think they were owed a living due to their obvious talent. After over 40 years in the business, I can say it’s not all about raw talent.

Yes, there are many different kinds of “real worlds” within the realm of music—orchestra musicians, band directors, rock bands, jazz musicians, studio musicians, club date musicians, choir singers, etc.—and each must hone very specific technical skill set for their specific areas. Yet, the musicians who get hired more often are the ones that leaders want to work with and don’t have to worry about, in addition to being able to carry their weight musically. Band leaders, in particular, need responsible, dependable performers.

Here are 3 basic, essential responsibilities that we should build into our students in order to set them up for success as musicians in the real world:

  1. Show up on time: Always be punctual. Whether it’s for a class, rehearsal, or performance. Striving to be a little early is always good and shows dependability.
  2. Attire: Make sure you are dressed appropriately for the gig, whether it’s with a uniform, costume, or casual clothes. This shows that you can follow directions, as “what to wear” is typically communicated in advance.
  3. Be prepared: Make sure you have all of the tools you need to get the gig done. Do not show up and start asking around for a music stand, capo, tuner, pencil, etc.

In addition to these basic responsibilities, there are several other ways to stand out among the crowd and to help further ensure success in the real world:

  1. Have a good attitude. Music is fun, that is why we do it. If you don’t want a gig, don’t take it. And don’t “look down” on any gigs or any type of music. Instead listen to the people that are truly great at that style—I bet you find they are pretty amazing and there is a lot of room for you to improve and hone that style.
  2. Be supportive of the other musicians around you. Help them to play the best they can, too. They will love playing with you if you learn to make them sound better. The great players know how to do that. Listen to what others are playing and try to compliment it. If someone is struggling, see if you can help out. A group performance only comes together if the entire group is in sync and all are enjoying the experience together.
  3. Do your best. If you’re the weakest player in the room, do what you can, and come better prepared the next time. If you’re the best player in the room, be generous and help those around you. The music community rewards team players.

If you strive to build these qualities into your students, you can trust that they will find a place in the music “real world,” or any other “real world” they decide to pursue. In the end, it’s awfully great to see them get to do what they love.

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