Success is a path not a destination

The rat race “emerging artists” run today can sometimes make them forget what they’re supposed to be doing – observing, writing, recording and performing great songs, and connecting with people in a meaningful way.  Voicing things that matter to other people, that change our lives and our world.

Every artist has “spotlight moments” – milestone opportunities when they are in front of a large audience with an opportunity to gather a mass of fans quickly.  And when I say “spotlight moments,” I don’t mean a spotlight one night on stage in one town.  I mean, in the rare instance that a larger stage opens to an artist for a window in time, and they find themselves in front of thousands or millions of people with a platform on which to speak.  What an artist (and their team) does in these moments can change the trajectory of the artist’s career and the reach of their music.  So, you see, it’s not just about getting to the spotlight, it’s about what you do with it that counts.  And it’s how you navigage, what compas guides you, and what you learn in the process of BEING an artist that prepares you for that moment.

The artists who deliver when the spotlight is on them are on a mission.  They have real material that supports the mission.  They have more than one song, more than one thing to say, and they have explored the mission from many angles already.  They are prepared to flex their muscles in all directions – live at the event, in promotion before and after the opportunity, online, through photography and video and social media.  Extending the fingers of what they already created through at the core by writing and playing really great songs.

Some of the most talented artists of our time never see that spotlight.  Sometimes the artists who see that spotlight are not prepared, and some even are ridiculed for not being worthy.  Sometimes it feels like a lottery.  Sometimes it feels like fate. 

The other day, Oprah asked Simon Cowell if he believed in luck.  He said yes, he believes in luck.  Oprah said you make your own luck.  I could totally understand why Simon Cowell believes in luck, and why Oprah would say you make your own.  Anyone who has been in music as long as Simon has to believe in talent, savvy and luck.  Because he’s seen enough to know that talent alone does not a pop star make.  Savvy alone does not one make.  Luck alone does not one make.  But surely to be embraced by a nation seems lucky (on the outside).

Let’s talk for a moment about what Oprah said though.  You make your own luck.

I suppose that’s what it feels like to be in music today – luck making.  We just keep trying to carve out our place in music, our fans, our team, our songs.  We trust the fact that the people we gravitate to networking with are the right people for us.  We hope the wisdom of our choices in where we go coupled with the intent and serendipity of who we meet might pave the way to reaching more and more people with our music.

In this post, I’m going to focus less on what it takes to get to that spotlight, and more on how you prepare now for that event should it happen to you, and what it means to seize that opportunity to build something meaningful and longterm.

Often the rat race is all we can see – the networking, the travel, the phoners and conferences, and the most important lessons we are learning in the process can be missed.

Several months ago, Bob Lefsetz wrote about the bands that were able to shine when this spotlight was turned on them, and the bands that crumpled under the pressure and attention.  The bands that could follow up their first big song that hit the airwaves, and the bands that were one hit wonders.  That entry from him has stuck with me – not because I agreed with everything he said, but because I’ve always felt at Market Monkeys we are investing in artists who are doing the work to become great at what they do first and foremost.  I was encouraged when moved to think about what will happen when the spotlight shines on our artists – because I know that any Market Monkeys artist can and will rise to that occasion.  In part because the spotlight moment itself is not their goal…

Market Monkeys artists are on a lifelong journey.  The songs and craft are at the center of that journey.  And the fans know it.

As a performing artist, you have to appreciate the work it takes you to get where you are going – you have to believe in your path as much as you believe in your potential and goals.  It is the work you are doing now that will prepare you for each milestone moment you have to shine.  I’m not saying you gotta love the driving and the crappy sound systems and the price of gas and the credit card dance.  But each time you step on a stage in front of an audience that is twice as big as any audience you’ve played in front of before, you must know that all the rough gigs and other things that happened last week are what prepared you for that moment.  If in that moment you can use what you learned in all those gigs, you will shine.

  • The tough soundchecks you’ve had will make you a pro when you soundcheck for the big gig – and the way you handle that is just as important as the way you perform when the audience is listening.
  • On that note, the sound emergencies you’ve had to deal with will make you be able to keep cool, calm and collected should anything happen while you are in the spotlight – and that speaks wonders.
  • The spotty merch accounting situations you’ve had will make settling up easy when you finally deal with a professional merchandise manager.
  • The tough interviewers you’ve had will make you able to interview yourself, and speak the question and the answer in your commentary when the big camera is on you.
  • The grass roots videos you’ve made will help you be able to turn around video quickly, and seize every possible media exposure impression.
  • The inexperienced promoters you sometimes run into now will instill in you a sense of responsibility for the success of your tours that leads the experienced promoters to respect you and want to work with you.
  • The conversations you have at the merch table with fans now, will stay with you as the voice of your core fanbase for your entire career.
  • SOME of the criticism you receive now will remain your charge to work on even as you grow.  (but some if it is rubbish – your experience will help you determine what to let in and what to slough off)
  • I think I’ll keep thinking of more of these and add them as they come to me…  If you have some to add, please do respond!  I’d love to hear what road learning has come in handy in moments like these.

Above all…  Remember you are a professional.  Because if you’ve been paying your dues, observing astutely, taking note, honing your craft – then you are in this for the right reasons.  Really, you are.

It’s your songs, and your ability to write them and present them that will trump everything.  And I mean EVERYTHING.

So just let go.  You were born to do this.  HAVE FUN.  AND in times when it’s not fun, RESOLVE TO LEARN.  You are not working for something nebulous tomorrow – you are living your career today.