On my personal Facebook page, I've periodically put up "Music Tips from Tim", which are thoughts on being a successful musician, or for that matter, person. After re-reading them, I've come to understand that there are four areas of soft skills that really drive whether or not someone can be successful as a musician. There are a lot of people out there with unlimited musical abilities, but they can't seem to find success. Why? Because they lack in one or more of these four areas. There are driven musicians who can't seem to get over the hump. Why? Because they lack in one ore more of these four areas. So in taking all of my music tip posts and condensing them, here are what I believe to be the four key soft skills for musical success:
In working with musicians over the years, I have often gotten the "do you know who I am" speech. As part of this speech, there is a litany of name dropping in order to impress me with the end goal of getting me to do what the other party wants through what they believe is intimidation. However, I have found that the most successful musicians are extremely humble. They don't excessively trumpet their credits or boast of their accomplishments. On the contrary, they look upon their personal triumphs as "great opportunities" or "blessings". They feel very fortunate to have been able to be one of those few musicians that have a significant level of success in what is a tough industry.
I also find that to a person they wise enough to know they're not wise enough; skilled enough to know they're not skilled enough. They never take it for granted that they've "arrived" and can stop working hard. They do not take the opportunities they've been given for granted.
I recently put up a post on Facebook about a time when Grammy Award winning bassist Nathan East turned down an opportunity to work on a recording project with one of his heroes / influences, Quincy Jones, in order to keep his commitment to playing with Kenny Loggins' touring band. It turned out that the project was Michael Jackson's "Thriller" album. But being impressed with Nathan's integrity, Mr. Jones contacted him to play on MJ's follow up project, "Bad".
Though it may not seem like it in the music business, integrity is GOLD; especially if you're a session musician. The ones always leaving projects for the "bigger, better deal", eventually at the end of the call list. The first call people keep their commitments and keep their word. When they do have to back out, it is because the project is truly NOT a good fit for all parties.
On a related note, ARTISTIC integrity is critical if you are going to be an originals artist vs. a session musician. Session musicians play and sing what's put in front of them, that's the job. If you're going to be an original artist, then be ORIGINAL. Be true to who you are. Be the first YOU, not the next whomever.
Top musicians stay on top of their game; keeping their skills honed and ready for whenever the call comes for a gig. They also show up to those gigs with extra strings, tuners, cables, and whatever they might need for a gig that could fail. They show up with their set list and the book in order for the evening. They have a music stand and a light if they need it. They have practiced their parts prior to the gig and are ready to go.
I cannot stress enough the role of preparation in music. As the leader of a few bands myself, few things frustrate me as much as my band mates not coming to rehearsal, but to practice; the difference being a rehearsal means everyone is prepared going in as opposed to not being so for a practice. I have gotten more than my share of callbacks over my adult life simply because I put in the work before rehearsals / gigs and as a result did not waste other people's time.
Time Management / Punctuality
Early on as a music major at New Mexico State University, I had it drilled into me, "if you're on time, you're late." So deeply has this been instilled in me that my wife admittedly will stay clear of me 3 to 4 hours before any gig or rehearsal because I am in the mindset of getting everything ready on my end to be at the venue no less than 15 minutes early for a rehearsal and at least an hour before any gig! I want to value my bandmates' time and I want to make sure that I'm fully ready to go when the downbeat hits. Obviously, things happen that affect our abilities to be on time periodically, but they should be the exception, not the rule. The key is leaving yourself enough margin in your day to absorb the bumps life throws as you.
Hand in hand with this is time management. In college I played in the wind ensemble, the orchestra, the low brass choir, a tuba quartet, a brass quintet, the brass choir, the top jazz band, the show band, the show choir, and the marching band. Additionally, I was prepping for my weekly private lessons, preparing for my recitals, gigging with outside groups, and working on my coursework. Time was golden, and though I will admit that I didn't always manage my time as well as I could have, I did fairly well.
These days I have to juggle being a good husband (which means sharing in the household responsibilities), a good doggie daddy, helping to run our family business, working a job in MI retail, and developing my personal music projects, whether it be my Latin group Aliento, or working on my songwriting. I have to take time where I can and use it wisely. When I don't, something gets the short end of the stick, and it's more times than not my personal practice time.
I get it; we're all busy. We live in a fast paced world in which we don't leave enough margin in our day to absorb the fluctuations of life. To be able to stay on top of their game, the top musicians have mastered time management, or at the very least had enough foresight to hire someone to keep them on schedule. Short form: time is money. If you waste someone's time, you won't be making the money.
So those are my "Music Tips from Tim" condensed into a single post. Feel free to discuss and share your thoughts.