[Editors Note: This was written by Hugh McIntyre. Hugh writes about music and the music industry and regularly contributes to Forbes, Sonicbids, and more.]
When most musicians first jump into the business and try to make a go at superstardom (or even just surviving, which is difficult enough), they are only good enough to get by. It’s fine to begin writing, creating, and recording music while you’re still something of a beginner, and you shouldn’t let technical skills get in the way of you indulging your creative nature and exploring what kind of artist you’d like to be.
It’s fine when you first start to be, well, okay—in fact, “okay” is better than a lot of those just launching what could become careers, take it from someone who has heard from a lot of those bands and artists—but please know that your limited skill set will only be acceptable for a short period of time.
If you really want to be a full-time professional musician, let alone one who makes it big and tops the charts, you are going to need to not only take lessons of one kind or another, but you will likely need to continue to re-up your knowledge and continue your education for years to come. If it sounds like a lot of work, that’s because it is, but nobody said being a professional musician was going to be easy.
There are many instances of musicians being interesting enough, compelling enough, proficient enough, or even just lucky enough to sign record deals and make a living with even just a beginner’s musical education, but it’s the ones who don’t just tour and create music, but who work on their craft and stay focused on always wanting to be better than the day before who end up making not just the biggest splash, but who splash for many years.
Think of it like this: Many musicians choose not to go to college for their art, and while that isn’t necessarily a decision I’d endorse, I understand the logic and the reasoning. It is extremely difficult to get a job in that field after school ends, and it’s even tougher with tens of thousands of dollars in student loan debt hanging over one’s head that needs to be paid off.
While that may be somewhat acceptable in music, especially popular music, almost every other industry in the world requires at least one college degree, if not two. Even those who earn those certificates end up taking classes of going through trainings at the jobs they choose later on.
For many musicians, the equivalent of going to a university is touring, practicing, and definitely taking lessons. If you’re not going to be sitting in a classroom for four years (or hell, even if you are!), you should be spending that much time in lessons, classes, practices and so on throughout your career. You might not need to spend quite as much money, but it’s an important thing to invest in.
It’s also important to note that taking lessons doesn’t necessarily mean you’re bad, or that you still have a long way to go. You can be a working, professional musician with a wonderful body of work and plenty of critical acclaim and still learn something new. Even the biggest and best of the bunch work with other acts, teachers, voice coaches and the like to improve, tone, and work on perfecting their art.
As you progress in your career (or perhaps it’s not a career just yet), you will need to hire teachers and instructors that are more and more advanced. In the beginning, it will be all about mastering the basics, but as time goes on and you become a better musician, you may want to take that next step and pick up a new instrument, or perhaps it’s time you learned to sing. These skills will help you become better overall, and that’s the goal, isn’t it?
If music truly is your number one passion and the thing you most want to dedicate your life to (which it better be if you’re going to try and make a living in this nearly impossible industry), you won’t even mind going back to a coach or a teacher, because improving, learning, studying, and proving to yourself that you can always do better should be a joy.
Have fun with it, don’t worry about being perfect, and work extremely hard, and you might just have a chance at going down as one of the greats.