In the beginning, musicians practiced. Their job was to perfect their craft and their live performances. Managers took care of bookings, PR reps made sure the public knew they existed, and record labels had a vested interest in seeing their signed talent sell lots of product.
In today’s music market, only few have the resources necessary to delegate these tasks to people or teams. That leaves the rest of us to fend for ourselves in what can, at times, seem like a pond of piranhas ready to eat you alive.
The Biggest Mistake I See Musicians Make
Your job is to entertain people. It is not to practice, alone. I see this especially true in the classical music world. Granted, the standards for performance are extremely high, possibly even un-humanly high. Classical performers are expected to be flawless beings, and missing just a note or two can cause a loss at a competition or bad press after a professional engagement. However, at least 95% of the classical musicians I know make practicing hard enough to achieve perfection such a high priority that guess how many opportunities they have to show what they’ve been practicing? About 0. Or nearly 0. If you are practicing 6+ hours a day and you have no performances booked, you’re doing something wrong. If you are practicing 6+ hours a day and expecting someone to telepathically hear you and how wonderful you are, you’re doing something wrong and perhaps need to see a doctor. If you need to practice 6+ hours a day to get your music right, you’re also doing something wrong.
Classical musician or not, I get it – prepping for a concert is tough business, both mentally and physically! And don’t get me wrong, practicing is definitely important for us. The opposite problem is also true in some cases: too little practicing leading to lots of poor public performances. What we need to get down to is balance, higher efficiency during our practice time, and better time management.
Balance – Step 1
As musicians, we feed on the stuff of life to inspire us. Take a break from practicing and get out into the world for some fun and enjoyment. Go sit at your local coffee shop with a latte and do some people watching. Take a walk through the park to clear your mind. Go to another artist’s concert. Ask someone out on a date, or if you’re married/in a serious relationship please take your significant other out! Take this very short list, and add your own fun ideas to it. You are all individuals and you’ll have your own ideas. Do a little brainstorming, I guarantee you can come up with at least 5 more things to do in less than 5 minutes. Please share them below if you’d like!
When you come back to your music after being out in the world, feeling the presence of other people, building relationships, and creating memories, your music will instinctively feel different. If you’re playing music that someone else wrote, you’ll have a new and fresh perspective on what they are trying to tell you and your audience. And if you’re writing new music yourself, you’ll have fresh ideas and feelings to springboard from. In the meantime while you’re enjoying some of what life has to offer, your brain is still subconsciously working on the music you were practicing and/or writing.
Ironic, isn’t it, that in a big way making your music better is just as much about being away from it, as it is about working on it. The best part is that as you get used to stepping away from spending so much time practicing, you are also unlocking new time you can devote to pursuing other parts of the music business. Check back in for part 2, where we will begin to cover some other things you can work on in your new found time!