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5 habits of successful musicians





5 habits of successful musicians

'Tricks of the trade' for being a positive force in the musical world

Avery Scanlon


In today’s ever-evolving, growing, and increasingly competitive music industry, one could concede that now, more than ever, a strong level of musicianship is being more and more of a vital trait for musicians. Refining certain mature and professional skill sets within yourself will not only provide increased opportunities in the world of music, but also aid in gaining high regard from peers, collaborators, and mentors.

Coming from a lineage of successful musicians, and being a musician myself, I have had the opportunity to witness first-hand certain characteristics that distinguish prosperous musicians from those who are not as fortunate. On an even more personal level, as the leader of a band (Finding Ikigai), I have also recognized these same qualities as the reasons I continually involve the same musicians in a particular project.

I would like to say, before continuing on, that these are all traits and/or practices that I have personally failed to demonstrate at one point or another, but constantly strive to exude on a daily basis. Take every mistake as a learning experience and an opportunity to be better the next time. Without for further adieu, here are those habits and skills of successful musicians.

As much as I hate making sweeping generalizations, I will in this case. Nobody wants to have to endure someone who is impolite, obnoxious, or juvenile. Inconsiderate behavior and rude gestures not only distract from the ultimate musical goal, but they simultaneously hurt overall ensemble dynamic and morale. As clichéd as it may be, always keep in mind The Golden Rule: “Do unto others as you would have others do unto you”. This applies both on and off the bandstand.

Don’t you just hate it when you have an exciting night of activities planned with friends, only to have it all fall apart because of “flakiness”? Much to my own dismay, as a bandleader and occasional gig contractor, I have had to deal with musicians becoming unavailable at the last second. Actions like this drive contractors and bandleaders crazy and make all persons involved concerned as to whether that vacant chair will be able to be filled in time for the performance, recording, etc. Make sure you show up to your gig on time, with the appropriate music prepared and in hand (if distributed before the job), and with the proper instrument(s). Neglecting all of the aforementioned might be forgiven the first time or two, but not easily forgotten.

Charismatic people tend to have that thing that makes people enjoy being around them. Admittedly, not everyone is a social butterfly. There is a multitude of variables that can affect one's willingness and ability to be social, such as mood, time constraints, etc. At some point, however, it becomes crucial to set aside the excuses and obstacles, especially to rise to the ranks of the most in-demand musicians. Sometimes the simplest of things go the furthest, such as taking interest in someone else's conversations, making eye contact, occasionally going out of your way to help a colleague. More or less, be self-aware and always be thinking about how your actions are affecting others and impacting the atmosphere of the rehearsal, performance, etc.

There is nothing quite like the feeling of uniting with the people you love and respect to create something "bigger than yourselves". Music allows you do just that on a regular basis and, for many, it creates a sort of euphoric, out-of-body experience that transcends typical cognitive processes. A performance is like a well-oiled machine, when all parts are firing at full capacity. Consequently, this does mean that a faulty "part" can be a hindrance to the full potential of the performance, both sonically and emotionally. When hiring musicians for performances, music contractors, such as myself, tend to call those who can leave their own person and perform in a way that fits the character of each piece of music, as well as the atmosphere of the ensemble. In addition to the aforementioned, contractors lean towards musicians that love their role in an ensemble (i.e. bass player or drummer that is enthusiastic about laying down a solid groove). In short, musicians that do not have passion about what they are doing tend to be a damper on the potential of the performance.

In essence. the first four points in this list pertained more to character, but, obviously, talent does play a decent role in success-especially in the music industry. Band leaders that hire the best and most qualified musicians for a job tend to get positive results. Having a track record of being able to execute music the way the composer and/or leader intended will only help in furthering a reach in the music world. Doing homework by preparing to full potential for each rehearsal and performance, as well as practicing routinely and effectively will yield gigs. While execution is crucial in musical success, the previous four traits listed are all prerequisites to it.

Unless you are legitimately the next Mozart, the positive personal traits combined with execution must take precedence over ego, otherwise work will be quite sparse.