13 Things Successful Musicians DON’T Do

As our readers know, I like to draw parallels between the music world and the business world…and that’s because not only because you should be treating your music as a business, but the same basic principles that businesses use to be successful can be easily applied to your band or music business as well.

Recently, I was reading an article in Business Insider, and it touched upon a trait I believe is the make-or-break for any musician or music professional desiring success:

It’s in mental strength.

And in this, it’s not reflected all that often in what you do, but in what you don’t do.

As I read further into the article it describes a book by author Amy Morin titled “13 Things Mentally Strong People Don’t Do“and I thought it would be a great parallel for those of us in the music business to follow.

So without further ado, here are the 13 things that, by comparison, successful musicians DON’T do:


1. Don’t Waste Time Feeling Sorry For Yourself

Feeling sorry for yourself is self-destructive and indulging in self-pity hinders in living a full life, as Morin states. And all it does for a musician is waste time, creates negative feelings and ends up hurting relationships. The key to overcoming this is to see the good in the world, in what you’re doing and where you’re at (and where you’re headed)…and switch your self-pity to an outlook of gratitude.

Remember, this is a journey. You may not immediately be appreciative of where you are in your music career, but there may be others who aren’t where you are at yet who would kill to be in your position. Keep pushing on and be grateful!


2. Don’t Give Away Your Power

When a musician doesn’t have any physical or emotional boundaries, he/she tends to give away their power, much as Morin parallels in her book. You should stand up for yourself and be prepared, when necessary, to draw the line.

Keep in mind that if other people, whether it’s a manager, label, or even your peers or family are in control of your actions, they then by definition also define your self-worth and ultimately your success. Don’t let them. Instead make a point to keep track of your goals and work towards them….ALWAYS be doing this!


3. Don’t Shy Away From Change

Morin writes that there are five stages of change (all of which I feel are relevant to musicians): they are pre-contemplation, contemplation, preparation, action, and maintenance. And following through with each and all of these steps is absolutely critical. Yeah, absolutely change can be scary as hell, but if you do not attempt to reach beyond that which you’ve already mastered, you will never grow. As Morin states: “The longer you wait, the harder it gets….other people will outgrow you“.


4. Don’t Focus On Things You Can’t Control

I know a lot of musicians like this, and I used to be the same way: trying to control everything is most likely a reaction to anxiety. Shift your main focus from the things that you cannot control to those that you can will reduce stress, increase your happiness, provide better relations with those in your band (and working with your band), opens the door to new opportunities and invites further success.

“It feels so safe to have everything under control, but thinking we have the power to always pull the strings can become problematic….rather than focusing on managing your anxiety, you try controlling your environment,” Morin writes.


5. Don’t Worry About Pleasing Everyone

Many times, musicians tend to judge themselves by considering what other people think of them…also known as the opposite of mental toughness.

In her book, Morin states that anyone who continually tries to please others will find that they are easily manipulated, that it’s OK if others are pissed off or disappointed, and overall just a waste of time. As the saying goes “Those who try to please everyone end up pleasing no one”.

Successful musicians don’t worry about this, and as a result it gives them a greater sense of self-confidence and strength.


6. Don’t Be Afraid To Take Calculated Risks


This is a biggie and in my opinion, the number one thing that will bring a band or music business’s progress to a screeching halt!  It’s our inability to readily take risks, or rather, calculated risks. Whether it’s of a financial, social, music-related or emotional nature, when it comes right down to it, it’s really about knowledge. And as Morin writes, she says that a lack of knowledge about how to calculate risk leads to increased fear.

So that said, you should ask yourself the following set of questions:

  1. What are the potential costs (cons)?
  2. What are the potential benefits (pros)?
  3. Will this or will this not help me achieve my goal?
  4. Do I have alternatives? If so, what are they?
  5. What would be the result if the best-case scenario happened?
  6. What’s the worst thing that could happen? And what can I do to minimize any risk that it would occur?
  7. What would be the result if the worst-case scenario happened?
  8. How much will this decision matter five years from now?


7. Don’t Dwell On The Past

I’ve been in this situation a bit with past bands, including one that enjoyed a modicum of success until they were dropped by their label. The band in question couldn’t get past that setback, to the point that all progress with the band stopped and they broke up.

Look, the past is in the past, and there’s no way you can change what happened. It won’t solve anything and dwelling on it will just lead to depression. Being stuck in the past will take your focus away from where you are in the present, and for planning your future…and it’s self-destructive.

On a positive note, there is one benefit to reflecting on the past…if you take your successes and drawbacks and use them as lessons learned from a factual standpoint. This will allow you to move forward with a new perspective…just take care not to get lost in the reflection.


8. Don’t Make The Same Mistakes Over And Over

Speaking of reflection…like I said in the last paragraph, looking at the past from a lessons-learned perspective will help ensure you don’t repeat those past mistakes. Always view your experiences as: “What went well?” “What didn’t go so well?” “How will I do this differently next time?”

Successful musicians accept responsibility for their mistakes. And in turn, they chart out a written and detailed plan to make sure that same mistake doesn’t happen again going forward.


9. Don’t Resent The Success Of Others

I’ve seen this in many different scenes, both in an outright and somewhat hidden manner. Morin states that “resentment is like anger that remains hidden and bottled up”.

If you spend all your time focusing on the success of another band or music business, it will distract you from your own success and you’ll find yourself derailed quickly. Even those who’ve gone on to success sometimes aren’t content because they’re too busy dwelling on the success of others.

It may even cause you to lose sight of your own talents and abilities, and ultimately end up abandoning what you started out to do. Stay focused on your own path, and don’t worry about what others are doing.


10. Don’t Give Up After Your First Setback

Success is a long-term play. Failure is almost always a roadblock you will need to get past.

Take, for example, some setbacks by notable musicians before they made it big:

  • Elvis Presley, who was told by the manager of the Grand Ole Opry after an initial performance that he was better off sticking to his then-job as a truck driver.
  • Lady Gaga, who was signed to her first label and unceremoniously dropped from it 3 months later. The label head told her at the time that her music was ‘disgusting’ and she’d never get anywhere.
  • Wilco, who released Yankee Hotel Foxtrot back in 2001, met resistance from their label on even releasing the album and were subsequently dropped.

These are just a few examples, but here’s the bottom line: if you think that failure is unacceptable or that it means you aren’t good enough…then you’re not doing yourself any favors. Matter of fact, as Morin writes, “bouncing back after failure will make you stronger.”

11. Alone Time Is A GOOD Thing, Embrace It

Whether you’re a music business owner, or a band member…even if you’re a solo artist or DJ….you need to take time out from the craziness of everyday life, or being on the road, and just focus on your growth. Any relationship no matter what you do requires “me” time.

Giving yourself some solitude in the studio can increase your productivity. Time alone with your own thoughts will spark creativity, is good for your mental health and you’ll find it to have regenerative benefits for your mind and body.

Creating time to be alone with your thoughts can be a powerful experience, instrumental in helping you reach your goals,” Morin writes.


12. The World Doesn’t Owe You Anything, So Don’t Feel Like It Does

It’s really easy to get pissed off at the world for any setbacks or roadblocks (notice I don’t say ‘failure’ because you only fail if you quit) but here’s the cold hard truth – you’re not entitled to anything. You have to earn what you get.

“That’s not fair!” you may reply! Well, life isn’t fair…it’s not meant to be. If some bands or musicians end up with greater success than others, then as Morin writes, “…life isn’t meant to be fair…that’s life — but it doesn’t mean you’re owed anything if you were dealt a bad hand.”

Here’s the real key to getting the success you want: stay focused on your own efforts, be open to accepting criticism, be open to acknowledging your flaws and don’t keep score. If you go around comparing your band or business to others, you’ll begin to believe that you’re not receiving what you’re ‘owed‘ and you’ll only set yourself up for disappointment.


13. Don’t Expect Immediate Results

One thing that a successful musician is not….is impatient. Impatient people overestimate their abilities, and they underestimate how long change and success will take, and end up expecting immediate results. It is SO important to keep your eye on the prize, and be willing to work tirelessly towards your long-term goals. Again, you’re going to have setbacks along the way (and you WILL have setbacks), but if you stay the course and look at the big picture, you’ll achieve the success you’re looking for. Like I stated previously…success is a long-term play.

A willingness to develop realistic expectations and an understanding that success doesn’t happen overnight is necessary if you want to reach your full potential,” Morin writes.


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[source][image via dvt]

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Rob Cushing

Rob Cushing, along with being the co-founder of this blog, is a renowned singer/songwriter/multi-instrumentalist who has performed and toured nationally with many famed musical acts. He currently resides in Cape Cod, MA with his wife and son, where he usually can be found holed up in the studio, coaching others on their bands & businesses, or enjoying the beaches.

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