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The Absolutely Crucial Missing Element For Becoming A Music Success

Yesterday, I hastily posted an article on the best way to get your music out there. In my keen efforts to get it out there, it was pointed out, quite rightly that I had missed one crucial thing.

One thing that sets apart those who are successful when releasing music and getting it out there. Something that actually cultivates people’s desire to share the music over just listening and acknowledging.

Something you really need to have if you want to give yourself the best chance of being heard. Probably above all else.

Talent.

When I say talent, I mean some sort of musical ability or technical skill that puts you ahead of the competition.

This will most often, for musicians, be creativity and proficiency on an instrument (or device) or musical theory in order to compose, write and perform music.

For those who possess some raw talent, there is still some ways to go in terms of time taken to finesse your talent into something great.

For those who don’t have any talent to begin with, you have the ability to get good, but you should realise that it will take time.

Time to decide on your route, time to learn the basics, to practice, to challenge yourself, to finesse your skill and time to get creative. Assuming all of this will happen within a few weeks or months of picking up an instrument or musical tool (let’s assume that you can opt for the computer as an instrument of sorts here) is going to be an uncomfortable lesson.

You need to be able to sit down and consume music. Passion for music is going to breed good listening habits as well as help you understand musicality. It’s no substitution for lessons and practice, but it will help.

While listening to music, the first step is to understand that hearing someone like Billy Joel, Hendrix, Squarepusher, Bjork or whoever you idolise, is that you’ve got a distance to cover before you’ll be “that good”. It’s a harsh reality, but these people are top of their game. They might not be to everyone’s tastes, but they have musical talent which is hard to deny.

You might get there (or some of the way anyway!). You might not ever get there (and that’s OK). You can learn and cultivate your own musical talent with discipline, practice and more – but it’s also worth remembering that being technically proficient needs to work hand-in-hand with being creatively excellent.

Some people have the ability to push their songs, songwriting, playing, producing or respective talent into some pretty wild areas. That’s where you start to see some really amazing, creative and notable things.

We can all strive to be better and more talented. We all have the ability to learn and practice, and it’s a well-worn idea but you never stop learning.

So, apologies for the reality check and being all Debbie-downer for those who have just downloaded a cracked copy of Ableton Live, or bought their first ukulele. Don’t expect to be putting out music tomorrow.

If you want a small-time example to give you something of a reality check – here’s my own situation.

I’m sitting with maybe a few thousand fans, and maybe 20-50 super fans. Nothing major, but a little following let’s say. I’ve released on multiple labels, remixed artists as big as John Digweed and Machinedrum. I’ve played all over the world under both of my pseudonyms, had radio airplay, hosted a long-running podcast, run 3 record labels and released my own music on vinyl, CD and more.

But as a precursor to all of that, I played piano and brass instruments in primary and secondary school, and then when I went to university, I discovered computer-based music, I learned to sequence, to listen analytically and to DJ. I spent years making mashups and unofficial remixes, and I spent about 4-6 years making music on my computer before I had something released (and even then it was a small-time compilation on a tiny label).

Even from that point (2008), it’s been 10 years of releasing music until now, and I’m not even close to being “successful” by most people’s standards.

I’ve written a little about being wary of people’s “real route to success” in the past. I think you need to also be very aware of people’s “real effort to success” in the same way. Most successful musicians and producers have been crafting their skills for way longer than you’ve heard of them.

Feedback from Friends

I think the other thing worth touching upon here, alongside talent is how you view your own ability. Don’t get me wrong – I don’t think people should beat themselves up too much about being rubbish and not being able to achieve anything. A positive mental attitude goes a long way towards success, but you need to realise that getting a thumbs up from a friend is not the same as getting a thumbs-up from the musical community or your audience as a whole.

It’s easy for a mate to listen to your tune (perhaps dare, I say “tolerate” your tune) and then give you some line like “yeah dude, sounds good. i like it – you should release it!”

This lack of critical feedback and fear of offending leads to vast swathes of mediocre-at-best music being pumped very easily out into the ether, and no doubt contributes to the fact that by 2017, around 4 MILLION songs on Spotify had never even been played once.

If you need to get some feedback about your music, I have written a little about some of the better ways to go about it – they might help, but I almost feel it’s worth assuming that anything you create in your first 6-12 months will be superseded very quickly by tracks and music you’re far, far happier with. I’ve spoken in the past about producing more, and sitting on tracks.

If you’re stuck in a rut with a bunch of unfinished tracks, then I’ve also written about how you might be able to finish them. Finishing tracks breeds a confident attitude towards your own music, and helps you start new projects that ultimately all builds towards practice and improving your talent.

Of course, all of this comes with a heavy caveat. Mostly because someone’s always got a mate of a mate or some guy they know of who actually genuinely had 100% overnight-success through sheer fluke or chance. Partially also, because there are a huge amount of people putting out very mediocre music and being successful with it. That doesn’t mean you should contribute to that though, it’ll breed regret.

The caveat is that there are always exceptions to the rule, and always people who break the mould. Some people can learn to be creative in ways you’d never expect while some super talented and creative people will forever live under the radar when it comes to success – but those exceptions aside, it’s important to remember that you’ve got to put lots in to get anything out.

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Note: Thanks to Scott Leader for his suggestions, insight & help writing this.

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