Navigating your way through the big ol’ music business sure can be tricky. Expect highs, lows and right royal curveballs. Your life can change overnight beyond your wildest dreams! Or it can grind into a mind numbing pursuit of ‘maybes ‘and ‘making it one day’.
One of the issues is that being a great musician doesn’t guarantee fame or fortune nor will all songs be hits. The odds are seriously not in your favour.
So you have to wise up. And the best invest heavily in the process!
Think about it. No professional sports team would go into serious competition uncoached or untrained. No major corporation would ignore staff development or training employees to do the job.
While there are no precise ‘entry requirements’ for the music industry, there's a strong argument for building your skills, knowledge and mindsets lifelong with the help of people more educated and experienced than you.
Here are four types of direct support roles that can be hugely useful when you’re looking for development, want to improve your skills or seek new direction with your music. I’ll clarify what they are – then you can clarify or revisit who you might need.
Many of us had the benefit of taking music lessons on our instruments in classes, or one on one, as kids. But there are different levels of tuition to suit your needs as your career changes.
A teacher provides a mix of concept and primary skills that gives students a higher understanding or acquisition of knowledge. It’s the delivery of content often in a controlled learning environment like a classroom or online protocol. It can have quite a theoretical basis and be offered sequentially via a programme or curriculum.
The thing is that now there are more relevant subjects getting taught in this kind of environment, like studio production and songwriting. While you may not have the funds or time to do an entire degree, a 3 month course on modern harmony for guitar, vocal production, or how to write songs for sync can up your game, at pace.
Instead of getting piecemeal tips from random internet videos, you could go hard out and level up – whatever your level, making yourself more valuable and resilient by investing in learning - in being taught.
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Training can work hand in hand with teaching but it's seriously hands on and in situ. Training finetunes whole body responses and habits in the environment you will be presenting your music - be it studio, stage or screen.
Just like a personal trainer walks you through the practicalities of lifting weights or cardio sessions, training is doing drills to enhance your skills by working on certain aspects of live performance or studio production, media or audition training or even songwriting – rhyme scheme exercises or writing from prompts in a time frame.
Your efforts can be easily logged by phone video/recording each session. Those incremental improvements and adjustments eventually consolidate. At some stage the repetition counts. Having someone help you train vocally or as a band rehearsing in the relative working environment can make you perform more consistently, with way less stress.
A good coach will help you focus on the big picture or a strategy, identify specific goals to meet, prioritise them and figure out the best way to achieve them in a structured and specific time frame (tactics).
This tends to be a one on one relationship with a more formal, structured approach.
They can help you be more accountable and goal-based – your goals for finding your niche, your musical milestones to meet. It’s outcome based.
A coach will help to formulate a plan, set targets and plot the steps required to achieve the desired results. A great coach should challenge and question your decisions. But they will also guide you in the right direction for you to succeed, step by step. If you lose your way, they’ll help you find clarity with advice to get back on track.
There are times when getting a coach for all or part of your music business or career is a real wake up call.
There is a difference between a mentor and a coach – the roles aren’t interchangeable. A mentor relationship can be more long-term and less formal.
The support is based on the mentor’s own experiences – they’ve ‘been there, done that’ to a greater extent than you.
Mentors can act as up close and personal role models. You can learn a great deal by just being in their presence, discussing your goals and concerns or watching them handle things. It can be enormously valuable and many professional musicians cite long-term relationships with influential mentors as important to their career.
Good mentors can share their skills and knowledge in-depth with their mentees, since they have faced the same challenges and opportunities. This can cover more subtle financial and creative benefits, or industry access. This is especially relevant at a high level when the game really changes and the interpersonal impact is more complex.
You may want (or need) to engage more than one of these support options at different times, depending on the type of musical career you have. But always keep your eyes out for talented and dedicated folk who can help you on your pathway. The right people can really propel you in the right direction.
Charlotte Yates is an independent New Zealand singer-songwriter with a growing catalogue of seven solo releases and fourteen collaborative projects. She also provides a songwriting coaching service, Songdoctor.
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