7 Common Mistakes of a Struggling Musician

Being an independent musician can be tricky. Entertainment is a very competitive business and bad habits can spell failure for even the most talented musician. Over the years I’ve made my share of mistakes and observed a certain amount of highly skilled musicians that just can’t seem to get it together. Here’s a few common mistakes musicians make that lead to unnecessary struggling and loss of career-building opportunities.

1. Overconfidence
Having a great ear and the ability to learn songs quickly is an important part of being  successful but it is definitely not the only factor when it comes to making money as a musician. A pitfall for many musicians who can pick up songs quickly and play them well enough to get by is that’s all they settle for. 

Building a solid reputation that earns valuable opportunities requires studying the music for your gig in detail and locking down your part to the best of your ability. Music directors, band leaders and producers know right away when a musician a has put time into learning music and can just as easily tell when you’re just skating by on your ability learn on the fly. Demonstrating that you respect the music enough to learn it correctly ensures you will be called first when opportunities arise.

2. Being late
Showing up late is the fastest route to becoming a struggling musician. When you’re late for a show the bandleader is put on the spot and has the awkward job of trying to smooth things over with the person who has hired the band. Being late also wastes your bandmates’ time and causes tension in your group. These are the first things people try to avoid when organizing a band. If you have a reputation for being late you’re cutting yourself out of a lot of opportunities to earn money.

3. Thinking you need a “big name” artist to hire you
For many musicians, our only reference point for success is the mainstream music industry. Often musicians fall into a pattern of chasing an elusive fantasy of what it must be like to play for their favorite celebrity artist without a real plan. We also tend to overlook many valuable opportunities and relationships right under our noses that just need to be developed. 

Landing a high profile gig with a celebrity is not a way to escape the hard work of building a career as a musician. The time you spend hoping Lady Gaga will call you for a gig should go into building your own network and fan base. By doing this, valuable opportunities to earn money will present themselves and if Lada Gaga ever does call you, you’ll be better prepared and have more to offer.

4. Having a negative attitude
Attitude is crucial for a musician. Music and entertainment is a very personality driven business. No matter how great you are at your instrument you need to be able to build and maintain relationships with people in order to make money. This requires being friendly and approachable. Besides, people basically tour with musicians they can get along with. No one wants to be stuck riding in a van for long hours with someone who has a bad attitude.

5. Refusing to network
In order to be a successful musician you need to have a strong network. While it’s great to be in a band or have a core group of musicians and friends you normally work with, there’s value in getting yourself acquainted with people outside of your regular social circle. This can lead to new opportunities for collaboration, sharing shows and recording sessions. 

A great way to network with people is to simply engage with interesting content you find on social media sites such as Soundcloud ,YouTube, Facebook and Twitter. Leave comments, like and share as much as possible. Content creators who are savvy will eventually begin getting to know you and valuable networking opportunities will develop.

6. Failing to play new genres authentically
Unless you’re playing in a band that is deliberately fusing 2 or more genre’s, play the music authentically. A country band requires a different approach than a hip hop band. A jazz band requires a different approach than a gospel choir. Not playing appropriately for the style of music you’re performing will make you look amateurish and cause other musicians to take you less seriously.

7. Only doing your best on “big shows”
This one goes hand in hand with number 3. Be consistent with how you prepare for and perform each gig. If you save your best work for whenever you have a “big show” or a gig with someone popular, you’re cheating yourself out of opportunities and will probably be saving your best work forever. Avoid taking gigs that don’t inspire you to give your best performance.

What do you think of this list? Leave a comment and let me know of any common musician mistakes you can think of that weren’t included.