Things I Wish I Knew When I Started My Music Career…

I belong to a couple of musicians’ groups on Facebook. If I had to divulge a dirty little secret, it’s the only thing that keeps me going to Facebook.  I really enjoy the sense of camaraderie and helping each other along the path to musical success – however you define that.

Anyway, back to the point. Point? Yes, I think I had one once…

Every so often someone on one of those groups asks a question that jump starts my brain for some reason. This was one of those questions (https://www.facebook.com/groups/WOSCommunity/ – shoutout to Bree Noble for an awesome group and Beth Matthews for being an awesome moderator…)

So…without further ado, here is everything that I wish I’d known 30+ years ago when I started down this path.

1. Not everyone gets it and that’s OK.

Yes, it’s true. Not everyone really gets what you are trying to do. From the family that thinks you should get a real job to the coworkers who don’t understand why you fly out that door at 5PM sharp every Wednesday for lessons or open mic night.

And you know what? That’s just because they have a different frame of reference.  As long as you’re not leaving anyone high and dry, doing what you need to do is just fine and someone else not getting it is just fine, too.

The world will be here tomorrow. Most likely.

2. Just because they don’t get it doesn’t mean they don’t support you

My older brother and I just had this conversation. For years (about 30 of them???) I had convinced myself that I was completely misunderstood and emotionally abandoned by my family.  To say that was a histrionic exaggeration is the greatest understatement since Noah called the Weather Channel and got a forecast of light showers overnight.

True. They didn’t get it (please see point #1…) but they have always wanted to see me become successful. Sometimes, they have really funny ways of showing support, but they were doing the best they could. And you know what? I’m a musician, which means I wear my heart on my sleeve and tend to be overly sensitive.

Most of the time, they were just trying to protect me from myself.

Oh, by the way, Fam, I’m Irish and German. I’m far too stubborn to let you protect me from myself.

3. Talent is only part of the equation

There are three things that my producer (there are those who call him Tim… timothybussmusic.com) keeps telling me. (1) The music is really good and has real commercial potential (2) I have the drive to make it and (3) I have a great work ethic.

So it may have taken 30 years to make it to this point, but I have finally realized that with or without a producer/label/manager or whatever team you have behind you , the buck stops with you and you are the reason behind your success or your failure.

4. You can only help people who want to be helped and then they usually don’t need the help

I know, because I was one of those people.  Of all the things I learned, this was the most painful.  Year after year I waited for a knight in shining armor to barge through the door carrying my success in his saddlebag.

Would you like to guess what never happened?

However, when I decided that I was done waiting and I was going to get off my duff and make my own luck, I no longer needed the help.

I’ve lost almost 70 pounds and as of this writing, I record the first of 4 EPs in less than a month.  I was found by a producer who has turned out to be a dream to work with. Since deciding that I was jumping head first into the hunt for rainbows and unicorns, my life has done a 180 and I’m not looking back.

Add to that the number of people I tried to help that didn’t really want to be helped, and you start to see a pattern.

5. You can only be as loyal to other people as they are to you

This comes from another recent conversation, this time with a former student. His band can’t seem to get together to rehearse. Worse still, his drummer can’t keep time. He’s keeping the band together because they’re all friends.

But he’s the only one heading anywhere (OK – I MIGHT be a little biased on that one…). By sticking with his friends, he’s holding himself back.  They want him to be loyal to them and keep them in the project while they go out to the movies every night.

It’s something I used to do, too. I was in countless bands where I was the only one who showed up to rehearsal.  At some point you have to realize who’s serious and who’s not. If you’re all serious, you can help each other along the way.

Just like putting a fresh battery in the TV remote with a half-dead battery, the half-dead battery drains the fresh battery. The fresh battery doesn’t bolster the half-dead one.

6. Go for it! But trust your instincts.

There is an interesting story on this one. I was suffering from a complete lack of confidence (remember that Noah analogy from earlier???), so I was bound and determined to help my friends get their music careers going.

Had they listened to what I was telling them to do in 1999, they would have ridden the forefront of the DIY musician scene.

Of course, if I had taken my own advice, I would have done the same. My instincts were solid then and they have only gotten better with experience. Don’t hold back. Go for it. Your instincts will tell you when you’re gold and when you’re not.

7. Fear and insecurity are what fuels the creative drive but also hold it back

Ahhh…the double-edged sword. The more I delve into the darker, less secure parts of my mind and soul, the more creative I become.

Then I come up for air into the real world.

The real world is scary, especially when you wear your heart on your sleeve. Because of that, our fears can hold us back. We’re trying to protect ourselves.  There is a balance in there somewhere. Mine was very hard to find and the old vestiges of the insecurity keep trying to wall me in because I haven’t quite found my footing in the new me yet.

I think the trick is to realize that no matter what you do, the world will still be here tomorrow. So what if someone makes a rude remark on your video? That’s on them. You’re better than that.

8. To thine own self be true

I really enjoy blaming my family for some of the really bad decisions I’ve made in years past. The truth? Those decisions were mine based on the fear of what other people would think or, even better, assumptions as to what they would say.

Own it. You made the decision. To lay blame for your mistakes is to rob yourself of time, energy and education. They are yours and they will propel you further than you could ever realize.

9. Not really sure I would have changed anything.

Nope. Not a thing. This is another conversation with my older brother recently.

Basically, it was a continuation of the blame game from #8. Had everything gone the way I thought I wanted early on, I would not have been ready and therefore would not have been as successful and as willing to give things up to make the dream real.

I still had growing to do and all of these experiences led to that growth. Your timeline isn’t someone else’s timeline.

10. Music theory is a tool – not the thing

Liz Tapia (DarkBeautyMusic.com) and I do a podcast together (ChatterboxRocks.com) every Wednesday. We are both musicians trying to get our stuff out there.

OOOO…SHINY!!!

Wait, where was I?

OH, YES! We both tend to be attracted to shiny new things. So, we have a saying that we repeat to each other like a mantra “Don’t let this become THE THING!”

In other words, stay the path and don’t let yourself get detoured. Well, I did that for a long time with music theory. Theory was THE THING. Instead of using music theory to guide the process and or using it to enhance the song, I used to see how deep, down and technical I could get.

And no one wanted to hear my songs.

But when I stopped using theory as THE THING, songwriting became much more natural and I actually started getting compliments.

Go figure.

11. Shut your mouth and open your ears (musically and personally)

Guilty! Yes, I have long suffered from hoof-in-mouth disease.

My older brother challenged me one day. Go through at least one day without talking about yourself and just listen to other people and ask them about their lives.

And a jam is just a musical conversation.

So instead of going through what I learned on this one, I challenge you to try it.

12. Teaching is a great way to learn

There are many times that I would actually teach my students concepts with which I was struggling. Teaching those concepts to others almost always led to new ways to see note relationships on the neck or how chords interlock with each other (and they do…especially on guitar…).

It also led to a much deeper understanding of how and why theory works.

So get out there and teach!

13. Sometimes the best advice really is free

Aaron Griffith (https://signaltonoise.podbean.com/) – are you reading this? No? GOOD! Because you’re the last person I want to know what I’m about to say…

So, for some reason, the human race values things that cost over things that are free. Over the years, I found myself paying for advice that *certain* people were giving me for free.

I have not figured out why this happens, but thankfully, I’ve started taking some of that free advice!

14. Personal growth drives artistic growth

If there is one singular point to this entire list – this is it.

As I grew personally, my art has grown. The more I grew personally, the more my art grew. The two will be forever interlocked.

15. Sometimes the miracle is in the timing not the occurrence

There is an argument that Reed and Red are the same word in Hebrew, and at times it’s completely possible to cross the Reed Sea on foot.

So what? Where’s the miracle here? That the Israelites were able to cross the sea or that they were able to cross the sea just ahead of the Egyptians who all drowned?

It’s the timing, not the act.

Was it a miracle that Tim and I connected? No. What was miraculous was the timing. It was right at the time where I was beginning to question my own sanity (I have none, FYI). I got this message from a guy that says “Hey! This isn’t half bad!”

16. God helps those who help themselves

This has probably been stated a couple of times in a couple of different ways here – but it’s still worth mentioning again.

Wonderful things happen when you take the bull by the horns and accept responsibility and blame in equal measure.

17. You’re OK! Yes there’s work to be done, but it takes time

You know what? You’re fine. Yep. There are things you want to work on or fix or change. Those things take time. And until you get there, you’re still fine.

Everyone has something they need to work on or fix or change. And if they tell you differently, they are either lying or delusional.

I know. Because I used to be the one who said I didn’t need to work on or fix or change anything. 😉

18. You can’t do it alone, but there is a time, place and way to get help

Liz and I did an entire podcast on the DIY myth and yes, it is a myth.

You can learn most every skill you need to do everything yourself, but take it from the girl who tried. When you do that, you don’t have a reason to do it because you don’t really have time for your music.

Over the years, I’ve enlisted both paid and free help to varying degrees of success.

The trick is knowing what you want and where you want to go. When you can define those things, it’s much easier to get people on board to help out. I pay some of them and others are guys and gals just like me trying to feel out the music industry who are more than willing to help each other.

19. Making money doesn’t wake you less artistic

As a matter of fact, it’s kind of necessary to function within society. I’ve been on both sides of the equation and I can tell you that it’s WAY easier to be creative when you don’t have to worry about whether or not the bill collectors will be calling.

You can always draw on the pain and aggravation of those penniless days, but you don’t need them to be artistic.

20. Doesn’t matter how good you are – if you’re not out there, they can’t find you

Remember that knight in shining armor story from earlier in the post?

Yeah…he knocked my door down AFTER my music went out into the universe as we know it.  You know, when he could actually hear that my stuff was pretty good.

So…there’s that…

21. Make your plan and stick to it

All plans require adjustment, so this isn’t as rigid as it may sound. However, after 30 years worth of detours (all based in the fiction of what I believed other people were thinking…) this is by far the most valuable lesson I’ve learned.

I never gave up and I never lost hope. I’ve lost my way a few times, but the fire always burned bright and I always knew where I would end up.

22. Respect

I used to have a real attitude problem. Like a “Really Surprised That Some People Still Talk to Me” kind of attitude problem.

I still have an attitude. It’s part of my charm. But I have also learned to respect others.

Not everyone is coming from the same place you are. Not everyone is in the same place you are. Everyone deserves your respect until they prove otherwise. And if they should prove otherwise, respect yourself and just walk away.

23. Reciprocate

This goes hand in had with respect. When someone shows you kindness return it or pay it forward. If they show you ill will, just walk away. It’s on them.

Sticks and stones may break my bones but names will never hurt me.

24. Be genuine and generous

This has been a long time in learning. In addition to having an attitude problem, I used to be a giver. I would give anyone anything – from my last dollar to my last minute of the day.

The problem came when I expected them to return the favor.

They didn’t – just in case you’re wondering how that turned out.

And that is why I had the attitude problem. Because I figured I would beat people to the punch. I would take them down before they could take me down.

And then I realized that the reason this kept happening was because I wasn’t being honest with myself. What I said to myself differed greatly from the emotions that I was feeling.

Be genuine. Be honest. And if you give something to someone, let it be a gift. Don’t look for the return.

25. Never too late to adjust course

I can’t tell you how many times I adjust course in a month.

Whether it’s something on the website or something on my social media strategy or something with Chatterbox Rocks, there is always some sort of reboot going on.

Take in as much information you can and make adjustments on that information while keeping the end goal in mind.

26. Stay positive but realistic

There is a lot to be said about positive thinking. Positive thinking has kept me going for 30+ years. I’ve always believed I would be a professional musician.

In the middle somewhere was a point where I went absolutely delusional with my positive thinking. I was at the point where I nearly quit talking to everyone I knew because I took every piece of advice as a personal affront.

As with everything, we are human and have limits. Don’t get in your own way. Stay positive while realizing there are limitations and those just require a little creative thinking.

27. You are neither as good or as bad as you think you are.

I used to think I was the second coming of Mozart. When I found out I was wrong (talk about a major downer!) I hit the opposite extreme thinking I was a rank beginner with no hope of ever getting out of my basement.

The truth is somewhere in between.

Yes, I’m a good guitarist. Are there better? Oh yeah. Are there worse? Yep.  Does it matter? Nope. I can learn from both and that just makes me a better musician.

Music is not a competition, it’s a personal journey.

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