“If you think you can do a thing or think you can’t do a thing, you’re right.”
(I don’t quote racists like Henry Ford lightly. But, for me, many of Ford’s quotes highlight the lesson that there are times that you have to listen to the message while ignoring the messenger.)
The biggest obstacle in the way of most people realizing their goals isn’t a lack of money, information or skill.
It’s their mindset.
Thinking like an amateur may be holding you back.
The Devastating Gig
If I have any wisdom to impart, it is undoubtably from making a seemingly endless series of mistakes and correcting them. One mistake that I made early on (that took a long time for me to identify and correct) was equating what I played with who I was. This meant that every single gig was a proving ground.
So if I played a good gig, I was elated because I was somehow validated as a good guitar player.
And if I played a bad gig….then it must mean I was a terrible guitarist.
This sounds insane to me as I write this (and hopefully insane to you when you read it!)! But this is a common mindset. I know a lot of players who do this and beat themselves up at gigs, sessions and in the privacy of their own practice time.
It comes from how players define themselves and it comes from thinking like an amateur.
You are more than what you do
Many musicians develop some odd concepts (in my opinion) about what constitutes a musician. I remember getting out of college and having a discussion with a classmate of mine. He had asked what I was doing for work and I said, “Oh I’ve got a day gig to pay some bills and then I’m gigging/recording with a couple of bands and teaching on the side.”
His face buckled into a disgusted contortion as if instead of speaking – human biohazard had just freed itself from my mouth and landed on the table between us. “Oh….”, he said in the most passive aggressive snark possible. “I see.”
“What about you?” I asked, trying to ignore the reaction. “What are you doing these days?”
“Oh well I’m playing in a band full-time and teaching.”
“That’s great!!” I said. “Is it all original music?”
“No it’s a GB band.”
“Hmm…I didn’t know you liked those kinds of gigs.”
“Oh I hate them. The people are stupid and the tunes are awful, but some of the players are okay and sometimes we get to play some standards after the date.”
(insert awkward pause) “Well at least it’s pay….”
“Well it’s consistent. But it’s not great money. I’m always spending almost as much on my car and gas as what I’m making on a gig. So I’m running a little short. Thanks a lot for paying for the coffee by the way…”
Does that sound rewarding to you? It didn’t sound rewarding to me.
How you define yourself will either break you out of prison or put you there
I defined a professional musician as someone who was paid to perform music at a professional level. My classmate defined a professional musician as a person whose sole source of income comes from playing music.
I’ll paraphrase a quote from my friend bassist/composer Daren Burns here,
“I am completely unimpressed when someone tells me that they’re a full-time musician playing music that they hate. I don’t see anything noteworthy or impressive in that at all.”
There was a several year period of time that Jeff Beck was pretty much working on cars full-time and not playing guitar at all. I’ve never met Jeff Beck – but based on what I’ve seen of him I don’t think that he worried about whether or not he was less of a musician because he wasn’t playing music full-time. Additionally, you’d be hard pressed to find anyone who thought of Jeff Beck as a mechanic who played a little guitar.
Jeff Beck defined himself, did what he wanted to do and didn’t worry about how other people defined him. Not to take anything away from Jeff, but isn’t it odd that most musicians think of this mindset as fearless and badass? It’s odd because in my way of thinking, this should be the norm rather than the exception.
If you don’t define yourself, you let other people define you and (most likely) you won’t like their definition.
How do you deal with isolation? Some people see the four walls they are in as a cell and each hour of each day erodes who they are a little more until there is nothing left of them. Other people see the four walls as a blank canvas and work on creating things within those confines.
Life is a surprisingly good teacher if you’re observant. If you take the time and energy to look at what, how and why you do the things that you do – you might learn a lot about what your priorities are. For myself, I learned a while ago that there were a number of things that I wanted to do, and that there was no clear career trajectory to get to where I ultimately wanted to go – so I was going to have to find my own way. I could either get hung up on what other people thought of a path I was on (that quite frankly they didn’t understand), or I could take steps towards achieving goals I had for myself.
Are you thinking like an amateur?
I don’t know how many of you have toured with bands. It’s an interesting experience. Even if you’re unfamiliar with the material on the first night, within a couple of shows you get into a rhythm and the set moves into a comfort zone. And in your spare time – you find that you’re not shedding the material relentlessly (because you already have it down), but instead you’re stopping at roadside attractions and looking for clean places to go to the bathroom so you don’t have to bag it on the bus. (If you don’t know what that means – don’t ask and enjoy your morning coffee instead).
Amateurs analyze every aspect of the performance. They scrutinize every detail and obsess over what was right and what was wrong.
Professionals get the set under their belt and then show up to do the work.
The Ballad of Jane the Plumber
Llet’s say a homeowner has a broken pipe in the basement. So they call Jane the plumber. Jane comes over to the house and says, “this whole pipe has to come out and it’s an odd size. I don’t have any that length on me. I can do a quick fix that’s not going to be pretty. I’ll get you through the next day or two – but I’ll have to pick some up and come back and to replace it.”
Do you think the homeowner says, “What a noob! She doesn’t even have pipe!” Not likely. The homeowner is thinking, “I’m glad that the water is back on again. I hope this doesn’t cost me fortune!”
Now, do you think Jane the plumber went back home and had a melt-down? “I am such a hack! I can’t believe that I showed up at that house without that pipe! That repair was a joke! I am such a loser!”
Not bloody likely. She probably put the pipe order in and went to the next gig.
I’m not saying that professionals don’t care. Professionals do care about what they do, but they don’t get emotionally invested. They’re professional because they have the skill set to handle what comes up at the gig, not get freaked out and get through it. They don’t waste energy evaluating what they do – because they’re too busy doing it.
If you find that you’re taking punches from yourself at a gig or a session take a step back and ask yourself, “what would Jeff Beck do?” and then go tool out your engine 😉
I hope this helps! As always, thanks for reading!