How to become a professional guitarist Part 4: Making it

by Tom Hess

You want to "make it" in the music business, right? Does it seem almost impossible to make it happen? The perceived realities of the music industry seem too harsh, too risky, too difficult and too unstable to pursue a lucrative long term music career.

The Myth:

Most people believe there are only two possible outcomes when trying to become a professional musician:

You either “make it” …. or you don’t.

In other words, you either become a successful “star” by making a lot of money touring and selling records around the world (this is what most people refer to as “making it”). Or you are doomed to become a “starving artist” by trying to eek out enough money per month just to pay the rent and in the process you must live a hard life.

This way of thinking (believing in the false myth) is exactly the same as believing that in our society there are only rich people and poor people (and nothing in between). Yes it was once that way in the past but we all know that today there exists a huge “middle class” in our society. And most people fall into this middle class.

What does it mean to “make it”?

Let me answer with a series of questions to you.

1. Does making it mean one must become very rich and famous? If so, how rich and how famous must one become to have “made it”?

2. Or does “making it” mean having enough money from music to pay for all the gear you want?

3. Or does it mean earning enough money from music so that you can quit your day job (and still maintain the life style you currently have)?

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The reality:

1. The truth is the make up of the music industry is very similar to our modern society:

2. There are wealthy people (which includes, but is not limited to, successful musicians who tour the world and have very significant national or international record sales, etc.)

3. There are people without much money and struggle financially to get by in life (these are the “starving artists”). These are the people who go into music having no idea what they are doing.

Now for the truth...

There is a MASSIVE middle class in the music industry. Most professional musicians are NOT super stars and most are also NOT starving artists. Most professionals have relatively safe and secure careers in the business.

Yes, that is not a misprint. The majority of professional musicians fall right in the middle.

Most professionals do not have gold or platinum records on their walls. Most do not tour all over the world. But most of them also do not play at shady bars in the worst part of town for 20 people. Most of them do not eek out a minimal living just to pay the rent.

Wait a minute, I have never heard that before!

Why haven’t most people heard of this before? Because most do not fully understand the BIGGER PICTURE of music business and all the ways people can (and do) make a really good living as a musician who are not famous. You are not likely to hear of success stories of middle class (or even upper middle class) professionals for two main reasons:

1. The music press is not interested in writing about such people (featuring famous people sells more magazines). Who would most people care to read about, Steve Vai who made 4.5 million dollars from a series of smart choices he made early in his career?

2. Or John Doe who earns $90,000 a year as a musician?

Middle class professionals are typically not interested in telling the rest of the world (which includes “would-be” competitors) how they earn a good and secure amount of money and live the life they desire.

The Silent Majority:

The middle class professionals making a good and secure living as musicians are the silent majority in the industry. They are hiding just under the radar, almost invisible to the masses (who instead read about the rich and famous super stars). In many cases these people also understand that ideas used to create such a good, rewarding and comfortable life (including making good cash) are not that complicated. They also realize that if more people understood how it’s done, that may encourage more competition and therefore many of the pros are a bit secretive regarding exactly what and how they do things. And this is somewhat understandable since (at least some of) these people need to keep their livelihoods secure.

What to do next?

Obviously, all that is needed to do goes far beyond the list below. This article (and the list below) is merely a place to begin. This is what I recommend to do next...

1. Realize that there is a large middle class of musicians who do earn safe and secure incomes as musicians (and music related occupations).

2. Realize that the industry itself has both stable an unstable components. There are risky aspects of the industry and relatively safe aspects of it. It is possible to be a part of both of course, it’s not all risky or unstable.

3. Begin with yourself. For more on this check out my previous articles on this topic: Part 1, Part 2 and Part 3

4. Begin at the End

5. Become totally committed to your goal to make it (whatever “making it” means to you.)

6. Exercise that commitment in all that you do. Take the actions you must take, if you don’t know what all of those things are, find someone who does and learn from them in as much detail as possible.

In the next part of this series, I’ll talk more specifically on who and what your competition actually is. It’s probably not who and what you think may be. It is critical to understand this…. Because in order to “play the game to win” you must know who (and what) the players are….

Previous articles on this topic: Part 1, Part 2 and Part 3

For more information check out these following resources:

Tom Hess’s Music Careers Mentoring Program

Tom Hess’s instructional web site

Tom Hess’s world tour dates

Copyright 2006 by Tom Hess. All rights reserved. Used by permission.

This article was originally published on GuitarSite in 2007 using the old news system.

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