When it comes to a career in music, one of the hardest things is knowing how close or how far you are to "making it."
An experience mountaineering in high altitude when I was younger made it excruciatingly obvious to me that success and reaching my goals had no fast track—it was going to be a slow burn to the top. More importantly, I learned that by putting one foot in front of the other and not losing sight of my goals anything was possible no matter how great the challenge.
The same is true with anything. If you want to learn a new language, it is not going to happen overnight—you’re going to have to stick with it. You can’t get frustrated and decide to try and learn an “easier” language halfway through; there is no easy way, you have to be committed. If you want to make changes to your body by going to the gym, you can’t expect it to happen overnight. You have to stick to a routine and hold yourself responsible to follow through. If you want to get a degree, you have to take all the courses and pass the exams. The difference with a career in music is that you have to have more drive, persistence, consistency and self-belief than most people. Unlike being encouraged to keep learning French, to stay with your workout schedule or to keep studying for your exams, as a musician you are likely going to be told to give up considering a career in music and, even worse, your failures are often celebrated more than your successes just to make the point that you should get a “real job.”
When you aim for a college degree, you know what it will take to get it, how long you’ll be in school, the required courses, the papers, the projects, the exams ... A career in music isn’t laid out so clearly. Unlike a college education, where friends and family can encourage you and support you in your last semester, knowing how close you are to a degree, a career in music doesn’t come with a universal understanding of what it will take to “graduate.” Even when working at a company, it is common knowledge how to get promoted. Musicians get frustrated and lose hope and the people around them don’t encourage them because they have no concept as to how close they are to succeeding.
Think about your music career like any of the above examples— learning a language, going to the gym, getting a degree ... You need to stick with it and work hard at it. You need to be consistent and persistent. You have to set your own exams and benchmarks to ensure you are improving, and you need to know that you are not stagnant and that you are on your way to getting that “promotion.” You might play in many bands before you succeed—it’s all part of developing your talent, building experience, and gaining knowledge. That way when the right opportunity appears, you can recognize it and act accordingly. If you don’t work hard at your career and give yourself time to develop your talent and knowledge through experience, you wouldn’t know when an opportunity was staring you in the face. When you buy something you know is a good deal, you know it is a good deal because your own knowledge and experience give you something to compare it to. If every day were sunny, how would you know it was good weather? Experiencing a storm helps to educate you.
The combination of consistency, developing your talent, gaining knowledge through experience and recognizing and acting on opportunities is the key to a successful career in music.