How To Become A Professional Guitarist & Musician. Part 3

Most people seeking to make it to a professional level in the music business, wander around the proverbial city without an accurate map.

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The basic map analogy used this article was inspired and adapted from author Steven Covey's book, The 7 Habits of Highly Effective People.

Imagine you are taking a trip to an important destination inside an unfamiliar city without an accurate map? Now imagine the city is filled with hundreds of thousands of other people, 99.8% are also lost and without an accurate map. Asking people for directions would seem rather hopeless. If you tried asking other people in the city for advice, the result would be The blind leading the blind. To make matters worse, imagine that reading and understanding a map of this city is very different from all other maps you may have seen. It seems obvious that in order to arrive at the correct destination, one should first acquire an accurate map.

Yet, most people seeking to make it to a professional level in the music business, wander around the proverbial city without an accurate map. (It's no wonder most parents don't approve of their kid's desire to pursue a music career.) With an incorrect map, your skills, talents, attitude, and determination won't help you reach your destination. Without a correct map, nothing else matters. You may try harder to improve your musical skills, expand your network of industry contacts, have a great band with great songs, but if the map is inaccurate none of these things matter. You could try to improve your positive mental attitude, your faith, your determination and perseverance, though you will only arrive at the wrong place faster.

... If you do have a correct map, THEN your musical knowledge, skills and talents matter. A positive attitude and a focused mindset, backed by determination now can make a significant difference, but only if you have an accurate map. Such a map can not only show what and where things are, but how things work. Fortunately, there are several good books written about the music business (see my recommended reading list at the end of this article). Colleges and universities, which have music business programs, can be of value. These resources are generally a good place to begin in your understanding. But it is important to realize that they too are limited in scope (for reasons which I will write about in a future article), and can become out of date rather quickly.

To know how things work can lead you to see the conventional routes others have taken to succeed... this is generally good... but not the complete range of possibilities of routes to take. In addition to having an accurate map, one needs to know how to read it. This goes beyond simply having an understanding of how things work. Reading the map means understanding why things really are as they really are (beyond the obvious things on the surface).

Learning the How (how things work) is much easier than learning the Why (Why things are as they are). Lets further define the differences:

  • The How = the current processes, practices, methods and systems typically used in the music industry (record companies, managers, producers, publishers, promoters, other successful musicians, etc.).

  • The Why = the reasons which drive the how. It is the reasons which are most important to study (after you know the how). The reasons are what is driving the way the current systems work and will dictate how they will continue to evolve (and in which direction).

    If you know why things are the way they are, you will know what motivates record companies, publishers, producers and managers to do or not do something, to act or not act, to choose to work with you or someone else. Then you begin to understand what they REALLY want from musicians like you and me. (I've given some fundamental examples of this in articles such as: How To Become a Professional Musician Part 1 and Part 2.) What the industry looks for in musicians now has changed over the last several years.

    It doesn't make a lot of sense to travel into an unfamiliar city with a bad map, or no map at all. It's sad to see good people with good intentions (many of whom also possess a lot of musical talent) aimlessly search for a way to make it without an accurate map. I'm not convinced that guessing or assuming are the best ways to achieve a life's dream. This is consistent with the story I wrote about here in Part 2. Yes, this article was filled with metaphors and an analogy that may seem a bit strange. The bottom line is: if you want to be a pro, the paths become much easier to navigate when you seek first to understand through accurate knowledge and then to take consistent-focused-effective actions. (Yes this is common sense, but we all know, common sense is not always common practice.)

    Skeptics might argue that there is no such thing as an accurate map. Others may argue there does not exist only one way to sell lots records and tour around the world, etc. - and to a certain extent, they are right. As with real accurate maps of real cities, there is often more than one route to reach any destination. Of course none of that matters if one is trying to find a destination in New York, while looking at a map which was created 275 years ago. The accuracy of the map, and one's ability to understand it, is key.

    Postscript

    Thank you to everyone who sent email of great positive feedback. A few people asked similar questions, which I suspect may be on the minds of a others reading this now, so I'm going to address these here:

    Questions: Where are the tips in your articles? and Why don't you tell me something specific that I can do today to become a professional musician?

    Sometimes people read articles in search of some specific tip, little secret, or short cut that can be stated in a few words - something that will bring massive results to anyone who reads it with very little effort. I think we all know, that one cannot achieve big results simply from reading a few tips. Of course I believe that some articles do contain great information (whether general or specific) that can be of significant value (if the reader chooses to embrace and apply that information). If I didn't believe in that, I wouldn't write articles. However, even a whole series of articles probably won't make huge differences alone. Articles, such as this one, are simply a place to begin... not the place to search for the ultimate final answers in music or in life. The greater value is in what lies beyond. What you do with these starting points of insight will determine the ultimate value you will receive. We all want to discover life's little short-cuts to success. If one wants a short-cut, perhaps auditioning for something like American Idol is the way to go.

    It is amazing to see how two different people reading, learning and studying the same information can receive very different results. The differences in the each person's outcome are typically NOT related to their intelligence or talents. What makes one musician excel more than another is usually a fundamental difference in their mindset. This simple truth is more relevant today than when Dr. Napoleon Hill first wrote about it extensively in his book THINK AND GROW RICH published in the year 1937!

    Music Biz Recommended Reading List

  • The Business of Music Marketing & Promotion by Tad Lathrop & Jim Pettigrew Jr.
  • All You Need to Know About the Music Business by Donald S. Passman

  • How to Become a Professional Guitarist & Musician: Facts and Myths. Part 1
  • How to Become a Professional Guitarist & Musician: Facts and Myths. Part 2

    Copyright 2007 by Tom Hess. All rights reserved. Used by permission. Tom Hess's instructional website and world tour dates

  • 35 comments sorted by best / new / date

      pyritmann
      rawr wouldnt that be life going pro,80% skill but theres still the 20% luck, theres so many good bands that are better than pro bands but just havnt gotten their break yet. luck has a large role to play.
      Moonman13
      dann_blood wrote: Urgh. What the music industry wants is to have acts that can sell millions of albums, sell-out concerts and buy a ton of band merch. Its that simple, and 99% of UGers morally object to being a sell-out.
      and you would know? been hanging around your major label, getting studio time?
      mnhockey99
      I have a map, but all the roads lead to HELL. If I find myself skimming through the article after the first paragraph, the author has needs an accurate map on how to write a freakin' story!
      XXXguitarman
      mnhockey99 wrote: I have a map, but all the roads lead to HELL. If I find myself skimming through the article after the first paragraph, the author has needs an accurate map on how to write a freakin' story!
      I think you need to read the whole thing before judgeing it. Maybe if you read maps right you wouldn't end up in hell!
      Lin
      snuggleblade wrote: i dont think van halen or tool or jimi hendrix were thinking about these things because they were too busy focusing on writing unbelievable music.
      word
      JesusVSMegaman
      Dup, glop. Dibble dop. burrr. Those books r really helpful on the music industry, but only for the next year or 2, till Emo cycles out, Hair metal cycles back in then fashionably badly out again, then Ozzy will have his "Back from the Dead" concert, with randy, and yea im goin nowhere with this... decent article if your aimin to be sumtin
      Nightmare_xxx
      [quote=slash2005]are you a professional guitarist? are you famous? because if you arent then your kinda like a blind shepard.[/quote] He says in his first article of the three that he's a professional musician.
      recklessftw
      No, jimi Hendrix didn't care about this stuff but he had people around him that did. Jimi would still be jamming in clubs if haz Chandler (I think that's who it was)didn't Take him to England and market the hell out of him. So it wasn't Hendrix alone and his songs that made him great, it was the (sometimes greedy) people around him that told him where to play. These days it is more of an industry and there is a process to follow.... Great songs and super talent are not all you need anymore but they are still very important I think. Good article people, open some of yours minds with these.... Not everything is a 10 step program laid out for you. Some people don't want to be a pro and I suspect they wouldn't read an article with that title.... Just a guess.
      snuggleblade
      i dont think van halen or tool or jimi hendrix were thinking about these things because they were too busy focusing on writing unbelievable music.
      jthm_guitarist
      Wow so he pretty much said himself that articles don't help. If everyone is so blind then what does he know? And if he knows something why not share it?
      The_Man_IV
      Love it Still the Points ur trying to give or Tips Arnt Comming out (to me) All re read but mainly what im seeing is ur giving two plates of food One with this Is what Some people do And the other- This is what the others do...To be go "Pro" is to take the right path...But also to understand it and understand it correctly. Would help if you could kinda give us a bit of that path to start on.
      slash2005
      are you a professional guitarist? are you famous? because if you arent then your kinda like a blind shepard.
      korn_dawg
      Summary: If you want to be a professional musician, it is almost necessary to know what the hell is going on in the music industry, and how they scout for bands that they are interested in signing. On all of this, go find out by yourself. And you said that 99.8% of people have no clue on how to make it, so that would mean they don't know what the record industry is looking for.. that makes this article sort of pointless IMO..
      dann_blood
      Urgh. What the music industry wants is to have acts that can sell millions of albums, sell-out concerts and buy a ton of band merch. Its that simple, and 99% of UGers morally object to being a sell-out.
      st.stephen
      It's a good article with good intentions, but it's not very helpful, especially to most musicians on this site, who don't care whether they make it or not. You say you feel pity for some people who are great musicians but who don't make it in the music biz. So? I don't care whether I get famous or not. What I do care about is that I make music I like to listen to and enjoy making it, and that's all that matters. That is what art really is, what it should be about. Not screaming fans or drugs and different women every night.
      HavokStrife
      I've never agreed 100% with any of the articles this guy's made in the past, but I don't really see anything I really disagree with in this one. Especially what people can gather from the same information. All I see in people's replies in the word 'sellout' and 'WTF you didn't say anything again, give me a hint!!!1one' I wasn't even considering things like that while I was reading the article. This whole thing reminded me of like an old wise dude pointing to a mountain or something. It's like, there's your answer, you figure it out. He laid it down pretty cut and dry. We are totally blind in what we're doing, and what do we do, ask a friend, an aquaintence at the music store, who are probably equally unprofessional, how to play this, why you should buy that, where you should play shows, anything. And it is totally random whether or not the answer is going to have a positive effect on you if you follow through with the suggestion. He offered some material, maybe you should look it up. Just a thought.
      inflames!
      korn_dawg wrote: And you said that 99.8% of people have no clue on how to make it
      I guess you missed the "imagine"-part...
      The_Man_IV wrote: Would help if you could kinda give us a bit of that path to start on.
      I suggest re-reading the 'postscript'...
      slash2005 wrote: are you a professional guitarist? are you famous? because if you arent then your kinda like a blind shepard.
      One can be very good in explaining/teaching stuff without being particularly succesfull in it.. furthermore, this guy is obviously all you want him to be.. Concerning the article although correct it's a little too philosophic in my opinion..
      special2Albino
      for all of you who thought this artical was pointless and doesnt help, i suggest reading the post-script again. this guy obviously understands how things work.
      fukkindoyle
      i'd say it was a good article. i think some people missed the point though,it's not like people reading this are playing music just to become a so-called "professional", they're people who will be playing music the rest of their lives whether they make it or not, but if there's a chance to make it and not have to actually work for a living, but instead play music for a job, i'm pretty certain most people would take a stab at it. i mean most of what you do to get anywhere, is play music anyway, and if you're gunna play it, why not try and get payed to play it?
      brewstercraven
      special2Albino wrote: for all of you who thought this artical was pointless and doesnt help, i suggest reading the post-script again. this guy obviously understands how things work.
      well actually yes these tips would be very helpful! if you were a english teacher would you deny telling your student how to spell a word?