Jante's Law And What It Means For Your Music Career

Breaking the rules of Jante's Law and pursuing music as a career.

Ultimate Guitar

Jante's Law is defined as a pattern of group behavior that discourages any person's individual success and achievement within a community. The law can be broken down into ten rules:

1. Don't think you're anything special 2. Don't think you're as good as us 3. Don't think you're smarter than us 4. Don't convince yourself that you're better than us 5. Don't think you know more than us 6. Don't think you are more important than us 7. Don't think you are good at anything 8. Don't laugh at us 9. Don't think anyone cares about you 10. Don't think you can teach us anything

Oh and there's also this cheery unwritten one:

11. Don't think there aren't a few things we know about you

I definitely know some people who follow these rules to a T. Do you?

Whether or not they even realize it, many folks subscribe to this philosophy in usually one of two ways: They have either developed a fear of rising above their peers and consequently being cut down or they are just a jealous prick.

If you haven't already noticed, this fear-based mentality crops up a lot in local music scenes everywhere. A jaded old-timer rambles off why the music industry is a trap to an enthusiastic newcomer who didn't ask for his opinion. "It's all about the money," he wheezes. Hmmm...

Tell me one industry that isn't about the money or one industry that isn't corrupt. If you're looking for a place you can do work that every single person will love and want to pay you for out of total fairness, you're on the wrong planet.

These "well-meaning" characters also seem to be the ones complaining about the down economy, job security, music these days, kids these days and well, you get the point. They are emotional vampires and will suck every last bit of life out of anyone who sticks around long enough to hear about their crappy life. If you get only one thing from this post, let it be this: you need to sweep that garbage to the curb.

What a lot of folks don't realize is that there are many ways to make a living in the music biz, no matter how big or small. You can find a whole community of professional musicians especially in popular US music industry cities like Los Angeles, New York, or Nashville. They wear many "hats" when it comes to making a living as a guitarist, bassist, drummer, etc. Since they are actually the ones in the industry, wouldn't it make sense to ask them for advice?

We've all heard the stories of bands and artists getting ripped off by their record company or dropped three weeks after they're signed. These are the stories that permeate our culture and scare us into thinking we should stick with a "safe" or respectable career and do music on the side. Hey, don't get me - some folks have different aspirations outside of music and that's cool. What isn't cool is people's propensity for giving me advice on why a career in music is unrealistic.

But hey, that's people. If anything, their efforts to discourage or criticize me are boring and predictable. Actually, it seems like the only way to achieve success anywhere involves others getting in their shot at you while you continue to put out new music, play shows or even write a blog entry.

It's like a bucket of crabs: if one crab tries to escape, the other crabs pull it back down. That's called crab mentality but it's not just reserved for crabs as you can witness almost every other day. When you encounter Jante's Law, or Janteloven (its Scandinavian translation), realize that the only reason others are trying to bring you down is because you are already above them.

Janteloven is simply a set of rules that others expect you to follow. And screw that. It's time to create your own "Musicloven", a set of rules that you subscribe to in your musical journey. Try these:

1. I am special 2. I am as good as anybody else 3. I am smarter than others think I am 4. I am going to do better than expected of me 5. I know more than others think I do 6. I am the only person who can do exactly what I do 7. I am good at what I do 8. I can laugh at my own mistakes 9. Others do want me to succeed 10. Others can learn something from me (and I from them) 11. I will surprise others


So where do you stand in all this? Are you proactive in building a foundation for a career in music and have your own Musicloven rule to add below?

Or are you pulling everyone back down with you?

[For more great tips, tricks and a veritable think-tank of information for your musical journey, head on over to Cool Drifter Music Motel.]

17 comments sorted by best / new / date

    Always happy to see any negative stuff turned into positive.You can do anything you set your mind to, and if some people dont like it ... s***w them
    Pass me the Kool-Aid. I've known a band that's been together for over a year, all of them great musicians and they thought they were "not ready" to start writing their own stuff. I've seen a bands lurking around in small scenes well after their 50's because the "played it safe". Take a ****ing chance.
    Yup--it's crazy how strongly we limit ourselves without even realizing it. I think it's scary actually. The trick is knowing how to get out of our own way.
    Damn, there is a local band near my town who has been playing for 8 years, and they haven't wrote a single song. Not quite "playing it safe", while they are actually playing in empty clubs and venues...
    Fender Dane.
    Odd question to the author. Have you ever been to Odense? Another lesson from the "Janteloven" is that you shouldn't blame it for the different setback you might experience in your life. Sometimes people tend to automaticly blame people around them, when things don't go their way. Take responsibility for your own life instead of spending your time blaming others.
    Hey man--no I have not been to Odense but I have read about Janteloven's Danish origins. Are you from Denmark? I have heard Janteloven is very reinforced in that area. I totally agree with you on the blame game and taking responsibility!
    This needs to be the Musician's Ten Commandments. I'm one of those jerks, I'm a very jealous kind of person, I can't stand it when other people are enjoying success and I'm not, they obviously don't deserve for the reasons I'm about to spend a few minutes thinking up, etc etc. You can find something wrong with anyone if you want to, that's the easy bit, but I think it takes far more character to swallow your envy and pat them on the back. Bands succeed for all sorts of REALLY REALLY dumb reasons, you can't predict it, so either jump on the bandwagon or leave them to it! (He says wishing he was on said wagon.)
    I'm a guitarist seeking to live by this title. I like to believe it's possible to receive currency for food and shelter through these very inspiring "Musicloven" rules. Meditating while saying each aloud is ever so peaceful.
    I thoroughly enjoyed reading this. Good stuff man, they should post something like this on the bulletin of music schools or something because I think it really hits close to home for a lot of aspiring musicians.
    Danjo's Guitar
    I'm glad you had that part at the end, because the first time you listed the law I was really confused about who was who and what this was about. I got you by the end though.
    My way of being humble is to think I'm capable of being awesome therefore so is everybody else, why lower my feelings about myself when I can just raise my feeling about everyone else? Plus as long as your patient and understanding about your expectations I find people often enjoy living up to them.
    I'm not trying to sound cynical, but Janteloven is a nessecity to a certain degree - the "everybody is special" mentality makes humans generally weaker as a species, and will be misinpreted as a shelter from criticism, ignorance, and idiocy.
    That is the opposing perspective which I do agree with. This intent of this article is to help those on the other side of the spectrum: Those who internalize the negativity of everybody else. There are guitar players who have no problem embracing their ego. There are others though, that I see more often than not, who need the opposite treatment. It is for those individuals that this article is geared for.