The Locus of Control - Taking Control of Your Musical Destiny

What do successful bands have in common that struggling ones don't?

Ultimate Guitar

Some bands and musicians do much better than others. Some get great gigs, record great albums, make money – and others don't, despite having just as much musical talent. What is the difference between these bands? It's something that a lot of people would really like to know, especially those in the bands that are struggling. My speciality area is recording, but I see these things in so many of the bands that I see and speak to. Some bands tear through the recording process and produce amazing albums in no time, others don't even finish, some don't even start. Again, this has nothing to do with how good their songs are or how good they are at their instruments. You only have to turn on MTV to see very mediocre musicians and songwriters with the world at their feet, and you only have to go to your local "toilet" venue to see great musicians with no career at all. So what separates the successful musicians that I work with from the ones that fail? There's a few factors at work, but the most important is this – how do they approach problems? In music, whatever you do, you're going to come across challenges, problems and frustrations. In recording, for instance, there is the issue of finance, practical and musical problems during the process, as well as distributing, marketing and selling the album when it's done. There are bands that crack those problems, and those that don't. There are bands that record fantastic albums and then sell millions of copies. Maybe your band hasn't done that. So what makes the other band different to yours, or if you don't have a band, makes another musician more successful than you? Think about your answer to that question for a bit, and be sure that you have an answer in your head before you read the next paragraph. Now, there are no "right" or "wrong" answers to that question, every band is different. But there are "good" and "bad" answers. If you answer was something like "Those bands have done [thing] and we haven't," then that's a "good" answer. If your answer began with "Those bands had [thing] happen to them and we haven't" then that's a "bad" answer. What's the difference? The difference is that the bands that get things done are always questioning what THEY can do to solve their problems. Bands that get nowhere are obsessed with what OTHER PEOPLE can do to solve their problems. It's a vitally important distinction. Failed bands are those that wait around for solutions to their problems to fall out of the sky. Or maybe there's one harassed bandleader whose musicians are waiting for him to fix everything rather than take responsibility for themselves – those kinds of bands tend to collapse before too long. Plenty of bands look jealously at other bands who have got places that they haven't. What they don't realise is that those bands aren't really any different to them, or at least weren't when they set out. Name any big band, and at some point they were just like you – a bunch of dudes with guitars, big dreams, and not much money. Now they are where they are. They DID THINGS to get there. Those things are all things that you can do. Management, record deals, albums and tours aren't things that happened to them out of nowhere for no reason, they are things that that band DID THINGS to get. Things that you can do. Those bands didn't complain about other bands getting the breaks, they sat down and worked out what those bands DID to get into that position, and then did those things. From my perspective as a producer, the big wall that most bands come across when they want to record is finance. They don't have the money to record. So, what to do about it? The bands that fail are the ones that try to persuade me (or other producers/professionals), i.e. other people, to do something for them, such as to drop their rates, or to complain that someone else should give them the money, simply because they don't have it. The ones that succeed are the ones that think about what THEY can do to solve the problem. How can WE raise enough money? How can WE work differently to reduce the cost? What deal can WE offer the producer/mix engineer/whoever to reduce the up-front cost? Whilst other bands are moaning about the hand that life has dealt them and how things aren't fair, these other bands, who face exactly the same problems, are getting ahead. This is what's known in psychological circles as an "Internal Locus of Control" – the understanding that you are the biggest, or even the only, influence on the outcomes of your life. It's a refusal to put the responsibility for your outcomes on other people. There is a tendency to group "blame" for a problem with "responsibility" for solving it. That's not how the world works. Someone else may be responsible for whatever mess you are in, but YOU are the one that will have to solve it. Sorry. Other people are rubbish. Don't rely on them. If you do need someone else to do something for you, it's still your responsibility to get out there and make sure they do it, and give them a reason to. There is this poisonous idea in the heads of so many musicians that successful bands and musicians got "lucky." It's nonsense. The universe is governed by the laws of cause and effect. Bands that got record deals or whatever got them as a consequence of what they did, not because someone rolled the dice and chose them at random. If someone did a band a favour, it didn't come out of the blue – it was as a consequence of what that band did (and didn't do) to get into a position where someone decided it was in their interests to help them. These people don't have superpowers. You are capable of everything that they are capable of. So it's not about what does or doesn't happen, or who is involved, or anything about the music – it's about the way the people involved think, and how they approach problems. Everything you want is out there, but it's nobody's responsibility but your own to go and get it. Stop waiting for other people to do things for you - they won't, unless you do something that gives them a good reason to. About the Author: James Scott is a music producer in London, UK. He works with up and coming bands to get them noticed in the industry, provided that they get of their asses and actually do something. For recording, one thing you can do right now is sign up here for a free video course on how to approach recording an album – including how to massively reduce the cost. It's time to start solving problems rather than complaining about them.

21 comments sorted by best / new / date

    As always - bloody brilliant. One question -- what deal would you say a band should offer a studio/producer? That'd make a neat column.
    Ryan Withers
    this, my band is thinking about recording a EP in the near future, but money is an issue. we are saving as much as possible but any way to save a few buck would be helpful.
    Ryan Withers
    this, my band is thinking about recording a EP in the near future, but money is an issue. we are saving as much as possible but any way to save a few buck would be helpful.
    "Failed bands are those that wait around for solutions to their problems to fall out of the sky. Or maybe there's one harassed bandleader whose musicians are waiting for him to fix everything rather than take responsibility for themselves" I can fully relate to this during my time with my former band.
    Great article! This logic applies to everything we do in life. We control our own destiny. If we leave it to someone else, you can be sure we will be on their road, heading to their destination, not our own.
    Great article as usual. You are one of the best article writer here James. I always find your columns insightful, relevant, and useful.
    Never read that gave me a greater desire of buying a van creating a band and saying "**** you all" to everyone who expects more of me
    "You only have to turn on MTV to see very mediocre musicians and songwriters with the world at their feet" What year was this article written in? I haven't seen a single music-video on MTV in the last 2 years. It's always some stupid "Reality"-TV-Shows that have nothing to do with music at all. Seriously, though. The article is very well-written. Even though I'm not actually playing in a band right now, it's still worth keeping it in mind.
    14 paragraphs to say "have a problem? Find solution". Wankers.
    Nope. It's 14 paragraphs to say "have a problem? Move your ass, take responsibility, and do something about it!". But apparently even 14 paragraphs are not enough to pass the message to some
    And I share your point of view except the "Other people are rubbish" line that went a bit too far. But this is more like a lesson about life in general. It's pointless to cry over spilt milk. The only wise thing to do would be to wipe it up yourself. As tough as this might seem it also puts you into a position of power.
    I'm sorry, but this article is really too cheesy. I mean, yes, look at the great bands, at the beginning everyone of them began as some dudes with guitars and no money. Now, look also at when those bands began with their careers. All this article says is good if we were in the 80's. Now it's not about the talent anymore, it's about being lucky! Yes, I am crying over split milk, but open your eyes, you could struggle as much as you want, but if someone "high" notice you, than you're good, if not you're NEVER gonna make it!!
    Ryan Withers
    it could very well be argued that you need to put yourself in a position to get noticed. i know many bands that only play within their state and get nowhere. you have to tour across multiple state lines and build your fan base. and promote your band where ever possible to whom ever will listen. so it again ties into the article, you need to accept the problem in front of you and find a way to fix it. you get noticed by how big of a buzz you create. you need fans, and you can't expect them to just show up. you have to win them over. so again, it's not so much luck as it is something that is earned. and before anyone says it. yes, there are exceptions to every rule
    Thanks for a well written article Scott, for any determined and hard-working bandleader this was a good and encouraging read. However... There is a crude paradox/point in this article that took the message far enough to trip over itself. An exagguration, for sure, but saying "other people are rubbish" is a little naive and foolish. Yes, we are responsible for ourselves and cannot expect things to happen for us. We are, however, dependant on other people, who, if treated as rubbish, will certainly not make it easier for us to succeed, break through, win, or whatever one may dream of doing. Thumbs up for the core point though.
    The #1 key to musical success is talent. By saying that a hardworking musician will win over a talented musican gives false hope to those of us with marginal talent. I can only think of few (2) people who I can say "made it" in the music businiess with marginal talent. Both of those rode the coat tails of extremely talented musicians then went away. TL/DR: If your songs suck, you will never make it!
    Other people are rubbish. Don't rely on them
    The most important thing to remember in business right there.