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The Musician's Secret Weapon

"Life can be very, very hard for a musician. You're competing against millions of others, desperate to be heard over all the noise. And you've got no money.

But you've got a secret weapon. To outsiders, the music industry is sexy. People with day jobs are fascinated with the mythos of "The Rock Star".

Make the person you're talking to feel this. Make them feel like a part of this world.

If you give people a story with them as a hero, they will help you. Much more so than you would ever expect."

- Patrick Keel, one of my mentors. I didn't remember his exact wording, so I rephrased it with a little of my own flourish.


The "Total" Musician

What is it about some musicians that makes them seem to have so much more staying power than others? What is the difference between

I use the term Total Musician.

The full number of factors involved in success make it impossible to predict success absolutely. However, there are some traits that seem to be more prevalent among successful individuals than unsuccessful ones. This is my initial attempt to qualify what exactly it is that makes some musicians special. This is an informal, working list.

I'd like you to contribute to this list.

The more broad our viewpoint the better we'll be able to hone in on what it takes for us to become a Total Musician too.

Here's the list so far:
   -Maturity. Playing within their abilities.
   -Confidence, albeit in different forms for different people.
   -Wide Interests. True innovators cross pollinate ideas.
   -Hustle. Whether it's business acumen, a charismatic personality or compelling story-telling.
   -Works with many other creatives.

Let's see what we can do with this list, eh?


What Do You Do For Your Band?

Besides your instrument. Any musician can do that. What makes you irreplaceable in your band?

This is important.

Music is a highly competitive industry, and it's no secret band lineups change all the time. Unless you happen to be a prophet of the guitar like Hendrix, being "good" isn't enough to ensure you stay in a band. Youtube practicly has a dedicated channel called "12 Year Olds Who Are Better At Your Instrument Than You Will Ever Be". A Total musician, the kind of person you always want in your band, contributes something that can't be replaced by someone who can read guitar tabs.

What would qualify as something making you more valuable to the band?
   -Writing the entire story behind a 4-album sequence. Would Coheed & Cambria have existed if the story writer left?
   -Being a master promoter. Do you run the merch booth like a boss and have a knack for getting people excited about your music? That's magic, baby.
   -Managing inventory and planning all the shows for the band.
   -Doing all the graphic design and website building for the band.
   -Recording good to great demos all yourself at the band practice space.
   -Knowing boatloads more about business/money than the rest of the band.
   -Repairing all the band's instruments.
   -Illustrating all the band's merch, posters, and albums.

All of these things are more difficult to replace than simply "doing your job" on your instrument. Skills like these add value to both the band and yourself. The more business your band can do in-house, the less time and money you need to spend on outside help, allowing you to spend money on the really important things.

The best way to ensure your stability is to be invaluable.


Merch Problems are an Insult to Your Fans

As mentioned in a previous post The Album is Marketing Material, a band doesn't make its money on music. The margins necessary to finally support five or so smelly musicians come from touring and merch. Once you've got your music up to the standards it needs to be, you must get merch details right if you want a stable career in music.

Picture this for a second: you just decided to see a friend of a friend's band at some dingy bar that smells worse than a harbor at low tide. You're not expecting to enjoy the show, but you promised to go see them at least once.

Turns out the band is amazing.

So much so that you make the conscious decision to open your wallet and throw dollars at the band. Excited, you walk over to the merch table and... their merch blows.

The shirts look like an iron-on decal of a toddler's finger painting. They don't have shirts in your size. No change, "Sorry dude."

How do you feel about the band now?

When you mess up merch, you:
   -Insult your current fans.
   -Lose new fans. (If they don't have something to remember you by, it's possible you'll be forgotten)
   -Lose revenue from the sale. (Bad sizes, ugly/cheap merch is the same as taking the money the fan was going to give you and throwing it in the toilet).
   -Miss the opportunity for advertising. (A fan wearing the shirt passively increases your name recognition and mindspace.)

How much thought do you put into your merch?