Anyone can get sidetracked.
Sometimes it happens quite naturally. The distraction is easier, faster, more gratifying than putting in the hours of work to get a result.
When I speak to a musician or composer or producer, I can usually tell how connected they are to their work by how much they talk about gear.
The good ones don’t talk about gear.
If you make music, gear is a distraction. If you’re thinking about gear, you’re not thinking about music. Of course gear is necessary, but gear is like any technology – it’s working best when it stays out of the way.
When I meet some people who make music, the first thing they talk about is gear. It excites them. It challenges them. It gets their juices flowing. I’m sure it’s the same in other fields – there are probably plenty of photographers who endlessly compare lenses or lust after other gear but never think about taking breathtaking photographs. Or filmmakers who are more concerned with having the right equipment than telling a compelling story. Personally, I find a lot of gear boring. They’re tools. That’s all. Gear is important if you want to make good music.
But gear isn’t important if you want to make amazing music.
What’s important if you want to make amazing music?
Creativity. Hopefully this should be self-explanatory. You need the ability to generate new ideas. You need to be able to synthesise and combine ideas. It’s not important that what you create is necessarily different to everything else – the important part here is the act itself of creating. Without creativity, you’ll be stuck teaching high school kids and playing in cover bands.
Work Ethic. This is more important than most people realise. Work ethic is what gives you the ability to Get Things Done. I usually think of it as a combination of motivation, commitment and discipline. Motivation is the willingness to do the work. Commitment is the belief and courage that form the promise to do the work. Discipline is the stamina and mental strength to follow through on what you promised – to stick to the plan. Without work ethic, you’ll be known as that person who has high hopes but never achieves anything.
Resonance. This is the real magic. This is the ability to tell a story that connects with people. At one end of the scale, this could be as simple as making upbeat happy infectious songs that make people dance and feel good. At the other end of the scale, this can be music (and a persona) that taps into a collective subconscious – whether it be to tell us what we’re thinking but not saying, to expose our fears or to fill us with wonder and amazement. Without resonance, your music won’t move your listeners to support you and fall in love with you.
Some people are naturally good at one or two of these things. There are people who are extremely creative but are stuck in their own world and never get anything done. There are people who are high achievers but are more comfortable following the rules than writing their own. There are people who know how to make their audience laugh or cry but shrugged off any expectation of artistic integrity long ago.
Think about your own strengths and weaknesses in terms of creativity, work ethic and resonance. If you’re strong in some areas but weak in others, you might consider partnering with someone who has complimentary abilities. For example, a person with strong work ethic could partner with a person with song creativity and resonance. Or, a person with strong creativity and work ethic could partner with someone with strong resonance.
Also consider that your weaknesses aren’t fixed. You can become good at something that you were previously not very good at. Even though it might appear that some people are naturally good in some areas, they’re actually skills – you’re not stuck the way you are. Of course, like all skills, it takes a lot of hard work (years!). The improvements may seem unmeasurable at worst and incremental at best. But it can be done. Just remember – they’re not innate superpowers – they’re skills. And like all skills, they can be learned and acquired and developed.
No-one’s holding you back.