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Why Musicians Need To Keep Their Options Open

In my previous post in this column, I talked about how when DIY musicians open themselves to possibilities, it can open up more opportunities. Along that same line, I thought this piece I originally wrote for The Developing Artist about keeping your options open would fit in quite well with this discussion. I thought I’d share a bit from that article here. More food for thought.


Here’s something for you to think about:

Musicians who keep their options open, have more options.

One thing I’ve noticed in musicians and artists who are just getting started is that they tend to be a bit narrow-minded about what it is they think they want to do.  I recognize this trait, because as a young musician I was the worst.  I had a mindset about who I thought I was, and what I wanted to be, and anything that didn’t easily fit into that narrow stream of thought was immediately filtered out.  As a result, I robbed myself of a lot of musical opportunities and experiences that might have been very beneficial to me.

I had fewer options, because I couldn’t keep my options open.  Make sense?

Let’s illustrate this idea a bit further–give a more concrete example. Let’s suppose your dream is to be a performing solo artist–a singer/songwriter.  You work and struggle at it, maybe get a few gigs, but it isn’t happening very quickly. Then someone notices your great guitar work and asks you to join their band.

You now have two choices in front of you:

  1. Decide that isn’t your niche (after all, you’re a singer/songwriter solo artist) and say no; OR
  2. Join the band and see what happens.

If you take door number two and it doesn’t work out, guess what?  You can go back to struggling as a singer/songwriter.  But if you take door number one, you’ll NEVER FIND OUT what further opportunities might have awaited you.  By sheer mathematics, you will limit your options, and therefore have fewer of them.

Why do we limit our options as musicians? I suppose there are a variety of reasons, but I think probably all of them boil down to fear.  We are afraid that somehow saying yes to an opportunity that is outside our preconceived ideas will distract us from what we want to do, or make us too busy to pursue our dreams, or otherwise stop us from pursuing our chosen path or perceived destiny. But keeping your options open doesn’t have to be a distraction, or a fearful thing.  It is possible to try new things without losing focus.

Here are a few other things to consider:

  • As a musician, you probably have more capabilities than you realize. Don’t be quick to disqualify yourself from an opportunity.  It might stretch you, but stretching can also expand you.
  • Fight the fear of failure. Everybody fails; it is inevitable.  People with a near-perfect success rate are people who limit themselves to a very tight comfort zone–they only do a couple of things they know they can do, and nothing else.  The sooner you get over the fear of failure, the more things you’ll try–and the more things you try, the more things you’ll discover you actually enjoy.
  • You can always say no. In other words, you don’t have to say no just at the beginning of an opportunity.  You can try it out, and change directions if you realize later it isn’t for you. You won’t necessarily get trapped into a direction by just trying something. If it really does get in the way of your long-term goals, then drop it.
  • One thing leads to another. A certain musical opportunity might seem to be completely different than what you envisoned yourself doing, but you don’t know where that winding road might lead–what sorts of connections might lie along that road.  Heck, you might even head that direction and discover you like doing that thing better than what you initially thought you wanted to do.

The point is, in the music business, there are many different roads to success (and most of them are not a straight line).  If you limit yourself to just one way, based on your limited understanding of your gifts and desires, your odds of success are greatly reduced. But if you keep your options open, and just exercise a little discipline and wisdom along the way, you greatly increase your odds of doing something meaningful and fulfilling in this business.

There are no guarantees in this business, except for one: anything you don’t try is guaranteed not to work. :)

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About the Author


Jeff McQ is a songwriter/composer/musician with a diverse resume that includes everything from directing music in church to scoring short films. In addition to his role as chief editor for Music Is My Oxygen (and writing our DIY Musician Channel), Jeff also covers the local music scene for Examiner.com in his hometown of Denver, Colorado, and maintains The Developing Artist [http://artistdevelopmentblog.com], a blog dedicated to offering advice and encouragement to indie musicians.

When he's not tinkering in his home studio or blogging for hours on his laptop at the local coffee shop (to the annoyance of the baristas), Jeff McQ enjoys taking in local shows, going on road trips, wandering aimlessly, and talking to himself.

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