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You Can Always Learn More: Keeping an Open Mind As a Musician

In my role as a blogger and a general encourager of DIY musicians, I come across a lot of musical artists who are good, but who could be better. I also come across some who could be doing certain things more effectively in their careers, but aren’t.

And I can almost always tell, right off the bat, which musicians are open to input, and which ones think they have the indie musician thing down, and are not open to suggestions. When I see that in someone, I know that unless there is an attitude adjustment, that musician has gone as far as he/she is going to go.

And that prompts me to offer this one very important piece of advice here:

You can always learn more.

Let’s put it another way: the moment you feel you have “arrived” (not necessarily career-wise, but knowledge-wise)—you have, in effect, arrived. The moment you determine that you are the resident expert in your field, you become that, in your own mind, at least. The moment you decide that no one around you can tell you something you don’t already know, you close your mind off to knowledge and stunt your own growth. If that’s the case, then take a good look around. Look at your surroundings, and the state of your career, and take it all in—because it’s not going to get any better than it is right now.

Seriously. You’ve “arrived.” There is no more journey. This is your destination. If you’ve learned all there is to learn about being a DIY musician, and no one can tell you anything, this is as far as you’re going to go. You will not grow anymore. You have peaked.

Don’t like where this is going? Then stop being so smug. Honestly. You don’t know everything there is to know about this business, and you can’t know everything, because even if you did, it’s all probably going to change tomorrow. You cannot grow if you are not open to input, period. No matter how much you think you know, you can always learn more—even from someone whom you think doesn’t know as much as you do. One person—any person—could have an idea that no one else has considered, an idea that could change your world.

But it won’t change your world if you’re too proud to listen. Just saying.

I’ve been a serious musician since I was 10 years old. I’ve played in living rooms at parties, and I’ve played in large venues in front of thousands of people. I’ve written and composed hundreds of pieces of music, from rock & roll songs to string quartets to film scores. Thanks to years of practice and a good ear, I can play live with most musicians with no prior practice or knowledge of the songs, and make it not suck. Out of my experience and my personal passion, I became a music blogger—and from my proven experience doing that for several years, I’m now the chief editor of the publication where you are now reading this article.

But with all that experience, I still do not consider myself an expert. There is a whole lot about this business that I don’t know, and a lot that I wish I knew. Much of what I write here in the DIY section of MIMO is almost as fresh to me as it probably is to you—I’m just passing on to you, the reader, some cool stuff I just learned! It is this realization of how much I don’t know—and how much I need to know—that has prompted me to take the recording studio apprenticeship I’ve recently started video blogging about here on MIMO. I’ve got plenty of experience, but there are gaps in my education that stop me from being all that I know I can be. I won’t fill those gaps until I admit they exist, and then begin doing something about it.

I have been a teacher. Now I am a student—again.

I know a thing or two about music—but I can always learn more. And because I know that about myself, I am growing again. See what I mean?

All this rambling and rhetoric is just to say that as a DIY musician, you should never stop growing and learning. If you keep an open mind and remain open to new ideas and possibilities, you’ll continue to grow, and you’ll continue experiencing moments of wonder in your journey as a musical artist. If you close that off, you’ll stop growing. And anything that isn’t growing begins to die.

I’m about to step off this soap box, but one more thing I’ve noticed about closed-minded musicians: they seem a bit jaded. Tired. Negative. Old. I can see that the life and the fire they once had in their eyes is flickering and fading. It isn’t just their “war wounds.” They’ve stopped growing, because they have stopped learning.

No matter how much you know about the indie music scene—and chances are you know more than I do—you can always learn more.

Think about it.

[Steps down from soap box.]

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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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