Musicians - Who's Your *Real* Competition?
By Dendy Jarrett |
Who's Your Real Competition?
It may not be who you think it is
by Dendy Jarrett
Dear Musician -
In the past your competition was the band down the street, but today it's all music ever released. Why? Because people can access any music any time with streaming media. When people listen to Prince, they don't want to listen to someone almost as good as Prince or "the next Prince." If you are a live player, the competition isn't just musicians but movies, Netflix, video games, Facebook, and other distractions that keep people at home instead of going out to clubs or concerts.
That's some tough competition. But, paradoxically, the real competition is both tougher and easier.
In our last Dear Musician, we covered the Sports/Music Connection. Music may not be a sport but, like sports, it is competitive. To be a pro sports player, you have to be faster, smarter, and better than the competition. You start in school, probably playing for teams. Trying to stay fit, you get up early enough in the morning to do some laps, stay late for practice, and watch what you eat. You give up some of the pleasures that other people take for granted because you have a focus, and you don’t want anything to get in your way.
Musicians aren’t all that different. There’s even a term, “woodshedding,” to describe the process of ongoing, relentless practice to become better at your art. Sure, you want to develop your soul and hone the message you want to present, but you also need to develop the technique that lets you express yourself effortlessly.
And, ultimately, this will turn into competition—with yourself. What's tough is that there will be times when you are your own worst critic. You know you could have done a better vocal or riff. You know that the chorus in your new song isn't anthemic and that if you submitted a particular song to a songwriter's panel, you'd be torn apart. You can let that discourage you and drop out of the competition with yourself. Or you can double down on pushing your limits further. Then one day, you'll come up with a hook so infectious anyone hearing it hums it for days afterward.
However, the story doesn't end there. Here's the part of competing with yourself that's easy. You’ve probably gone someplace and heard a musician or group that wasn’t your preferred style, but they were so into what they did that you enjoyed yourself anyway. That guy at the local Holidome with an arranger keyboard? Yeah, maybe he’s just going through the motions, and you're already looking for the exit halfway through your first drink. But maybe he loves what he does. Maybe he loves the opportunity to entertain, and you can’t help getting caught up in that kind of enthusiasm and getting sucked into enjoying yourself. He's still competing with himself, but the competition isn't whether he can play faster that Keith Emerson or sing better than Billy Joel. His competition is having more fun every night because he knows that having fun is infectious.
I once worked at a company where everyone had their to-do lists, and they dutifully checked the boxes so they could cash their paychecks. The company was always struggling, and, while they’d say the reasons were many and complex, I didn’t buy that. I think the reason was simple: the to-do list didn’t say to do everything excellently and have fun doing it.
So, keep raising the bar. Don't just check the boxes. Keep becoming a better artist and a better musician. But don’t forget that before multi-million dollar salaries and endorsement deals became the norm, sports began with people having fun. And in our world, we even talk about “playing” music. So as you develop your music, remember that competition isn’t just about grim determination—let’s see if you can have more fun playing music today than you did yesterday.
*image courtesy - Columbia Pictures
Dendy Jarrett is the Publisher and Director of Harmony Central. He has been heavily involved at the executive level in many aspects of the drum and percussion industry for over 25 years and has been a professional player since he was 16. His articles and product reviews have been featured in InTune Monthly, Gig Magazine, DRUM! and Modern Drummer Magazines.