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Music Advice I Wish I Knew 10 Years Ago

Lately I’ve been spending some time reflecting on my past and what got me to where I am now. My journey on this adventurous and sometimes bumpy road called musicianship has been quite eventful so far. About 10 years ago was around the time that I had mentally decided I was going to choose music as a career. One way or another I was going to do it. Though I know I have so much more to learn and 10 years from now will provide even more insights, there are many things I wish I could have told myself then.

I took some time to write myself some advice.

1. Relax.

Don’t take life so seriously. Don’t take music so seriously. Music should be fun and you need to remember why you got into it in the first place.  When your mind is filled with anxiety and your instrument loses its appeal, just stop. At that point you’ve gone wrong somewhere. When you play your instrument, smile and be thankful you get to play even for just that moment. Forget about where you want your music to take you and just embrace the moments when you have the privilege to create it. Play. Have fun. Try to remember the mysterious wonder you felt when you first met music.

2. Don’t be so hard on yourself.

Play from where you are at, not where you want to be. Accept yourself. Instead of anxiously longing for the day when you can play like [fill in the blank], enjoy the part of the journey you are on now. All of us musicians are on the same path heading the same direction; at different parts of it, though, we may be. It’s a journey not a race. Don’t waste your time comparing yourself with others.  At all costs don’t waste your time comparing yourself with others. Don’t forget Einstein’s quote: “Everyone is a genius. But if you judge a fish by its ability to climb a tree, it will live its whole life believing that it is stupid.”

3. Practice hard.

Don’t allow yourself to settle for mediocrity. Don’t forget that you need to pay your dues. Spend lot’s of time in the practice room honing your craft. You may not always see results immediately and you may not always be aware that you are improving, but you are. Time and pressure. That’s what it takes. (Just don’t forget 1 & 2).

4. Jam hard.

Play with other musicians every chance you get.  Especially when you don’t have to worry so much about money or a family (college), make an effort to play with someone everyday. Go to public jam sessions and don’t be afraid to put yourself out there.  Start picking up gigs right away. There is no reason to wait. The real education happens out on the bandstand.

5. Hone your business chops.

Success in music does not come from talent alone. That luxury is reserved for only the select few. You need to stop thinking like an artist and start thinking like a businessman. You are the CEO of you. Make sure you are presentable: have a great website- have good recordings to show- get quotes from students and teachers- always have nice business cards handy- have professional portraits. Make connections with musicians and non-musicians alike. Never turn down an opportunity that is handed to you. Learn how to market yourself. Be an entrepreneur and be inventive. Try to think of ways you can make money from music outside of the obvious.

6. Travel.

Stop playing music and get out there and live. Traveling will help you see the world from a different angle. It will lift up your weary soul and help you let loose your inner child.  You will get inspired and you will have a new reason to create art. Travelling will open up your mind to new things far more effectively than any drug could. The four walls of your practice room will not provide you the inspiration that travelling can. Never turn down a chance to travel unless you have no other choice. Make travelling a priority.

7. Fail.

Fall down and scrape your knees. Get your hands dirty and don’t be afraid of heading into the unknown. You will fail many, many more times than you will succeed, and you will be better for it.  Sometimes it’s going to be really embarrassing. Sometimes it’s going to crush your ego and leave you in a pit of despair. Sometimes you may even think about quitting music all together. Get up! Don’t let failure defeat you. It’s these moments where the real growth starts to happen. Never give up. When you feel like you’re starting to drown, keep swimming.


Brent Vaartstra
Brent Vaartstra is a professional jazz guitarist and educator living in New York City. He is the head blogger and podcast host for which he owns and operates. He actively performs around the New York metropolitan area and is the author of the Hal Leonard publication "Visual Improvisation for Jazz Guitar." He's also the host of the music entrepreneurship podcast "Passive Income Musician."


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