There are three types of artists.
There are those who are stubborn. They refuse to change, even in the face of rapid technological advancement. They don’t purchase ads. They don’t tweak their live show. They’re determined to blaze a trail whether it kills their career or not.
Then are those who are extremely adaptive, and as result, distracted. They have a huge vision for their careers and consider every opportunity. They start one thing, and then quickly move to another. They adjust fast based on the feedback they receive from others, whether it benefits them or not.
The third type of artist is someone who lies somewhere in the spectrum of stubborn and adaptive. There are many shades in between, but most artists inevitably end up leaning in one direction or another.
To build the career of your dreams, you require both qualities. Though there isn’t such a thing as a perfect balance between the two, being too stubborn or too adaptive won’t get you anywhere. Here’s why.
Being Too Stubborn Leaves You With No Options
Don’t get me wrong – there are examples of successful artists who were stubborn. Just look at Prince.
But if you want to force the hand of venue owners, sponsors, record labels, or other entities, you better have the goods to back it up. Hype is not enough. You must command the attention of thousands of adoring fans who would willingly go to all your shows and buy all your merch. I’m going to go out on a limb and say you’re probably not in this position yet. If you are, then you know what you’re doing and don’t need to be preached at.
You’re stubborn. You probably scoff at every new social network or app that comes out. You refuse to try anything new. You don’t want to change your stage show because you “know best”. You don’t want to play “small time” venues, because that’s not where the money is made.
I know you, because I’ve met you before. And you know what? I can tell you right now you’re leaving a lot of money on the table and burning a lot of bridges in the process.
I’m not saying you shouldn’t have standards or that you should take every gig that comes your way. But you’ll paint yourself into a corner very quickly if you aren’t at least a bit open-minded about what direction to take your career in.
If you’re too stubborn, there are no options for you. The only path available is the one you’ve chosen, and believe it or not, the world does not revolve around you, which means success will be an uphill battle.
Being Too Adaptive Makes You Unfocused
I meet a lot of people who are excited about their new venture, whether in business or music. The problem is they’re all over the map in terms of their focus.
What is one of the first things an entrepreneur should do to build their business? Get to profit. You only need one product or service to make this a reality. You can fulfill your bigger goals once you have revenue coming in. You can hire. You can rent office space. You can begin to explore new possibilities. But many new entrepreneurs end up spinning their wheels early on because they’re so excited about their new project and what it can do for the world that they forget to take care of the practical details staring back at them.
What’s one of the first things a musician should do to build their career? Publish or perform. If you don’t have any music out there, it doesn’t matter how good you think it is. It doesn’t count. You must release it for it to be of any value. It can’t help you make you money, build your reputation, help you book shows, or otherwise, unless it’s published. Another great alternative is to start performing for an audience. Again, your music might be great, but if no one’s heard it, it won’t make a bit of difference. So, you need to get out there.
Chasing down every opportunity leaves you with no time and no energy. You can’t cut out the fluff and dedicate more of your time to high-level activity, because you’re not paying attention to your stats and have no idea what results-producing work is. Some of what you’re doing might be getting you results already, but you don’t even notice, and you’ll keep jumping from one thing to the next because you have trouble focusing your creative energies on one thing.
Don’t get me wrong – there are people out there that start new ventures regularly. But even they usually give something a fair shake before moving onto the next thing. They understand the value of concentrated effort, and will give a project their undivided attention for a time before starting something new.
You need to learn to channel your excitement into a singular focus. This is easier said than done, but it will produce better results for your career.
Why You Need To Be Both Stubborn & Adaptive
In an ideal world, we would all be both stubborn and adaptive. We just need to match up these qualities to the right situations. Failing to do so means leaving a lot to chance.
Being stubborn about your success is a good quality. This means you’re not going to take “no” for an answer. It means you’re willing to do what it takes to make your dreams a reality. It means you’re committed to yourself regardless of the outcome.
And, when it comes to your dreams and goals, commitment to self is more important than anything else. Only you know when you’ve achieved what you’ve set out to do, and no one will be more interested in that than you.
Being stubborn about improvement is a good thing. Some artists and bands end up resting on their laurels. They achieve a level of success and don’t think they need to work hard to get to the next level, or they stop evolving because they’ve become a big fish in a small pond.
I’m not making any judgment calls about bands like AC/DC, Van Halen, or The Rolling Stones, because arguably they’ve stuck close to their formulas for decades. But if you haven’t reached their level yet, then it’s probably too early to settle into a groove, unless you truly are happy where you are.
Even if the need to reinvent yourself never arises, wouldn’t it be nice to know you have that option available? Wouldn’t it be nice if you were flexible enough to adjust if the situation called for it?
On the opposite end, being adaptive is good when it comes to marketing. The overall goal of marketing almost never changes. But the methods used to achieve a desired outcome are constantly changing.
Just look at social media. Earlier this year, marketers were still talking about Snapchat like it was taking over the world (some investors were even hassling me to get on it – why?). What happened? Instagram essentially took its place. Now, Snapchat may not be dead, but if you kept using Snapchat while the rest of the world was finding its way over to Instagram, you’d be wasting a lot of your time and creative energy on something that’s not going to get you results.
And this has happened before. Myspace was once very popular. Then people started moving themselves over to Facebook, and Myspace has never fully recovered its former glory.
So, you must be open to everything. This doesn’t mean you should take advantage of every opportunity. But you should consider everything on a case-by-case basis.
Maybe you’ve never ran Facebook ads before, but you’re open to the idea of experimenting if it leads to meaningful results for your career. Maybe you haven’t taken out an ad in an entertainment magazine, but if an opportunity presents itself, you should take it into consideration.
Being adaptive is also good when it comes to:
- Your live show. Crafting an incredible live experience takes time. It’s not enough to work on your vocals or instrument skills. Your stage presence and banter are also critical elements to your success. If you’re open to direction, you will come across useful ideas and people that can help you along the way.
- Your strategy. You may have great music. You may even know who your audience is and why your music appeals to them. But what if your strategy is all wrong? What if you’re trying to sell MP3s to people who want to buy CDs? I know this may sound absurd, but the point is that the wrong strategy will slow you down, and even hinder your progress.
How To Change
We all have our natural tendencies and can easily become set in our ways. It’s human nature.
Some of us are more stubborn than adaptive, some more adaptive than stubborn. This won’t necessarily slow you down, but being stubborn or flexible about the wrong things can.
If you’re stubborn about wanting to be signed by a specific record label, and refuse to consider other contracts even as they come knocking on your door, you might be missing the blessing the universe sent your way.
If you keep changing things up long after you’ve found a formula that delivers consistent results, you may be working too hard to tweak what doesn’t need to be iterated on in the first place. Don’t mess with a good thing, as they say.
So, how can one change? Is it even possible? Do we all have the capacity in us to become more of what we need to become to achieve our goals?
What you need most is a willingness to change. If you aren’t willing, if you aren’t teachable, if you aren’t open to new ideas, you can’t change. No one can change you – they can only show you the door. You must be the one to walk through it!
I’ve had the pleasure of coaching and mentoring a few people, and when I see people choose positive change, I’m beside myself with excitement! But I can’t make that change happen for them. I can only give them feedback based on what they tell me. If they can’t be vulnerable and share their journey with me, then I can only give them feedback based on what they tell me, which may not be the entire story.
So, change may also require you to be vulnerable. I find people don’t enjoy feeling vulnerable. They try to do everything themselves without asking for help. But no matter who you are, there will come a time when you require the help of others. It’s best not to wait until you’re desperate, but unfortunately that’s what we do a lot of the time.
Beyond that, change must occur at a habitual level. You must start doing things differently, and consistently. I can’t tell you what change you need to make right now, because I don’t know you or your situation. But if there’s something you want to change about yourself, you must give it your attention and go to work on it. You must make conscious choices and not fall back on an autopilot routine. This takes energy, no doubt, but it’s what you’ll need to do to change.
You can’t just be stubborn. You can’t just be adaptive either. You need to find a meaningful equilibrium between the two.
If you aren’t stubborn enough, you may not last in the music industry. You’ll become jaded, disillusioned, and eventually give up. I know people that have.
If you aren’t adaptive enough, you’ll find yourself pushing full steam ahead with outdated strategies and methods that don’t work anymore. You won’t make the small tweaks you need to make to take your career to the next level.
My suggestion would be to remain as open-minded as possible. Know that your persistence will pay off, but also know the plan you started with isn’t the plan that will get you to where you want to go. You must adjust along the way.