The Long Wait of “Artistic” Careers

Written by Peter Spellman, Berklee College of Music

Artists tend to be slow starters but good finishers if they take the long view and stick to their knitting. A musician confident in her skills, creativity, contact network and personal drive might sometimes wonder, “Why am I not yet famous?” All the pieces seem to be in place, but fame still eludes.

Even if  “fame” be defined as “simply supporting my life and paying my bills solely though musical work,” this more humble end prize is still a distance off.

Or is it?

How we define “success” for ourselves will often influence our view of the “prize”. I personally view “success” as the successive realization of a worthwhile goal. If I am reflecting my long range goal in my day, even in the smallest of ways, then I am “successful,” according to that definition.

When asked about her “success”, musician Zoe Keating described it as “the sum of many tiny moments.” Success is not someday; success is every day. The key is to knit your success to conscious goals.

We consider 5% GDP growth pretty good; 10% awesome. How might this apply to the tempo of music career development? Well, say you play 20 shows this year and your combined revenue for performances and music sales total $2000. Now, let’s say next year you play 30 shows and generate $3000 total sales. While it might not seem that much, it’s actually 50% growth! Project 50% growth per year out ten years and you’ve got a sustainable music career. Even 40, 30 and 20% growth are admirable business benchmarks.

Claude Monet didn’t event start his water lily series until he was in his seventies; Goethe finished Faust in his eighties; Pablo Casals was still performing in his nineties. Mozart didn’t complete a masterpiece until about ten years after he began composing.

The point is we should give ourselves permission to grow our careers at a tempo that makes sense to us rather than to over-strive and burn out too soon.

Slow starter, good finisher.


About Peter Spellman
Peter Spellman found his way into music as a guitarist in various New York bands and then switched to drums after seeing the Police perform in the late 1970s. Since then he’s performed and recorded with reggae outfit, The Mighty Charge, world music ensemble Friend Planet, and now with the Underwater Airport crew. He’s scored films for the National Science Foundation, composed video games for Massachusetts General Hospital, and coaches music entrepreneurs at Berklee College of Music. He is author of “The Self Promoting Musician” and “Indie Business Power: A Step by Step Guide for 21st Century Music Entrepreneurs”. Find him at mcareerjuice.com


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  • Georgianne Holland

    I like this post. It reminds me to give importance to each small step I take today, as small steps add up. Thanks for cheering me up. Georgianne, Nestle and Soar Studio.

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