This Article Originally Published in 1994

by Bob Baker

When the topic of goal setting comes up, it seems most musicians run for cover. From the way they so frantically avoid dealing with the subject, you'd think somebody just cranked up the new Bee Gees record.

So relax. I'm here to tell you that planning for the future doesn't have to be that painful. In fact, you'll find that getting on friendlier terms with the noble art of goal setting will propel you toward reaching your musical dreams—not to mention giving you more juice and energy with which to pursue them.

Of course, you may be one of those people who says, "Planning never gets me anywhere. I always run into brick walls and end up bitter and frustrated. No, I just like to let things happen and let nature take its course."

While there's nothing wrong with letting your instincts guide you toward your true passion in life, I must say that taking the "let-things-happen" approach too far can lead to an equal amount of bitterness and frustration.

How else can you explain the slew of cynical, wandering musicians who populate most music scenes? They muddle through gig after gig, waiting for nature to take its course, and then suddenly wake up one day and wonder why they're no better off today then they were five years ago.

If you read nothing else in this article, at least contemplate this: When you just "let things happen" with your musical career, you take the steering wheel of success out of your own hands. You'll always be at the mercy of someone or something else. In essence, you lose control over where you really want to take your skills and talents.

People who succeed in music use goal setting to get back in the driver's seat and step on that accelerator pedal known as "accomplishment." (Pardon the poetic analogies, but they help make the point.)

The good news is that you most likely already possess the skills to set goals effectively. Have you ever written a song? Have you ever gone into a studio to record your music? If so, you've probably been setting goals and didn't even realize it.

Here's what I'm talking about: When you showed up at the studio for your first recording session, what did you do? Did you look at your fellow band members and say, "Geez, I wonder what we should do now? Anybody got any good song ideas?"

Well, unfortunately, some of you have done this (I talk to local studio engineers, you know), but most of you realize that would be nonsense! You've got money invested in the session, you've had a dream to put out your own CD for years, plus you've got fans who are eagerly awaiting the recording... you'd be nuts to go in there unprepared!

You haven't done that, have you?

Of course not. You went into that studio with a game plan—a list of songs, who's playing what parts, when the harmonies will come in, maybe even a title for the album. That's all that goal setting is: knowing what you want to do before you set out to do it.

So in the same way you'd be wasting your time and money not being prepared to go into that studio, so too are you wasting your precious resources by being unprepared when it comes to your overall career. Does that make sense to you?

Another key to goal setting is knowing that it isn't a rigid science. The plans you come up with are fluid—you can expect them to evolve and change over time. This is yet another concept you should be familiar with, especially if you're a songwriter. Many songwriters I know (myself included) write using just a guitar or piano and voice.

However, when many of these artists create a new composition, they often hear much more than that sparse arrangement in their heads. The drums, the bass part, maybe an entire string section... all of it is there in the mind's ear. Perhaps you create the same way.

Then you take this skeleton of a song and show it to your other band members, explaining to each the parts you hear ringing through your gray matter. But, as you songwriters well know, the song the band ends up playing and recording is usually quite different from the version you originally heard in your head. However, the newer version is almost always better.

The moral here is this: The plans you come up with when goal setting will change as you work toward them. But the mere act of coming up with an idea, visualizing it in your mind and acting on it will drive you to create something. While the end result isn't always the one you expected, it's usually one you can learn and grow from and hopefully be proud of.

By pushing yourself, through advance planning, to head off in a specific direction—whatever direction that is—you create the opportunities from which real success can be realized. By waiting for things to happen, though, you set the stage for stagnation. That's why setting goals for yourself is so important.

What follows are eight quick and easy tips for getting the most out of goal setting:

  • Decide specifically what it is you want. Before you set out to conquer your goal, you have to know what it is you really want. Do you have a clear idea of what you're going after? Vague concepts about some day succeeding in the music business lead to vague, weak actions in attaining them. However, detailed target goals (selling 3,000 units of your album, playing 15 gigs a month, making at least $10,000 in the first quarter of next year) keep you focused and on track.

  • Write it down. Don't keep your goals in your head. Put ink to paper and commit them to a solid form. Writing down your goals adds another element of conviction to your intent to reach them. All of my accomplishments—publishing Spotlight, writing my book, putting out an independent release with my former band Beat Patrol—started as notes to myself jotted down in a notebook. Don't overlook the power of the pen.

  • Set a deadline. Remember how you always got off your butt and went to work the night before a term paper was due? Deadlines have a way of motivating us to act. So do commitments we make to ourselves and others. Set a time limit for achieving each stage of your goal-setting action plan. And then do whatever it takes to meet those deadlines.

  • Make a list of what's in it for you. This is the fun part. Compile a list of ways you will benefit from achieving the goal (or goals). By doing so, you examine your true motivation for even wanting it in the first place. Sometimes you'll discover the reasons that drive you aren't the most productive (such as being lured by the prospect of making gobs of money, even though your heart isn't really into it).

    However, when you have a goal that's fueled by a genuine desire and true belief in your ability to attain it and enjoy the benefits, you'll be energized and ready to take on the challenges.

  • Anticipate the obstacles you'll encounter. Make no mistake about it, there will be bumps along the road that leads to your goal. There will be things that go wrong, people who disappoint you, schedules that move slower than you'd like... But don't let any of them stop you! Just try to anticipate some of the difficulties you'll face, then imagine how effectively you'll deal with them when they arise.

  • Identify all the information, people and organizations that can help you achieve your goal. Start gathering data on the people, places and information sources you'll most likely need (clubs, agents, radio stations, magazines, graphic artists, producers, etc.) to get to your goal faster. You can't do it completely on your own—remember, it's a business of people... and timely information.

  • Create your plan. Now write down the first draft of your plan of action. To do this, start with the goal itself and work backwards through the process. Keep breaking every stage of the plan down into its most basic tasks (such as phone calls, packages to be mailed, booking studio time, setting up meetings, writing songs).

    Then make a short list of the primary things that need to be done first—but make sure they're basic, attainable steps. For instance, if your goal is to get a record deal, the first thing you'd do would not be to call Atlantic Records. There is a whole series of preliminary steps you'd want to take long before you ever got near a record label.

  • Act on it now! Finally, and most importantly, you have to get busy working on the plan you've created. It's tragic, but a lot of great ideas have sadly withered away because the person who came up with them never took action. Don't let this be your fate. Don't wait for nature to takes its mystical course. Put the art and craft of goal setting to work to fire your juices and give you an immense boost toward getting what you want from life.

Bob Baker is the author of "Guerrilla Music Marketing Handbook," "Unleash the Artist Within" and "Branding Yourself Online." He also publishes TheBuzzFactor.com, a web site and e-zine that deliver marketing tips, self-promotion ideas and other empowering messages to music people of all kinds. Get your FREE subscription to Bob's e-zine by visiting http://TheBuzzFactor.com today.


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