This Article Originally Published in 1994
The best way to start discussing this month's success topic
is to relate something that happened recently. A couple months ago my
employees and I moved our business into a bigger office space. Along
with the move we needed more phone lines and a new telephone system.
A phone company rep came by the office to pitch what she had to offer.
conversation, of course, I let her know that we publish the Spotlight
newspaper, a music monthly in St. Louis, Mo. Unfortunately for her,
she was not overly familiar with it. So I gave her a bit of background
on what we do and sent her off with a couple copies to take home. About
a week later she called again to follow up and mentioned something I've
heard many times over the years.
since I met you and learned more about Spotlight, I've seen the paper
all over the place," she admitted. "I guess since I wasn't that aware
of it before, I never noticed it sitting at all those locations."
rep was guilty of a trait that's common among human beings: being limited
in her view of the world by what she chooses to focus on. But it's no
crime. These limited perceptions are always with us.
Have you ever
bought a new car and then suddenly started seeing the same make and
model almost everywhere you went? What caused that? Was there a sudden
swell in sales of your type of car? Had you unknowingly started a fashion
trend? Not likely. It was just that you had a new awareness of that
particular car style and your mind was able to zero in on those shapes
Well, I contend
that if your mind works that way with newspapers, cars, shapes and sizes,
it also works that way with attitudes and ideas. Your mind does indeed
seek out what you focus on.
if you're one of those doom-and-gloom people who consistently tells
yourself and others how much your local music scene sucks, I guarantee
you'll see one example after another to support your limited (and limiting)
belief. Every time a club owner doesn't hire your band, a radio disc
jockey doesn't play your record or a music editor doesn't assign a writer
to cover you, you'll say, "See, what did I tell you? This town blows!
Nobody cares, there are no opportunities here. Why bother?"
So what's the
and simple, developing a positive attitude and sense of optimism will
do more for your musical career advancement then the most expensive
piece of new equipment or the most powerful industry bigshot could do
in a lifetime.
So stop whining
and start considering these ideas to help you stretch and build your
- Develop balanced expectations. First off, you want to go into
every situation expecting to get positive results. If you expect
to win, your chances of getting what you want greatly increase.
But taking this concept too far can backfire.
so many musicians who go into it expecting that things are going
to be handed to them," says Ellen Persyn, lead vocalist for the
band 9 Days Wonder. "And then when they can't just walk into Kennedy's
and get a Saturday night headline gig, they're so disillusioned
that they get a really bad attitude."
moved from Philadelphia to St. Louis a couple years ago with her
husband, Tony. The two musicians put together a new band that, in
a relatively short time, has become one of the top alternative/original
music groups in town. Persyn thinks aspiring bands should stay positive,
but not expect too much too soon.
get this narrow, little viewpoint that they're artists only," she
says. "They don't try to understand it from the business point of
view and then get really pessimistic."
- Focus on the positivebut don't fake happiness. Russ Hopkins
runs a small project studio, which he calls Kiva Recording, out
of his home in Fort Collins, Colo. He feels that maintaining a sense
of optimism has helped both his business and his hometown to improve.
that Fort Collins is a rather unique environment and has a good
music scene, but it's growing because people want it to grow and
care about it," Hopkins says. "[You can make optimism work] by trying
to see the positive, by supporting other musicians and always believing
that anything can happen. And why not here? It takes people really
looking and trying to see the good."
has been one of the more visible supporters of music in his community,
having produced a couple compilation CDs showcasing Fort Collins
artists. But is his city free from negative thinking? "On that level,
I don't think this scene's any different," says Hopkins, who believes
you shouldn't let the naysayers distract you from your goals. "I
feel we have a high level of creative people here. I was just one
of the first people to really champion that here and bring people's
attention to it."
the positive, Persyn also suggests you know where to draw the line:
"I don't view optimism as: oh, I've got to put on a happy face and
pretend that everything's going to be great. This business is really
hard; there're a lot of ups and downs.
way I maintain my optimism is taking it a step at a time, setting
goals that are realistic and trying to see things from the other
person's point of view," she says.
- Embrace the work. Many wannabes psych themselves up with big expectations
for a musical career, but don't associate the work it takes with
actually getting there.
are always guys that walk up to me after our gigs and say, 'This
scene sucks but we want to open for you.' I'll say, 'Okay, send
me a tape,' and they don't send it. So, yeah, the scene sucks for
them," says Persyn.
think they're going to set the scene on fire because they're so
good. I don't care if they really are good, it takes more than that.
Even if your tapes are fabulous, it takes a lot of work to get people
to listen to them to realize they're fabulous.
I've seen who is pessimistic, I've noticed something about them,"
she continues. "They think that things are just going to happen
for them because they exist, and they won't do the hard work or
the phone calls and the mailings."
- Small steps and small victories. "When we started out, if I could
get an opening gig on a Wednesday night, that was cool," explains
Ellen Persyn, lead singer for the St. Louis, Mo.-based band 9 Days
Wonder. "Then my next expectation was getting opening gigs on the
weekend. Next I wanted split bills on the weekend.
I'm still working toward my long-term goals, but I'm not being crushed
by trying to leap to that big goal in one mighty bound. So every
little victory increased my determination and my optimism, because
I had set goals that were attainable.
three months you're out there, nobody even wants to talk to you,"
she adds. "So the keys are planning, short-term goals and focusing
on the small victories."
who runs a home recording studio in Fort Collins, Colo., says that
same technique can work for an entire music community. "We have
a little bit of local and regional success, and that always helps,"
he says, citing that Big Head Todd & the Monsters come from the
Boulder/Denver area, about 50 miles away. "I remember them at the
sports bar across from the college."
points out that certain members of the Subdudes make their home
in Fort Collins. "It goes to show that it doesn't really matter
where you live," he concludes.
small-victories approach doesn't end there. Hopkins also applies
it to Kiva Recording, his studio business. "My optimism came about
as a result of building my business and my confidence slowly," he
says. "I used to think, 'If I can get clients with the primitive
gear that I have, just imagine if I had a setup that allowed me
to offer even more.'" And after a couple years, he did just that.
- Set realistic goals. Again, one of the worst things you can do
is pursue a goal you have practically no chance of reaching. The
key is setting your sights on something that will challenge and
stretch your abilities but not overwhelm you. Also, break your big
goals into small, manageable chunks, and make sure your short-term
activities support your long-range plans.
we have long-term goals and then we have six-month goals, but then
I have a goal for the next two weeks," says Persyn. "I make it a
point every couple months to sit down and review long-term what
I want to do with my life."
- See things from other people's points of view. "If you go into
this scene expecting that 'Everybody should promote me,' but you
don't expect to give back, you're going to face a tough battle ahead,"
continues Persyn, who prefers to adopt an attitude that allows her
to work as a partner with the people who can help her band the most.
That includes supplying music editors and writers with all the materials
they need in a timely manner, collaborating with club owners on
joint promotions, etc.
want a nightclub to suffer when we play there, I want them to do
great," she adds. "Approach it from their point of view. What can
you do for them?"
likewise looks at his business from his customer's point of view,
which he says includes being able to "record inexpensively, get
cassette dupesbands who need to get their music out on a local
level and do it cost effectively."
he opened his home studio to the public, Hopkins says there was
one other recording facility in town. It had been there for some
time and was quite successful, but the owner reportedly didn't rate
very high in the customer-satisfaction department. "He was the only
guy in town," recalls Hopkins. "I felt if he's doing as well as
he's doing treating people that way, there must be a strong need
for recording services."
couldn't compete based on size and equipment but, by seeing things
from the buyer's point of view, he was able to compete by offering
more personalized service.
- Avoid bitterness through reasondon't take it personally. "For
me, and I'm still getting over this... realize that other people
have down times, too," Persyn offers. "Other bands fight to get
gigs and work hard to get their draw and have bad nights. So when
those things happen to you, you can't let it crush you and turn
you bitter. No one's going to hand you anything, but at the same
time everybody goes through these things and you have to roll with
there are up times and down times for everybody. Nobody questions
it when things are going great. I didn't say, 'Oh God, why me?'
when we had 400 people at our CD release party.
my first reaction to a bad draw is pessimism: 'Oh man, this is bad,
I should just give up.' A bad draw just devastates me. I'm depressed
for three days, I don't understand why it happened," she says. "I'm
not saying I don't get down and think about chucking the whole thing.
This business is so much work. But if I hang in there, things will
spring back around. That's what's always happened before."
- Plant seeds today. More timeless advice from Persyn: "Another
thing I do to cope is something I call seed planting. If you just
sit on your butt and you don't send out any demo tapes or make contacts
or phone calls, then in three months you're not going to have anything
to harvest. And it's only by putting out those seeds that you can
look forward to some fruit in two to three months."
- Keep the faith. "I've definitely created a niche for myself here
that so far is working," says Hopkins. "Part of that comes from
faith that he refers to isn't necessarily in a religious context.
It stems from the power that any human being can tapthe power
that comes from believing in yourself and your ability to make positive
is... more of an attitude," he explains. "You can say, 'We're at
this level and it can only get worse.' Or you can say, 'We're at
this level and it can only get better.' It could get better or worsebut
maybe we can have something to say about it."
- Passion: the bottom line. While succeeding monetarily and otherwise
is a goal toward which most of us strive, optimism will be a lot
easier to maintain if you're pursuing a line of work (and play)
that truly excites you.
I wasn't really worried about making money at it," says Hopkins
of his recording activities. "Just to do it and gain the experience.
And that was a fairly conscious decision. And I feel very successful
that I've gotten to the point where I have a lengthy list of paying
it was the typical story: How do you break into something? Initially,
I found the opportunity to gain experience instead of a paycheck."
wraps it up with a similar sentiment. "I guess optimism for me comes
down to: I really do believe in our music and I'm willing to do
the work on each small step to make it happen," she says. "And that's
better than lying in bed, depressed all the time."
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