By Kenny Kerner
To be successful in any business you must first focus your attention on achieving very specific goals. Then, you set up a plan of attack and go for it. Seems simple enough, right? Well then, why aren't more people making millions of dollars in the music business? Why is it so damn hard to get signed? Why can't very talented artists attract competent personal managers? What's up with that?

The answer is also simple: Most people who aspire to be Rock stars or great writers or powerful managers or attorneys, for the most part, don't know their strong points or limitations. In short, they don't really know who they are!

When I first began my career as a record producer, I knew I had an instinctive talent for hearing great songs and great artists. But, at the same time, I also knew that I had no stomach for engineering and turning knobs. To me, that wasn't creative enough. It was that knowledge of my shortcomings that allowed me to always work with the finest engineers in the business so that I could concentrate only on the producing side of things. I had no ego about it whatsoever. I produced and someone else engineered. Since the engineer needed my approval for everything anyway, I couldn't lose!

I had about seven successful years as a record producer (KISS, Gladys Knight, Jose Feliciano, Badfinger, Steve Marriott) before getting bored with it and moving into other areas of the business.

The point is that I knew who I was. I knew my limitations as a producer and that enabled me to really take advantage of my strong points. It made me more confident, more aggressive, and more of a leader in the studio.

Do you know who you are? I mean really know who you are? Do you know what you're good at and where you need improvement? Are you willing to ask others for help so you can improve?

If you're a great guitarist but can't carry a tune, why are you insisting on being you band's lead singer?

And if you're a great lead singer but a poor writer, don't force your songs on your band—find someone who writes better songs than you. Always aspire toward greatness. Don't settle for mediocrity.

The recording artist that I manage now, a 22-year-old singer named Heiarii has an amazing voice but is just learning to write his own material. So, for his first American release, a CD called DANCE!, I produced an album of songs written by other people. Check it out at

As a music journalist, I've interviewed hundreds of local, unsigned bands who've claimed that they were proficient in writing and performing in a variety of musical styles. Rather than admitting to be a great Rock band, artists feel compelled to profess expertise in several musical genres. Who are they trying to impress?

Some of the biggest and most successful bands in the world excelled in only one single category. The Beatles were the greatest Pop band ever; Led Zeppelin, probably the greatest Rock band. Why then would a band called Molly's Pipe from Peoria, Illinois, tell me that they play Rock/Reggae/Metal/acoustic music on their CD? Why? Because they don't know who or what they are!

Okay, Kenny, so how do I find out exactly who I am? Well, here's a little checklist I put together that might help you.

  • What is it that I do best?

  • Are any of my talents unique and special?

  • What is it that I love doing more than anything else?

  • Do I do it with great ease or is it a chore to complete?

  • Do I feel confident doing these things?

  • What things do I do very poorly?

  • Can I improve in these poor areas?

  • Is it worth the effort to try and improve?

  • If I improve, will it be noticeably better or marginally better?
Sometimes, you also need to assess whether it's worth working on an area in which you need improvement. If you're a great lead guitarist and spending an extra four hours a day working on your rhythm will make you only 10% better, cut it loose, dude. It's not worth it. Go out and find a great rhythm guitarist or ask your lead singer if he can play rhythm in a few songs. Get the point? Sometimes, the overall improvement isn't worth the overall effort. And that's OK, too.

Well, that's enough for this first lesson. Knowing who you are is really the foundation on which you will base your entire career in the music business. If you have any questions, you can e-mail them to me at

Kenny Kerner is the author of the best-selling book "Going Pro: Developing A Successful Career in the Music Industry" published by Hal Leonard and available at and at bookstores everywhere. So buy a few!

You can buy Heiarii's new CD Dance! at, or

About Kenny Kerner:

Discovered and produced KISS. Also produced albums for Gladys Knight, Jose Feliciano and Badfinger. As a publicist, he represented Michael J. Fox and Jay Leno. Was the former Senior Editor at Music Connection Magazine and wrote a best-selling music education book called "Going Pro" Kerner is currently the Director of the Music Business Program at Musicians Institute in Hollywood. Specialties include Personal Management, Artist Development and Music Business.

Kenny Kerner
Musicians Institute
Director / Music Business Program
(323) 860-1122
Fax: (323) 462-6508

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