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Essential Skills For An Aspiring Star
By Suzanne Glass
http://www.indie-music.com

Lately, I have been studying successful musicians. You know, the BIG stars, like Madonna, Elton John, Aerosmith, or the Rolling Stones. Or even the spur-of-the-moment successes like Ricky Martin.

Why does someone like Sheryl Crow or Jewel make it big, while other equally talented artists are stuck in the garage? What skills and personality characteristics does the artist possess in order to thrive in that insane major-label lifestyle? (You think you're busy NOW trying to make a living with your music? Imagine if an entire staff of Sony Music Executives was on your food bill!)

Some of their success may well be the result of huge marketing dollars spent by the record companies, I know you're thinking that! But there has to be a reason the record labels pick the artists they do, why the public responds to certain artists so stongly, and even why some people respond to fame better than others.

I think there is definitely such a thing as "star quality". We've all met people, in all walks of life, who have it. It is a certain charisma, drama, or excitement that comes from inside. But star quality alone isn't enough. If it were, there would be no junkies, criminals, and loser politicians who also have "star quality".

Success requires recognizing and developing a complete set of skills, from social skills to business skills. It requires you to be active as opposed to passive. It requires commitments of both time and energy. It may require compromise.

Remember that the world of commercial music is driven by cash flow, like it or not. If you chose to compete in that arena, you will have to deal with the business to get to the music you love. (Note that you do not HAVE to make this choice to be a happy, satisfied musician. You can choose to focus on the music, and the business be damned. Just don't expect to get rich if you takes this route.)

It might be useful to think of the musician-self in two parts: The Artist and The Entertainer.

Your Artist side is the profound, thoughtful part. The part that writes most of the songs, the part that feels a choked back tear while singing a sad song. Your Artist side is focused inwards. It believes fiercely, gets wounded, gets angry. And The Artist couldn't care less about money, it's PRINCIPLE, baby!

Your Entertainer side is your public persona. The part that gets jazzed up about being in front of people and making them happy. Your Entertainer side is focused outwards. Entertainment is a business service you provide to other people. Artists create, and Entertainers make money.

Why are The Artist and The Entertainer important? Because you need both skills to succeed in today's music business.

You have to be able to write incredible songs and produce them flawlessly. You need to give a heart-felt performance on a moment's notice. You need to have solid chops and a groove with your band. All tasks for your Artist side.

But you also need to call club bookers (over and over), read bad reviews, put on a great show when you're sick, and tirelessly promote your music. This is where the Entertainer steps in and handles things smoothly. The Entertainer is a somewhat detached mindset that doesn't get depressed, burnt out, or bitter. He just keeps on doing his job... entertaining the public.

Looking at these big stars, I think they must all have a healthy Entertainer side. That's what allows them to succeed in all the social/communication areas of the business. What keeps them going for the fifth interview of the day, and all the other crap that has nothing to do with music and everything to do with marketing.

On the other hand, when an artist has "made it", the pressure to keep producing sellable music is huge. So The Artist side has to be healthy and ready to create on demand. You may be asked to hit the road for nine straight months, then make a world class album immediately following the grueling tour.

What it all boils down to is that these mega stars have to be on top of their game, both artistically and business-wise. It is essential to create a balance between music and business. This sounds a lot like the time honored rule given to indie artists to spend 50% of their time on music, and 50% on business, just on a larger scale. And it's sound advice you can apply to your own music career.

First make sure your psyche is in the right place. You know, screw your head on right! Be honest with yourself regarding what things you are and aren't willing to do to be successful with your music.

Then, make a plan. Map out how you will improve your skills in both business and art. Put it on paper. Be sure you are following the 50% business - 50% music rule.

Make sure you honor your business commtiments and always act professionally. Read books and research on the internet to learn as much about business as you can. Don't be afraid to ask for guidance from people you respect.

Just as important, make sure you keep your artist side healthy and creative. Take days off, take walks in nature, take time to noodle around that song idea that just popped into your head. That keeps your Artist in good shape and increases the creative pool inside you.

Being a famous musician is not a "normal" life. To survive and thrive requires a special set of skills. The good news is those skills can be learned and developed. Every bit you learn now will benefit your career plan down the road. Believe in yourself, and never stop improving. Your hard work will pay off.

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