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Dream Or Delusion?
(Do you have what it takes to make it in the music business?)

by Michael Anderson

In a recent series of articles I have walked a line between straight technical information and the more creative aspects of songwriting. This article is going address both issues from a slightly different perspective – is your desire for a career in the music business a dream or a delusion?

Very often in consultations with students or people starting out in the business they will ask me a variation of the question, “Do you think I have what it takes to make it in this business?”
It is a normal, sane question.

But like most of life, there is no easy answer. As I mention in my “Little Black Book of Songwriting”, I have seen incredibly talented people fail in this business, and I have seen marginally talented people succeed.

I often hear music business people say “so and so doesn’t have a chance” or “wow, that writer / artist / singer / whatever is really bad”. I cringe inside when I hear that because I heard it said about me when I was starting.

Part of my motivation over the years has been proving “them” wrong. Clint Eastwood in “The Outlaw Josey Wales” says to a little old lady when they are under attack and outnumbered that sometimes “You just gotta get plain mad dog mean” in order to survive.

Notice that the old saying “survival of the fittest” doesn’t say “survival of the smartest”, “survival of the most talented”, “survival of the fortunate”, or “survival of the ones with the most advantages”.

Nobody starts out in this business great. Life and all skills are a learning process. Even if you are born with a natural talent, once you get to a professional level, that talent needs developing.

Everybody has to work. The truly great make it look easy – watch Fred Astaire dance, Jimi Hendrix solo, or the Beatles live – what doesn’t show are the hours and hours of practice, hard work, study, and mistakes it took to get there. Try to do what they did and you will see how difficult it is.

Motivation has to come from inside. The desire to create, to excel, to be the best at your craft has to come from someplace inside you that is willing to do whatever it takes to be that good. Nobody can teach you that, nobody should be able to take that away.

It can be discouraging to hear people tell you that the business is too difficult; you don’t have what it takes. The accounts of all the greats are littered with people telling them they couldn’t do it. But somebody does do it – could that be you?

Often, the most damaging criticism comes from those closest to us. People who “care about us”, who are “only thinking of our good”. Often family, friends, loved ones, and partners in romantic relationships can make us feel guilty and inadequate – like a failure.

But everyone is a failure until they are a success – often in this business there is no middle ground – a broke, struggling, starving musician / writer / singer until that first hit – then you are “there”. It’s like that old joke - Q: “What do you call a musician without a girlfriend? A: Homeless”. Funny because it’s true.

Not many other businesses are that extreme. It takes a certain amount of what is perceived as “dysfunction” in order to do this. The clinical definition of insanity is doing the same thing over and over and expecting different results. Of course, that is a good definition of songwriting also.
If you are willing to pay that price are you delusional?

I think everybody has a dream. Some people are not willing to pay for it. In the end, they die. Some people are willing to pay for it, go for it, and suffer for it. In the end, they die.

But at the end, which would you rather be, the one who never tried and gave up and lived a life of quiet desperation, or the person who tried and failed? Only the one who tried had a chance of success.

Reality has its way anyway. If you are not successful in the way you desire when you start out you may find a direction along the way that works even better for you. A lot of music business professionals start out in bands or as performers and end up in other areas of the business. You find your path by setting out on the road after your dream, not sitting home wishing.

So is your dream a delusion? I can’t tell you – nobody can. You have to get out there, go to work, take your shots, learn your craft, compete, and get “mad dog mean” when somebody tries to take your dream away.

This article is reprinted by permission of the author, Michael Anderson. For more great articles on the craft of songwriting, visit his website at:


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