Musicians Should Learn Career Skills Just Like They Learn Music / by Chris Foley

Part of working as an emerging musician today is developing the skill-set that can help you to gain a foothold in the profession at a time when there have never been so many people trying to do exactly the same thing, and the standards have never been higher. If you’re already established in the profession, keeping up with the relentless pace of present reality will require a continual growth and broadening of your professional horizons, even in the final decades of your career. So many of these critical skills are non-musical:

  • self-care and mental health

  • marketing yourself on social media

  • email management

  • project management

  • grant writing

  • financial skills

These may seem like things that are completely apart from playing an instrument, but the kind of careful daily preparation that can get you there is more than familiar to musicians. David Perrell in Learn Like an Athlete talks about how many of these elite learning abilities of athletes and musicians need to be applied to knowledge work.

Athletes train. Musicians train. Performers train. But knowledge workers don’t.

Knowledge workers should train like LeBron, and implement strict “learning plans.” To be sure, intellectual life is different from basketball. Success is harder to measure and the metrics for improvement aren’t quite as clear. Even then, there’s a lot to learn from the way top athletes train. They are clear in their objectives and deliberate in their pursuit of improvement.

Knowledge workers should imitate them.

Being a musician no different from being a knowledge worker. You may have already developed your elite musical skills, but in order to get the chance to actually use them, you need to be able to create a situation where you can either get hired or create your own work. Music teachers need to be able to sell a high-priced product within specific communities. Performers need to market themselves to their audience and build a fan base.

Here’s David’s plan:

Learn in three-month sprints and commit to a new learning project every quarter.

Even the longest projects are simply a collection of short term tasks. Knowing that, you should break down the project into daily increments, and create a series of daily and weekly goals to learn the skills required to complete the project on time. 

The end goal should be clear. Start by writing down a positive vision for your future. Focus on the end goal, not the skill itself. For example, rather than saying “I want to learn how to draw,” I focused on the end goal: “moving forward, all the charts, graphs, and images on my website will be hand-drawn.” 

Just like learning music! David also has a template that helps you put this type of learning program into practice.

What are your non-musical learning goals and challenges? Leave a comment below.

(Via Marginal Revolution. Image courtesy of Providence Doucet on Unsplash.)