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Perseverance: the Key to the Doors of Success
By Mary Dawson - 10/04/2005 - 07:02 PM EDT


It’s that elusive fantasy that all of us in the music business are pursuing. While we intellectually acknowledge that few of us will ever win the 'jackpot' of music fame and fortune, emotionally we still cling to the hope that one day we will be included in that small and select group.

As long as the music business has existed, people have been trying to discover the basic ingredients for success. Opinions range from having post-graduate degrees in composition on the one hand, to having an uncle who drives the bus for Reba McIntyre, on the other hand. (Probably both would be helpful!) In my opinion, however, there are two doors that are absolutely essential in order to enter real success in music. These doors are Excellence and Credibility. They are available to anyone, but they do require a key, and the key to both of them is Perseverance.

The dictionary defines perseverance as the act of persisting in a state, enterprise or undertaking in spite of counter influences, opposition or discouragement. Or as a more folksy definition describes it: Perseverance is a little like wrestling a gorilla. You don't quit when you're tired, you quit when the gorilla is tired. However you define it, perseverance essential in opening the doors to success.


There is no substitute for excellence! It is the first door we must open in order to have any hope of achieving our musical goals. And, unfortunately, there is no shortcut to excellence. The only way to achieve it is through dedication, discipline and lots of blood, sweat and tears…in other words, perseverance.

In my daily inbox I receive emails from aspiring songwriters and musicians all around the world who mistakenly think that natural talent is the magic ingredient for success. While talent is certainly a plus, it is by no means the miraculous elixir that will turn you into a ‘household name’ celebrity. Think about it for a moment: how many very talented people do you know personally who are much better songwriters and musicians than those you hear on TV and on the radio? Like me, I’ll bet you can say that you know quite a few. And yet, most of these gifted artists will never be known outside their own family or community. Why? Because natural talent -- by itself -- is not enough.

Talent, in my opinion, is simply a pre-disposition – a potential that you have. For example, you may be pre-disposed to diabetes because it runs in yours family. That pre-disposition, however, doesn’t mean that you will inevitably get the same condition as your ancestors did. If you take steps to live a healthy lifestyle, eat right and exercise regularly, you will often be able to avoid the predisposition you have inherited. Talent is much the same. You may have been born with an above average sense of rhythm….a beautiful voice….or manual dexterity that would enable you to play an instrument well. Often that natural ability will allow you to learn certain skills more easily than other people who do not have your gift. If you can carry a tune and have a fairly nice voice, you will probably be noticed and admired by friends and family who don’t have those abilities. But as sax virtuoso Kirk Whalum so eloquently says, “Just because you can play a soulful lick doesn’t make you a artist.”

Becoming a real musician means developing your God-given natural talent through education, practice and discipline. No matter how amazing your gifts may be – they will only become more astounding in proportion to the effort and perseverance you put into advancing them. And believe me, the competition for success in music is so fierce that you will need every last shred of excellence you can muster.

OK, so you agree so far. You may admit that you need to take voice or piano lessons to develop your talent, so you sign up and start the regimen. But then, it comes to the little matter of practice – practice that has to happen every day – whether you are tired, or busy or have a date. And if you are a songwriter, you have to make time to actually write songs – not just when you ‘feel inspired,’ but when you don’t feel inspired as well. You also have to read! There are wonderful books and even online songwriting instruction courses available today, but they won’t help you if you are not making time to read and study…..daily, monthly, steadily, regularly.

Personally, I believe the relatively small number of people who succeed in music is not so much about the amount of natural talent they may or may not have, but rather about their willingness to persevere in developing the talent they do have.

Several years ago my good friend and amazing jazz musician, Tom Braxton, was visiting with me about a band he was assembling for some upcoming engagements. He said that there were several gifted musical protégés whom he had considered for his ensemble, but he had decided to offer the positions to some very good, but somewhat less-talented instrumentalists instead. When I asked him why, he replied that many of the most ‘gifted’ musicians did not show up on time for rehearsal, left early and complained loudly when asked to stay a little later for extra practice. Tom said that he would much rather offer the jobs to musicians who – while perhaps a little less gifted – would be willing to work hard and persevere to create a show that the entire band could be proud of. Tom Braxton is a very wise man!

Whether you are supremely talented – or just average – perseverance in honing your craft and skills can make the difference between success and obscurity in your music career. As Ambrose Bierce once wisely said:
Perseverance is a lowly virtue whereby mediocrity can achieve a glorious success.

Tune in next time and we will explore the other door to the world of music achievement – the door of credibility -- and how the perseverance key works to unlock it as well.

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