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30 Tips For The Typical Musician

For those of us who embrace shades of mediocrity, here are some tips for becoming a typical musician:


  • Practice one hour a day. However, feel free to skip practice if there is something more interesting going on.
  • Play the same piece over and over again. Never try to deconstruct the music and figure out how and why it works.
  • Convince yourself that taking music lessons is out of the question, since all your favourite musicians were self taught.
  • Use only tabs and chord charts to learn new songs. Never try to figure it out by ear, it’s simply too frustrating.


  • Never challenge yourself live for fear of making a mistake. Instead of taking a chance, play it safe and exactly the same every time.
  • Book four shows a month at the same club and in the same city. Don’t bother trying to promote them.
  • Take no time to set up an unappealing merch booth. Make sure to set it up in the dimmest corner of the club, away from any actual foot traffic. Instead of having someone constantly man the booth, just saunter over some time after your set and watch the sales ring in.
  • Never take a gig playing covers for fear of being average.
  • If a booker refuses to book you on a Friday, don’t ask what will change their mind. Instead, angrily hang up and add this to your list of “unworthy venues”.
  • Curse at the sound guy for not being able to hear your vocals in the monitors. It will let him know that next time he better step up his game.
  • Allow your instruments to decay to the ultimate state of disrepair. Only replace broken parts after you have repeatedly cut out during several shows.
  • Never listen to fellow musicians on stage. Stay entirely focused on yourself.
  • Make a break for the bar after your set. When you see members of other bands tell them their set was “awesome” or “really good” and quickly walk away. Don’t bother networking with anybody.


  • Beg your friends and family to come out and see you for the third time in a month.
  • Promote all gigs by posting a facebook message the day of the show.
  • Use social media only as a means of promoting your next gig or product. Don’t try to create any meaningful connections.
  • Skim through all emails from fans, and promptly delete them. Do not reply back for fear of losing the aura of authenticity you most likely possess.
  • Book your CD release party before you have your actual CD in hand. At the show hand out IOU’s to all the people who would’ve bought a CD but can’t because the shipment was late.


  • Head to the cheapest studio possible. Don’t take the time to do any research on the engineers, producers or equipment used.
  • Rehearse the least amount of times possible before cutting a song in the studio. Once inside, begin to learn your parts and figure out song structure. Take this time to rewrite a chorus if needed.
  • When mixing always let the engineer know that your instrument should be the loudest at any given part of the song.
  • If a producer asks  you to take the song in a different direction, storm out of the room and come back the next day.
  • Be as argumentative as possible. It really helps get the creative juices flowing and will benefit the music in the end.
  • Spend more time talking about an idea, then actually getting up and doing it.


  • If you play with others, vaguely explain why your the most valuable member of the group and thus most group rules shouldn’t apply to you.
  • Get jealous of all fellow musicians who find their way to success before you do. Make sure to complain to anyone that will listen about how much they suck.
  • Understand that anyone who doesn’t return an email or a phone call is out to get you and personally dislikes your music.
  • Convince yourself that if you just keep hanging on, another few months, or another year, you will make it. Never stop to take a critical look at your music or live show to see where you are going wrong, or how it can be improved.
  • Close your mind to other genres of music because, quite frankly, it sucks.
  • Always do the bare minimum required.

OK. Let’s all have a good chuckle over some of these points. But, the amazing part is, at one point or another in my life I’ve done–and seen others do–some of these things. I think it’s natural for many of us to fall into these traps, just make sure you realize it and reverse the trend. The world is littered with musicians who have never been able to climb back out again, and you will meet many of them along the way. It’s easier than you think to become the bitter 30 year old still living with his parents, or the jaded 60 year old who continues to record and play but never gets any better.

Recognizing this type of destructive behaviour is one of the first steps to getting rid of it.

Never settle on being typical. Only by being atypical will you command the attention you truly deserve.


Can you see yourself in any of these points? What other typical behaviours have you witnessed?

Image by: Pensiero

Mike Venti is a musician and creator of the Wayward Musician blog, which provides ideas and advice for atypical artists. This post was originally published on Wayward Musician on February 27, 2010. You can connect with Mike on Twitter and Facebook

Reader Comments (30)

Mike this is really a great eye-opener for any and all musicians. You're absolutely right that it is only natural to make some of these mistakes as no one can be 100% on top of their game, 100% of the time. Though, I for one am glad you did put this list together, as it may help some, as you call them 'typical musicians', to identify their week points and to work on them. I am a bass player myself and played in a gigging band in college, while we were convinced that we were doing absolutely everything in our power to 'make it big', it is really quite stunning just how many things I can check off on this list.

Thanks for the list, Ill be sure to share it with my network of peoples.

July 16 | Unregistered CommenterJon Ostrow

"Never try to deconstruct the music and figure out how and why it works."
are you serious?

July 16 | Unregistered Commenterkelson diego

@Kelson ... do you have something wrong with studying music or did you miss the sarcastic gist of this article?

July 16 | Unregistered CommenterJon Ostrow

As essay-length sarcasm goes, this was actually really damn good!! Pleasantly surprised...a tip of the hat to you, Mike went beyond snark and made something really useful.

July 16 | Unregistered CommenterJustin Boland

let me start by saying that I am blonde.... and it took me a few seconds to get it!

Sacrasm is the highest form of wit when used properly!

You made some excellent points... I love it!

July 16 | Unregistered CommenterHelen Austin

Mike, you make some good points: 1,2,3,6,8,10,11,13,16,19,20,21,22,23,24,28 and definitely 30.

Some GREAT music from some very successful musicians who followed a lot of those points over the years.

I find it comes naturally, though, I don't study the process. Don't play golf, either.

You didn't mention being drunk on stage - had some great gigs whilst drunk on stage...

July 16 | Registered CommenterTim London

Helen, I disagree. Even when used properly, sarcasm is far from the highest form of wit. It's simply a change in tone.

July 16 | Unregistered CommenterAndrew

This is great. Most of the time it did elicit chuckles, but there were a couple of chilling moments where I recognized my own behavior - oh oh... haha oops.

It's so important to get back to basics every once in a while, we all forget that. Taking a moment to assess, re-asses, and improve on what you are doing. We also have to give ourselves a bit of a break, because this kind of self-examination and honesty is not easy - but hey, that's why being successful isn't easy either.

July 16 | Unregistered CommenterAdrian Ellis

As an AE, I see it everyday. Everyday.


July 16 | Unregistered CommenterPerry Grinn

Of course the greatest part is, that you can do the opposite to everything in the article and still not be able to "make it as a musician" whatever that means. This makes me think how much of all these "Be the successful musician" tutorials actually have any sense at all. In the end it's not about skills, it's not about ideas and creativity, it's not about how good or bad you are - it's about chance. It's only about the right combination of place and time. After all Death Metal is the best prove, that you can't possibly think of a music so BAD that no one would want to listen to it. :rofl:

July 16 | Unregistered CommenterIvo

Thanks guys I'm glad you enjoyed these tips!

@kelson I'd recommend reading it one more time

@Tim You're right I forgot to mention being wasted on stage! I'm sure there's many others as well.

@Ivo In the major label days, I might have agreed with you, there was a good deal of chance involved in getting a record deal.

But today? There is no chance needed anymore. All the tools to create a living from being a musician are at your disposal, it's totally up to you and how you use these tools.

Take a look at what Jack Conte and Nataly Dawn have done with
Pomplamoose. No "chance" was needed. Just creativity and great ideas.

July 16 | Unregistered CommenterMike Venti

@MIke By "chance" I don't mean it in the context of record deal and then "somebody does your work for you" thing. The presupposition of your reply is, that if one musician does everything in the way he's... well, let me say "supposed to", although it has different connotation... + an original idea, he will absolutely, unquestionably reach the same, or close, results to Pomplamoose.

And then again, is it possible for a band, that doesn't know or fallows the guidelines of this article, to get the same results as Pomplamoose???

Because, for me, that's the point where circumstances of placing and timing becomes more important then all the other additional things... After all, in our music, world no one can say what original, skillful etc. is, until something becomes original by the people's understanding. :-)

(And BTW for me the guys from Pomplamoose are example of totally uncomprehansible chain of events, that brought them to the place they are now. I can't understand them as a result of your article's concepts... Which probably shows more about my knowledge of the market, then of the market itself and that's thing I'm talking about) :-)

July 16 | Unregistered CommenterIvo

What does your blog say?
"Currently I do not make a full time living from playing music."

Oh yeah...those who can't do...teach.

July 16 | Unregistered CommenterMusician

I used to read hypebot regularly, until I realized that all of it is just common sense.

If you follow your intuition and constantly analyze yourself, you can make it out of here in no time.

There you go, more common sense.


July 16 | Unregistered Commentercharlie law

Based on the tone of some of the responses and the general backlash-ish-ness of them, I'd say Mike did a great job.

John Mayer, one who I think we can all agree is a "Successful" musician said at a speech at Berkelee that, and I'm paraphrasing, "Success is how you define it".

Yes a LOT of this stuff is common sense. Yes there is some chance, even to this day, with every tool at our disposal. But really theres chance in everything....theres a chance you could be hit by a car tomorrow.

If you don't define, personally what it means to be successful to YOU, then everything else is lost in the wash of bullshit you've created. Your goals, define where you personally will go. Do you want to be a pop star? Do you want to sell CDs? If so how many? Do you just want to be a studio musician?

Watch starting at: 5:15

July 17 | Unregistered CommenterKirby

It's pretty amazing how people who DON'T play for a living define success compared to someone who does, or how different someone who has been doing it for six months would define it compared to someone who has been living off of it for 10 years.

My favorite is the "I have to be obliterated to be creative" concept that helps musicians block out all distractions like other musicians, the crowd, chord changes and other dumb things about playing live.

July 19 | Unregistered Commentergrant

Given what I do as a Live Music Producer, this one got my 'amen': 'Never stop to take a critical look at your music or live show to see where you are going wrong, or how it can be improved'. So many artists neglect the very aspect of their gig that brings in the MOST revenue - the live show! This needs to be learned just like you learn to write songs or play to connect with your audience when you get on stage. Do all your songs sound the same? They shouldn't look the same either. Understand that audience go to shows to experience moments, NOT just to hear songs. For more on this check out what we do at:

July 19 | Unregistered CommenterAmy Wolter

Thanks everyone for all the great comments.

Some things to keep in mind.

Of course a lot of this is common sense. But I find it's usually common sense that is ignored when your stuck in the same old ruts.

Will doing the opposite of everything on this list guarantee that you reach your music goals?

Of course not! When is there ever a guarantee in life?

But, I bet if you can recognize any of this behaviour, and change it, you will be better off.

As for the talk about "chance". Let me ask this.

Do you spend your career waiting and hoping for some kind of lucky break where fate or chance can step in and make you successful? Or do you put in the time, practice, and effort involved which allows these "breaks" to happen as a result of your hard work and not as a result of chance?

July 19 | Unregistered CommenterMike Venti

Hey, this was great fun, a bit-o-reality, hyperbole, etc, but heck dang, just hip snippets.

I would have added 'make sure you dive in and FILL UP every moment that there's a
spot to fill', after all, the singer gets all the attention, why not give the other members
a little spotlight!' good stuff

July 19 | Unregistered CommenterDale Morgan

Brutal but true. The problem with surpassing mediocrity is it's just so much work. Kind of like making money -- it really cuts into my free time! :-)

You're a fucking idiot

July 22 | Unregistered CommenterThe Kids

Wow, touched a nerve has it?

Great article, I've found myself guilty of a few of those over the years, I have to admit!

July 22 | Unregistered CommenterChris B

great write up will be sharing with the musicians I know ..make sure they step up they game if they haven't already

July 27 | Unregistered CommenterLittleOne

Wonderful post. I'd add at least one more chapter: "Public Reviews"

* If you sign your song up to be reviewed, pity the fool who doesn't like your music! Lash out at him or her, tell him he doesn't know good music if it hit him on the face (and offer that service too), and then sincerely wish him a speedy death in gutter somewhere.

* Much like in your "Studio" example, never allow a third party's honest opinion to get between you and your music. If they don't like your music, they're ill-informed and shouldn't review!

I could go on... lol

Love your blog!

July 28 | Unregistered CommenterPaul

Great additions Paul! Thanks.

July 28 | Unregistered CommenterMike Venti

This is a very bad article.
More like the guidelines to be a "really mediocre musician".

August 1 | Unregistered CommenterDaniel

@Daniel, I suppose you haven't heard of sarcasm then?

August 2 | Unregistered CommenterChris B

If that was sarcasm, it was shit!

December 17 | Unregistered CommenterJon

Your point there Paul was spot on. There was one occasion in my life where I played in a band that was definitely not to everyones taste (we're talking aimed at the 13-17 yr old girls market here) which got reviewed in a major rock magazine, 1 out of 10. Obviously, in that instance we knew that people like that weren't going to like it and laughed it off, because it wasn't meant for them.

But since then I've had mediocre reviews for stuff that I considered to be much more accessible and all round better, and you just have to put the tunes on, listen to them and understand why this person didn't like them. You have to listen and think, can I just pen this one down to personal opinion, or is this something I should really take on board, and more often than not, I find myself planning how to improve it.

This was a great article, and like lots of people have been saying here, there are things I'm guilty of, but there's nothing worse than seeing some of these traits in yourself or other people.

April 17 | Unregistered CommenterClive

I see a lot of this a lot of the time. Which is sad. I run a studio and gig a fair bit. The most important thing is building a relationship. Fans, promoters, sound guys the other bands on the bill.

When bands realise we are all in this together and start helping each other out to create amazing nights for the fans gigs will be a lot better attended. Rather than friends of the bands watching the band they came from and ignoring all other bands.

That being said there are some amazing musicians out there that have there head screwed on right

September 26 | Unregistered CommenterKyle

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