Do the Best Musicians Get the Best Work?It’s a very good question. Logic would suggest that the most talented musicians would get the best work. The better you play the more people will want to hire you, right? The validity of university music programs - especially the ones that focus their curriculum exclusively on performance and completely ignore business, entrepreneurship, or career-building - seems to be predicated on this talent myth. Become the best and you’ll succeed. Why else would you pay $100,000 for a fancy conservatory education? But we all know the truth. We’ve all seen overwhelming evidence that the most talented musicians do not, necessarily, have the most success as working musicians. How’s that fair? What’s the deal?
Yes, Talent Does Matter (To a Point)To a certain point, talent is very important. If a musician doesn’t learn or perform music at a very high level, they will never make it as a professional musician. They will perform poorly at gigs and employers won’t call twice. Eventually it will become clear that this career is not for them and they’ll find another path to follow. It happens all the time. So who are we left with? The best of the best. A pool of really talented musicians who can play anything you put in front of them. So yes, to get to this level as a professional musician talent does matter.
An Abundance of TalentHowever, it’s at this point that talent becomes such an abundant resource that having a tiny bit more or a tiny bit less of it doesn’t have a pronounced effect on a musician’s career. Put another way - when everyone is talented it becomes nearly impossible to distinguish yourself among the crowd based solely on this marker alone. Employers may say that they are hiring you because you are the best, but you shouldn’t believe them. At the highest levels of the business, talent is simply not the reason that one musicians gets hired over another.
Distinguishable TraitsHere are some characteristics that employers look for when hiring musicians:
- Punctuality - Musicians who miss gigs or consistently show up late don’t get called again. Why would you hire someone you can’t trust when there are plenty of musicians that you can?
- Sight-reading - Musicians that sight-read well require less rehearsal time, and less rehearsal time means the employers save money. What is more attractive to an employer than the ability to save time and money while still maintaining the level of quality they require? That sounds awesome. Wouldn’t you want a great sight-reader if you were an employer?
- Sociability - Meaning, the ability and willingness to engage in activities and conversation with other people. Would you rather work with someone who’s nice or someone who’s a jerk? Easy question.
- Consistency - Professional musicians bring the same energy and accuracy to every performance. Employers value that quality.
- Flexibility - Which would you prefer - a musician that complains or resists every time something changes, or someone that rolls with the punches? Another easy question.