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What happened? A rant about the work ethic of many musicians

What ever happened to true effort, the desire to learn and develop ones ability? What happened to the problem solvers? What happened to the ones that could look at a problem or at something going wrong and continue on in the mode to make it right or at least better? What happened to the hunger that was followed with the effort to do that extra work, take that extra step or go just a little more above and beyond? When did the laziness set in, the complacency, and when did the expectations grow to the point where some think it should simply come their way and they deserve all they want with as little effort as possible.

This may relate to other areas, other professions and other people, but right now lets direct it at musicians and artists in particular. Also note, before you get your angry emails all fired up, this is not pointed at everyone, but there are so many musicians that lack the ability these days. There are many musicians that think success should just be handed to them and there are so many musicians that just flat out do not know how to work for their dream or, for that matter, anything.

Blaming due to laziness.

So many of the people and artists to whom this is pointed at have shared all their excuses with those around them, “It is the industries fault.” “I can’t do this or I cant do that because it is harder to do in this city, this genre, this time” or a number of other pointless, pathetic excuses that are used to help them justify their bullshit. They point the blame in a different direction in order to feel better about themselves and where they are in their career or where they aren’t, more accurately.

Now sometimes there are reasons why something goes wrong, why something isn’t happening or didn’t happen. There are justifications and reasons within the industry or along a musician’s path that are legitimate hurdles and roadblocks, yet what are you doing about them? And how are you going to shift things to get what you want? This goes for the artists but also for every person that is bitching, whining or complaining about anything. Your complaining is pointless. Your action taken to make real change is what it takes to succeed. Saying you support something isn’t enough. You want health care reform? Then stop saying it and go out and research, learn and find a way to do something to move a potential health care reform bill forward or find ways to be a part of something that can directly effect your preferred outcome.

Don’t be like the musicians bitching on Facebook about the music industry, file sharing, royalty issues or which club, label or management that has supposedly screwed you over. You can be as pissed off at the RIAA, The National Association For Recording Arts and Sciences, this booking agent or that club, but what are you doing to change things? It is about getting off the passive protestor train and getting onto a train of real change. It is about being assertive. These “repost this message on Facebook if you agree” crap is not helping to bring about change. Instead, post a link for people to read entailing a potential plan and set up a document that allows electronic signatures that can be sent to the entities with whom you are hoping to inspire change. By simply setting up “I agree with this or that” non-dialog, you create a perfect example of part of the overall problem. Some people actually think posting a message on a networking site will change the world. Doing so is not a bad thing, it’s just not enough, and my hunch is it’s not changing much of anything.

The real blame and the real problem

What ever happened to true effort, the desire to learn and develop ones ability? What happened to the problem solvers? Where did the overall proficiency of an artist go? Why does it seem that those possessing the traits to succeed are so much more the minority these days?

I think it comes down to these 12 key deficiencies that many artists, musicians and for that matter a great deal of people outside of the music industry share.

• We are lazy
• We are undereducated
• We do not know how to win and we certainly do not know how to lose
• We do not have the social skills
• We are afraid of confrontation
• We are spoon fed with notions that we “can be anything”, so much so that we don’t put forth the effort associated with being successful
… Then, at the first sign of hardship or challenge…
• We are ready to give up on the drop of a hat
• We think a positive attitude is all it takes
• We don’t think about the details, instead, we just believe in the best case scenario
• Our egos have been boosted but our confidence is walking on eggshells
• We want instant gratification and lack the patience required for true success

Where does it stem from?

Different people will say it is TV, others will say it is the schools and the fault of teachers who are too afraid to point out a child’s areas of inefficiency…even more will say it is parenting. Regardless, it comes down to children growing up and not having the understanding of what it takes to do what it takes. And it may be a compilation of all these things.

We are lazy.

We are undereducated.

As a whole we are lazy. When I was a kid, I played outside. My friends didn’t want to be inside. We wanted to be outside, climbing trees, riding bikes. Hell, in my neighborhood we used to organize games in a field. We were active. A lot more children today are less active and want to play the games, be on the computer or be inside. Now this doesn’t count for everyone, but the viewership of television, the addiction to videogames, the growth in obesity clearly shows we are less active and a whole lot of that lack of activity can contribute to the lack of effort.

We are under educated as a whole or we are learning from the wrong people. When a brand new musician begins to study drums with a freshman in college, how much is he learning that is positive and how much is he learning that is negative? The college kid wants to make a few extra bucks and could be implementing bad habits and incorrect elements that will ultimately have to be unlearned. I know this first-hand because it happened to me. It took a good deal of time to unlearn and relearn things that were hurting me more than helping me. This goes for people telling us that things are a certain way even if they don’t know it themselves. It seems audacious that teachers that couldn’t make a music career for them selves teach students to do things in ways that weren’t effective in the first place. Or consultants that had a winning approach 20 years ago but does not apply today.

We are so spoon-fed and told we can do anything without effort.

We are ready to give up at the drop of a hat.

We do not know how to win and we certainly do not know how to lose.

Our egos have been boosted, but our confidence is walking on eggshells.

With all the PC crap in the schools where everyone wins together and everything is a tie, we are losing track of what it is like to win and what it is like to lose. We are losing the sense of having an understanding of good sportsmanship and how to be a good winner and a good loser. I believe that confidence and growing healthy self-esteem and worth is a good thing. But as a country we have gone overboard and are now creating a far worse problem in not allowing children to differentiate between their strengths and weaknesses. These situations only set children up to be disillusioned later in life. It’s important to know the areas that I need improvement and those areas where my skill is strong; then I get the opportunity to choose whether becoming better is important. Allowing everyone to feel they are equal is unrealistic and sets children up to find out the reality of otherwise the hard way.

So, yes… I’m comparing musicians to children who have been coddled and told they are good at something in order to keep them from getting their feelings hurt. Sometimes your music is not good – not all art is subjective – and you need to know why, lest you pave the way for ridicule, and worse, not being the best you can be.

I remember being in sixth grade and we played a game of kick ball at Fort River Elementary School in Amherst, Massachusetts. The teams were picked pretty fairly but the score was just devastating. The team I was on lost 11-0. I mean we got killed fair and square. The team that won did not overly gloat though they celebrated and we did not sulk too much. We were able to see where they were stronger and what we needed to work on. This was a positive experience on the whole. It was a clear understanding of what was good, what was bad, what was skill and what was luck. Mixed with good sportsmanship and a good work out, we learned as we played.

A friend of mine who has a kid in a local school in Seattle recently told me about how these kids on a team playing softball experienced the strangest situation of everyone winning even though it was a similar situation to my childhood. One team was creaming the other team and yet in the end, everyone was called a winner. It was viewed as a tie, the person coaching moved players from one team to the other, and while I am all about positive reinforcement, kids were being told they were amazing when they were doing awful! I AM NOT SAYING DO NOT GIVE POSITIVE REINFORCEMENT. But isn’t there a decent medium where a child can be told they are good, they are smart, they are doing well while adding the encouragement and lessons in how to improve? Hell, maybe that is where a great deal of the ego issues come from in with the artists that think they are so incredible when they truly suck? Maybe there was an excess of too much support that it actually became a liability and kept the musician from actually doing the work required to get better and improve.

With so much of what possibly could be the excess of the positive reinforcement you can witness where confidence can be so sensitive that it can be broken in an instant.

I worked with a drummer in the studio whom I asked to change up a pattern. He gave it a shot for maybe a max of five minutes before he was in tears. Literally tears. I was not digging in to him, but it was clear that he had played and performed in a safety bubble where the moment he wasn’t doing something correctly he was a wreck. We had to take a break and we ended up having him keep the part that didn’t really work in the first place, but was one he could handle. Later, I overheard him telling other band members how I had been asking for the “stupidest pattern” and how in spite of the fact that he could actually play it but it didn’t work and it was terrible. Again, the blame! This is just another example of eggshell confidence and an ego that doesn’t allow for growth.

We think drive, determination and a positive attitude is all it takes.

Again, so many people are out in the world talking about going after your dreams, yet there is little focus on the fact that in reaching for those dreams the journey will entail a ton of hard work and revisions to your path of success. Positive attitude should absolutely be there, and should be complimented through the tools and methods required to being a success, especially in the music business as it changes face and reinvents it self everyday. Simply having a positive attitude is absolutely not enough. Even those who believe in the “Law of Attraction” recognize that you must put action behind that energy and belief. Drive and determination both require ACTION.

We don’t think about the details.

We want to believe the best-case scenario is attainable with no question.

We want instant gratification and lack patience.

A lot of musicians don’t want to think about the details. It clouds the dreams. These people don’t want to implement the work and the patience required, they want that instant gratification like they see on TV, like they see on the Internet, like they believe and have grown to believe is real simply on its own. They want to dream hard and just know that if they keep the dream alive it will all happen. More of these people are the ruby slipper musicians that are clicking their heels three times over and over again but still going nowhere. Sorry Dorothy, in the music business, it takes more than the heal clicks.

These artists want to believe the stories they hear that will lead them to the fastest success, they don’t want to hear about what really happened or how long it took, or the bad contracts signed and learned from, or, for that matter, how every artist has to find and grind out their niche in creative yet formulated manners. It is why the upper level of the industry is still flourishing to a point. Many musicians are ready to sign on the dotted line before reading the contract without thinking twice until it bites them in the ass later.

Listening to the wrong people

There are hundreds of folks in the music industry that lack of experience or knowledge, and unfortunately, starving artists seek them out, setting up a blind leading the blind scenario. With the Internet, anyone can present them selves in a way that seems to attract the business they are seeking and the information being handed out is often wrong, outdated or inapplicable.

Just because someone has a MBA in music business does not make him or her a professional consultant. Ask them for their experience or a list of who they have learned from, what they have done and what they are about. It is the artist’s responsibility to read the contract; it is the artist’s responsibility to do the background on someone they are considering working with. It is the artist’s responsibility to make sure if they are hiring a coach, a producer or anyone associated with their work that they know who they are and what they can expect from being aligned with them.

The perfect gig

For those that just want to have the good times all the time, get freaking real!!!! I hear about how this musician doesn’t want to deal with the business and that musician doesn’t feel he should have to do anything but be creative. Wake the hell up!!!!!

Basic example. Some band bringing in 50 million in overall sales and only taking 25 percent or less is not a big problem. While that same band years later are taking in that 25% but only making 500 thousand doesn’t quite allot for the same sort of lifestyle. Point being: you are going to have to work and do things that you don’t want to do. No one has a job where they love every single aspect of it. Deal with and take care of the crappy parts too. Its just part of life.

Conclusion: What do you do?

It is one thing to identify a problem, and another thing to actually take action and solve it. I do not claim to have all the answers, but I do know it takes effort and execution. It takes taking a hard cold look at yourself, your music, your band and what you are doing, while assessing those things you might need to change and those things that should remain the same.

What are you doing everyday to get you closer to what you want? If you are, keep going. If not, change it. Maybe it won’t be overnight but start with the small steps to assure a brighter future.

What has worked for you or brought small successes? Analyze it, work on it and see if you can apply it to other areas that are not working.

What has to change? If you are not sure how to change the things that need changing, then reach out, find help, educate yourself and empower yourself with knowledge instead of going for that same piece of cheese that is electrified. Hell even rats start to learn not to do the same thing if the result is negative; maybe it’s your turn.

Stay educated on the business of music just like you are staying educated on the music it self. What opportunities are presenting them selves? What new methods are being applied that you can apply to your group? Keep your finger on the pulse of the industry. Just like a lawyer needs to continually stay up to date with the changing laws, a musician needs to stay up to date in the same way to be as effective and as successful as possible.

If something is too good to be true or seems too easy to be real, it probably is. Amazing things can happen, but make sure they are amazing in the way that are good for you today, tomorrow and next year as well.

Try to look at the traits above as a whole. Maybe none of them apply to you, maybe all apply and instead of being defensive, angry or in denial, begin to address elements inside you. The better you can “know thyself”, the sooner you can work to become stronger in the areas you are weak, your dreams and your career. No one is perfect and I have to address issues above just like everyone else.

Take the assertiveness and confidence you have inside with the things you are sure of, and work that to your benefit. Watch for teaming up or pairing with others who are not ready to do the work that has to be done. Surround yourself with the hardest working, strongest communicating and best musicians you possibly can. Respect the business side just as you respect the art side, and you will have a bigger chance in an industry where the chances of success become slimmer and slimmer day by day.

Good luck!

© 2009 Loren Weisman

Reader Comments (23)

this is so true......ive run a small venue and i have a band that until recently was a revolving door for musicians......and in both cases i can think of at most 10 maybe 15 people who dont expect everything to just be handed to to them, most of the musicians ive worked with put in the bare minimum and then wonder why they arent huge, they write songs that even they themselves go yeah they are ok.....and then are pissed off when no one likes their music..........i just dont get where it comes from

October 19 | Unregistered Commentercraig

I skimmed through this--not because I'm lazy, but because I'm in the middle of homework haha--and I completely agree. I'm a student at Berklee, and I see a lot of people here with little to no work ethic, and they wonder why nothing's come their way. The people that work hard are slowly but surely making a name for themselves.

What happened to the general work ethic? Part of it could be from kids of my generation always getting an award at say a sports banquet when they don't deserve it. The whole "everybody wins all the time" thing is not helping. Not everyone can be the best at everything. When I was in middle school (keep in mind, I went to a parochial school), they stopped giving out awards so no one would get their feelings hurt. I worked my ass off to get an award, and then they got cut.

We've always been told we can have what we wanted with hard work, or in a lot of cases, with no work. That expectation has transcended from middle school to the work ethic of many (probably most) people not only in the music industry, but in any given profession.

October 19 | Unregistered CommenterAmy Mantis

Wow, I should've skimmed better because I completely missed the part about kids and sports.

I fully agree.

October 19 | Unregistered CommenterAmy Mantis

This is great stuff. And very true. Not just in music, but in life.

October 19 | Unregistered CommenterShawn

The more I do, the closer to my dream I get.The more sad excuses I come up with, the more I let myself down. Dead on! Thanks for sharing this refreshing piece!

October 19 | Unregistered CommenterMartin Lorentzson

I largely disagree that this problem exists.

If you're hearing more complaining from musicians, its more likely due to the fact that there are more people than ever trying to work in the music industry, and less jobs and less money than there has been to go around.

Who, I ask, are these people who are telling crappy musicians that their work is good, and thus skewing their mindset? I don't see a lot of fake praise in music. I see quite the opposite - plenty of criticism to go around.

Blaming "PC" schooling and kid's gym teachers for their inflated ideas of themselves is a popular myth nowadays. Whats happening is just that more people are interested. More people are ambitious. More people ARE doing the work. Jimi Hendrix set a very high bar for electric guitar playing.... now its remarkably easy to find guitarists who can play his whole catalog, along with all the shredding techniques that have evolved since then. Far more people are "doing the work" than ever before.

Crappy bands have existed since bands were invented. Am I supposed to believe that, back in the day, all crappy bands were full of levelheaded pragmatists who stoically accepted their second-rate status, while slowly but surely made progress and overcame and overcame all their obstacles without nary a complaint?

Thats just the past viewed in the most popular way; through rose tinted glasses.

October 19 | Unregistered CommenterJustin

I'm not a musician or even an expert. I'm a music consumer, nothing more, but I do agree that much of this goes on in different aspects of business and life... it's the job of successful people to surround themselves with those who do the opposite of what you're saying.... because there are plenty of us out there.

October 19 | Unregistered CommenterMatt

Like all rants, this one is pointless too. I would rather have read about the particular incident that ticked you off instead of all the monologue that followed. This is not contemplation, this is masturbation.

When an artist fails at what he strives to achieve, and gives up early, "laziness" is not the reason, because "laziness" is a doohickey word that means "i don't know".

I'm a musician, and thus I believe to have an understanding of why it is hard to go the full mile, especially when you start with the profession.

In "Enter the Dragon", Bruce Lee educates a scholar striving to learn the art of Kung Fu with following words:

"It's like a finger pointing away to the moon. Don't concentrate on the finger, or you will miss all the heavenly glory."

I claim that the make-believe marketing of the music business has led beginners to concentrate on the finger instead of the moon, because without knowing better, it appears as if music is a tool to become popular - but popularity is actually the finger here, and music is the moon.

October 20 | Unregistered Commenterpaniq

I really did appreciate the irony of your thesis that our laziness is other people's fault.

October 20 | Unregistered CommenterJustin Boland

As a former music manager - I could not agree more. Thanks for a great post. It tells it like it is!

October 20 | Unregistered CommenterKaren

oh, wow! another "positive thinking/negative reinforcement" article talking about how nothing can stand in your way if you work hard, blah, blah, blah...

ya know what's more common than lazy musicians? articles like this. pointless, useless and lazy. yeah, that's right. this article is LAZY. lazy because it sooooo easy to write this article. in fact, it's been written hundreds of time on the web in the last few years.

the FACT is that the industry is MASSIVELY different than it was just 9 years ago. musicians are now expected to do everything and be everything. label head, marketer, graphic designer, sales manager, tour manager, video director, etc. to pretend that any musician can suddenly do all those things for NO MONEY (generally speaking, which you are comfortable doing in this article) cuz there's no money to be had.

the problem with music today is complicated. one of the big things you should be railing against is that there are too many bands and musicians. and now that there are fewer gatekeepers. means that people are buying more famous/known acts and less unknown/just starting out acts (that is a fact that a couple few studies have pointed out. long-tail don't work for musicians.!) that is a FAR more important topic to discuss that this half-assed dr. phil screed you just posted...

October 20 | Unregistered Commenterkj

ill be forcing the rest of my band to read this....haha. you make some decent observations, thanks!

October 20 | Registered CommenterChris Bracco

I would have to agree this is a pointless rant. I like the part on how teachers became teachers because they couldn't make a career in music. Isn't teaching music a career, and actually a very good one? With that said, if people who couldn't make a career out of music shouldn't become teachers, then who is going to teach, all of the professional musicians?

October 20 | Unregistered Commentersuldogg15

This comment is directed to the rant. You can apply your rant to just about any type of job. I know three young muscians who have through their own efforts have released a CD, now available in 28 countries, are working on a follow-up CD for relaese in December and plan to release a 3rd CD in May 2010.

Wiith 3 CD's under their belt they plan to look for management to guide them to the right lable.

Laziness and complacency? You think because one becomes a muscian laziness will set in and complacency a part of their personality. NOT.

You need to find a new group of muscians to work with. But be warned this will take effort.

October 20 | Registered CommenterMax Watters

At first glance, I was interested in the article. After reading more, I realized it was hooking me into many of the negative thoughts and beliefs I used to carry around about making music and getting paid for it. The whole thing seems to denigrate a cross section of people who are doing what they know. So yeah, this article just looks like a post a reactionary story attention grabber. Provocative, but also demeaning.

I don't need to stick up for starving artists. I finally learned how to make this whole music and income question work for me. If someone wants to make money making music, they need to define how they want to make money just as much as they have to define what style they want to learn. It's all just knowledge and time spent. People who make money from music aren't accidents. It isn't random. So I guess we probably agree there.

I love music and enjoy more than ever, I'm a fabulous player and writer (at least I think so!). I made a decent living by playing in bands for 30 years. Now I'm doing something different, and strangely related to the topic of this article.

But I'm not going to give people shit for NOT knowing what they don't know yet. Another rant telling "all musicians" that they are lazy or stupid or self-absorbed is pointless.

to quote the author of this article Loren Weisman
What ever happened to true effort, the desire to learn and develop ones ability? What happened to the problem solvers?

The "true effort" is all around us. So are the problem solvers. Personally, at age 49, I'm kicking ass more than ever.

You just stopped noticing while you are forming your opinion. Maybe you could spend some time getting to know and talking about artists who are giving it their best shot, instead of looking for the bummer stories for shock value.

Steve Soucy

October 20 | Unregistered CommenterSteve Soucy

I appreciate all your thoughts and opinions. You do not have to agree or you can call it a waste too. In my opinion, it is about identifying problems and for every person to find the solution or problem solving approach to help them get to where they want to be.

Agree, disagree, hate me, love me. I am only trying to make some people think about things they might not be thinking of. Just because one person sees this as pointless, it may be helping two others.

These are observations and also the reason why I called it a rant. I never said I would deliver any answers with this one.

All the best, to both those that like it and don't.


October 20 | Registered CommenterLoren Weisman

I'm with you on this one. There is a problem of laziness. And there's this attitude of entitlement in the air. No one is entitled to anything. I think those that realize this truth are the ones that work their butt off for what they want.

Here is a website I write for- Grassrootsy. It offers grassroots methods for indie artists to promote themselves.

October 21 | Unregistered CommenterJoy Ike

If all you see is laziness then I think it's more of a reflection on you than it is on anyone else. Perhaps that's just what it looks like to you from where you're standing. If you're feeling that way then maybe it's time to change yourself or where you're standing.

October 21 | Unregistered CommenterScott

I like how you say that some things just have to be bad, and then in response to criticism you write

"Agree, disagree, hate me, love me. I am only trying to make some people think about things they might not be thinking of. Just because one person sees this as pointless, it may be helping two others."

This reply of yours is just as lazy as the wishful, no-loser, thinking that you were railing against. Argue the point, not the person.

October 21 | Unregistered CommenterMr. Argumentative

Hmmm. At first blush, largely a Gen Y problem. Or rather, non-problem. There have always been too many musicians, too many songs. The business has always been filled with dilettantes and trustafarians who would rather pretend to be in the music business than do the actual work, often while drawing a salary and spending other people's money. Well, the gravy train may be in the ditch, but the track ahead is the same as it ever was; smile, nod and out-work the guy or gal next to you. Remember the 80/20 rule, and be part of the 20 percent that ain't bullsh*ttin', and surround yourself with like-minded individuals with complementary skills. I think it is rather pointless to complain that your competition is lazy and unfocused; isn't that a bonus for you?

October 21 | Unregistered CommenterMojo Bone

I recently left an unsigned full time touring band with one of the reasons being that initiative wasn't really being taken, at least not equally with the band. One of the problems was because we didn't know what to do or how to do certain things; yet another one was because of all the positive reinforcement and financial support from families, the band felt as though they would one day make it, because they had never been told otherwise.

Overall I think this article has some valid points. A little weighty, but it's a rant, and I understand the need to get certain things out. The argument of oversaturation in the music industry of bands and artists almost raises the question that, with more options shouldn't you in turn have better quality options? I'm old fashioned and believe whole heartedly in a strong work ethic. Although, I do not fully subscribe to the theory that if you want something bad enough and work hard enough you'll get it. The key element there is that you also have to be good at it. You don't make a professional sports teams unless you're a talented player. You spend your whole life training and practicing for the chance at the big time, shouldn't the same be for the music industry?

October 21 | Unregistered CommenterPaul

Before the internet boom and the advent of computer-based DAWs, if a band was lazy you never heard about them, they just fizzled out. I'm betting musicians today are no more or less lazy than ever, it just appears that way because today even lazy, lackluster musicians with unrealistic expectations can create, be heard and communicate on a mass scale.

October 22 | Unregistered CommenterKeith Freund

I don't see how we can compare what appear to be by your description hobbyists with people who take their career seriously.

Pseudo producers... 'artists' who can't write songs, only melodies to backing tracks, guitarists who don't bother to learn how to play chords, but call themselves guitarists...

These people are not musicians, they just play an instrument...

And on the subject of petitions and things... bs. They don't do anything. What does do something is getting people to agree with you first. THEN comes petitions.

August 23 | Unregistered CommenterJoel

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