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The Science of Becoming a Rock Star

Working with both well-known and unsigned artists for over a decade, I’ve spent a lot of time pondering why some people succeed in music while others fail. And though this might sound strange, there are a few physics ideas that can help you think differently about how great music careers are made.

Rule #1: Quantum Events = Music Success

Building a music career is different than learning how to sing or play an instrument. Practice makes you slightly better with your voice or instrument every day – over years, as you put in your 10,000 hours of work, you steadily move from novice to pro (see Figure 1). To be a truly great and lasting artist, you must master your voice or instrument – a lot of this work is done alone or with bandmates. But mastering an instrument isn’t the same as building a music career, and understanding the difference will improve your chance of success.

Talk to any successful artist, producer or songwriter, and you’ll discover that each of them struggled at one level until a breakthrough happened and their career took a quantum jump ahead. Just like playing a video game, artists “level up” when a quantum event happens. Quantum events include things like meeting the right producer, getting feedback on your songs from a master songwriter, being signed to a development deal with an indie label, releasing a great single, having your homemade sex tape “accidentally” leaked on YouTube, etc. Everyone’s quantum events are different, and this diagram shows you some examples for illustration:

When a quantum event happens, your career takes an immediate and significant jump ahead, bringing you closer to success. It doesn’t matter whether you want to be a major pop star or a niche indie artist, the principle is still the same: quantum events jump your career forward, and without them you will stagnate. Therefore, it’s your ability to string together as many quantum events as possible, as quickly as possible, that will make you successful. This is a really important point, so read that last sentence again… let it sink in.  

This is great because it means that building a career has to do with actively making these events happen – you don’t have to sit on your ass relying on luck and waiting for random things to take your music to the next level. Instead, you can take control and create your own quantum events. Maybe that means finding a local studio to record your first demo, or co-writing a song with someone new, or meeting the right manager. Using is a great start, because getting a realistic plan and meeting the right pros can create quantum events.

Use a hammer, not a pencil.

My college physics teacher said something that always stuck with me: “You can hit a stick of dynamite a thousand times with a pencil and nothing will ever happen, but you can hit it once with a hammer and it will explode.” If you add up the pencil hits, their combined force is greater than the hammer, but a single hammer hit creates an explosion.

In terms of your music career, let’s assume you want to get signed to a development deal with a producer who worked on one of your favorite albums. You could struggle where you are, doing small things like playing local gigs, handing out flyers and buying a better amp (these are pencil taps), or you could make a single meaningful connection with this producer who could sign you to a development deal and immediately take you to the next level (this is a hammer hit, a “quantum event”).

To take your career to the next level, you’ll save time and money – and increase your chance of success – by focusing on the hammer and ignoring the pencil. Figure out what next step will have the biggest impact on your career, and concentrate your time and money on that. If you need help figuring out where you are and what your next step should be, get on the phone with a Music180 artist development expert.

Rule #2: All of your possible futures exist… but you’ll only live one of them.

Quantum physics says that all of your possible futures are real, like branches on a tree – but the specific future that you will actually live depends on what you do (and don’t do) today. Religion aside, this means you don’t have one single “fate” – in one of your futures you’re a Rock Star, in another you’re a manager, in another you’re a plumber, and so on:

What you do today affects which future you live – so make the right decisions, think smart and focus on the specific big steps that will lead you down the path you most want. Nothing is impossible, nothing is pre-determined.

The world needs great new music – can give you the tools: a plan, access to lots of experienced professionals who can help you succeed, and other opportunities. The rest is up to you.

Reader Comments (12)

The graph seems to imply that no improvement is necessary at each of these "level ups". Simply receive the generous lavishing of those who are better than you and wait for the next one, doesn't seem like a recipe for success to me. Especially not in an increasingly competitive market.

December 10 | Registered CommenterGraham Smith-White

Eric, you manage to hit the nail on the head whilst simultaneously placing your own head at the point of the nail!

Your quantum events theory is bang on. But then you go and blow it by suggesting it's A/ possible to manufacture these lucky moments yourself and B/ that by signing up to the mysterious organisation (180... spies? Assassins? Shop keepers?) you can get help with the manufacture from a bespoke, stand alone company dedicated to squeezing money from desperate artists.

As ever, why not prove your theories by stepping aside from marketed services and by providing those services directly, initially at your own cost, with the promise of 20% or a finders fee?

December 10 | Registered CommenterTim London

There are big parts of this that I agree with. Talent level & quantum events are unrelated & their creation has more to do with social skills than musical ones in a lot of cases. I've had some quantum opportunities come & they are easy to blow. I met a guy who runs a professional studio & is a fan of my music & wanted to record with me in 1999 & he's asked again about it several times over the years. I always thought he was trying to get $1000 out of me to record, but I finally recorded with him this summer & he blocked out a week of his time & gave it to me for free. So sometimes opportunities are hard to recognize....

If there hadn't been the second mention of Music 180, this would feel a lot more like an article instead of coming off as an ad. Or even if the second mention had just been as part of a bio.

December 10 | Unregistered CommenterBrian John Mitchell

Hi Guys - Thanks for the comments. First, I have to say that the point of my post is NOT to suggest that it is either easy or foolproof to generate these quantum career events. Improving your talent, or preparing yourself for quantum opportunities when they arise, is just as important as the quantum events themselves.

Having said that, I know and have worked with so many artists who flail about, spending their time and money on things that are either unlikely to help them create the next quantum event in their careers. The point of the article is that you should THINK about how an artist builds a career differently than how that same artist practices the guitar, etc.

@Tim - To be clear, I'm NOT suggesting that one can simply make a quantum event happen at will - what I am saying is that you can increase the probability of one occurring (like meeting the right producer) from 1% to 50% by meeting and working directly with him/her. If you wanted to get struck by lightning, you could either sit home on the couch waiting for it (low probability), or get out a metal pole and stand in the middle of a field in a thunderstorm (high probability).

As I said above, if you're not READY for opportunities when they are presented to you (through practice and preparation), you won't enjoy quantum career events. Importantly, you absolutely can create your own quantum opportunities using platforms like Music180 today - that's the good news, and that's the point - if you combine practice/preparation with actively creating your own opportunities, you can make great things happen. It's about making more of your own "luck," and focusing your time and money efficiently.

December 20 | Unregistered CommenterEric Galen

This rang true the loudest for me.

To take your career to the next level, you’ll save time and money – and increase your chance of success – by focusing on the hammer and ignoring the pencil. Figure out what next step will have the biggest impact on your career, and concentrate your time and money on that.

Great post!

This would be a better post if it wasn't an advertisement.

December 29 | Unregistered CommenterMatt Sokol

When you take it in the contexy of an advert, you realise it's as truthful as double glazing commercials. Sure, there may be baseline truths, but it's all about the cream.

January 2 | Unregistered Commenterbilbo

There are so many criteria to success. Money is actually the most important.

And yes this feels like advertising for Music180. If not there could have been mention of a few more sites or people, who offer services for money.

January 2 | Unregistered CommenterLauren Greu

Eric Galen is the CEO & founder of Music180, so yup, it's basically an ad. BUT- he's right about the "hammer/pencil" thing, and doing something serious to succeed. I've struggled with getting this concept across to band-mates forever. For example: I'm an artist often compared to Steve Vai, so should I spend 15 hours this week trying to get yet another crappy bar gig (where no one knows who Vai is & certainly won't understand my original music), or should I use the time to make personal contact with Steve Vai's manager? One would think the answer is obvious, but I have a novel's worth of horror stories about opportunities lost over the years due to band-mates ignorance.

And it may take several weeks of trying to make the "big time" connection, but if you're ready (and you damned well better be) it will be that quantum event that will move your career forward. And honestly, each of these "quantum" events can be a series of smaller, near-quantum events, too. You just need to aim pretty high, and go for it if you're really ready.

January 4 | Registered CommenterClark Colborn

I think my brain just did a quantum leap. Thanks for explaining this in a way that gave me a fresh perspective on what I thought I already knew!

January 6 | Unregistered CommenterMojo

Something that never fails to get my back up is the way science is constantly trundled out by advertisers in a (hopefully vain) attempt to impress potential clients into signing up to whatever service, usually taking the form of a display of apparent intelligence through the (ultimately redundant) comparison of a basic idea to advanced scientific principles. This can be seen in everything from this post to email spam with titles like 'U CN LASSST LONGAR SYENTIFKLY PRUVENxxxxDISCOWNTS 4 LIMITED TYM', not to mention the 'pick up chicks' sites that sprang up like smooth-talking, science-related-gibberish spouting warts a few years ago, and for those such as myself who can see through such rubbish it only serves to devalue the product advertised to the point of absurdity. For me, 'music180' is definately on my mental list of companies to avoid.

January 8 | Unregistered CommenterAnon...

This is a great post! If MTT allowing authors to plug their site/product/band/whatever produces good content, then more power to 'em. Quite common in print magazine, btw.

Again, nice post. Excellent insight!

January 10 | Unregistered CommenterJP

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