11. The Starving Artist Masters One Craft

The thriving artist masters many

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**This is Part 11 of a 12 part series based on the principles from Real Artists Don't Starve: Timeless Strategies for Thriving in the New Creative Age by Jeff Goins. If you would like these articles delivered directly to your inbox, then sign up for the musicpreneur.com mailing list using the form above!

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It's easily in the top 5 books that have hit me square between the eyes and caused me to take action in my life and career as a MusicPreneur.

"So, what do you do?"

That's a tough question for a lot of musicians to answer these days.

I admit to giving a deer in the headlights look from time to time when I'm asked that myself.

Am I a trumpet player who plays cornet? A cornet player who plays trumpet?

A podcaster who plays music? A musician who has a podcast?

Then of course I'm a dad and a husband. So I do those things too.

One thing is for certain: the days of a musician being able to hold down a job doing one thing are over.

And I say that's a good thing.


This morning, a friend of mine posted on Facebook bemoaning the loss of what was once "a viable trade called professional musician" with the firing of Alf Clausen, longtime orchestrator for The Simpsons.

It's not that the musician's trade is gone now that Mr. Clausen is unemployed. His point is that this is just the latest in a long line of events which is dismantling the music business as it once was.

My friend became an adult and came of age as a musician during this tiny period of time during which musicians could hold down a "real job" practicing their craft, so it's not surprising to hear him say such things.

While people who grew up in that era are upset about changes occurring in the world of Music, younger people are taking advantage of new opportunities to share their music that didn't exist even 10 years ago.

Like prog-rocker Steven Wilson publishing a video game with music from his latest album as the backdrop.

Or Nate Maingard (previous guest of the MusicPreneur podcast) publishing a podcast of his own as a means of connecting with his patrons.

People like my friend who shed tears over the changes in the music industry are stuck in the past.

They are willfully ignorant of the opportunities to succeed as a musician that have never before existed, and quite frankly, are a real downer to those who are willing to do the work it takes to make it happen.

But, succeeding requires being more than a one-trick pony.

Can you still specialize in one thing?

Of course. In fact, it's more essential than ever if you want to set yourself apart from your peers.

But you can no longer go to the office, blow your horn for x amount of hours, then wash, rinse, repeat.

These days you need to adopt some entrepreneurial qualities at a bare minimum just to survive.

The musicians who understand and embrace this are the ones who thrive.

The ones who refuse to accept it will starve.


Musicians seem to be afraid of business, as if it's going to somehow taint the purity of their art. 

At best, they're content to let businessmen take care of the business while they do their work as artists.

I think there's a great deal of symmetry between the two. Musicians who neglect learning basic business principles are missing out on great opportunities to improve their craft.

Commerce at its core is a free exchange of goods and services between voluntary parties.

In other words, you're doing business with people you like, or at least can tolerate.

Selling is an art form in and of itself.

People sell stuff they're not passionate about all the time, and some of them make a ton of money doing so.

If they can learn the principles of selling on products they don't deeply care about, think about how effective we could be if we learned them selling something we do care deeply about- namely, ourselves and our music.


You cannot master just one craft - namely, your music - and expect a gig to come your way. 

You must master other crafts: sales, marketing, social media etiquette, etc.

Don't look at it as detracting from your art.

You're enhancing your effectiveness in reaching others with your art.

You're enriching your own experience of sharing your music with others.

Of course it's hard work, but so is anything that's worth doing.

Once you get started on mastering other crafts, you may just find that it actually helps you enjoy music that much more!

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