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Practical Handbook for the Working Musician, Part 7: Positive Thinking for the Working Musician
October 24, 2022

by Mike Mindel. This article was originally published on HVmusic around the year 2000.

In a previous article — " Techniques to Get Through a Gig" — we talked about tricks to get you through a sub gig or jam. This month we'll talk about something you can't B.S. — yourself. your way through life will work about as long as trying to B.S. your way through a regular stint in a band. Sooner or later it will catch up with you, everybody will know it, and the reality you tried to postpone will hit you in the face. So this month we get mental. I'll share with you some mindsets and perspectives to guide you down the trails, on the trip of your musical pursuits.

The process of pursuing a musical career, either part-time or full-time, can be an emotional rollercoaster. The highs, (a great gig, applause for your burning solo), are higher than any emotion I have ever experienced except love. The lows, (your lead singer quits, how do I pay the rent on this skimpy music income), can be as emotionally disabling as being at the shit end of the relationship stick. So it is especially important that your self-talk, that is the personal thoughts that guide you through all life's experiences, are both positive and focused.

If we all had a wise old man living next door who had seen and done it all, someone who was always there to talk to and learn from, we'd all go through life's trials and tribulations much smoother and have more wisdom sooner. But since most of us don't have the wise old man next door, we must do what we can to accelerate the process of gaining wisdom to apply to life's lessons. I find my greatest source for this wisdom in motivational tapes. Not the "rah-rah, you're O.K." tapes like you may see advertised on late night TV infomercials. I'm talking about people like Denis Waitly, Dr. Wayne Dyer and Dr. Chopra. These are people who are, and have worked closely with, the world's top performing humans. Olympic athletes, astronauts and Nobel Prize winners to name a few. They have studied these people to identify the similar qualities these top performers have. Through their writings and tapes, we the layman can benefit from the results of their years of research in a few short hours. The initial knowledge takes a very short time to assimilate. The practice of this knowledge is a way of life. This is the stuff success is made of. Both in music and in life.

Contrary to the popular misconception, you don't have to be a great player to be successful. Nor does being a great player insure success, however you define it. If you don't believe me, just think of the incredible players the Hudson Valley is rich with, that are still and will always be, incredible players in the Hudson Valley. Then think the some of the crap you hear on the radio regularly that gets national airplay and makes millions for morons.

I would like to share with you some of the words of wisdom I have gleaned over the years from my personal 'wise men'. Their words have helped me in infinite ways, both in my music career and in my personal life as well. As you read each one, say the title sentence out loud. It will help burn it into your brain as a permanent, positive fixture. I hope all of you can benefit from these as much as I do.

If you always do what you've always done, you'll always get what you've always got. Failure is sure to follow the path of least resistance.

I group these two sayings together. So often people are just afraid to try something different. We get very comfortable doing the same things the same way. Next time, try calling that imposing ad in the paper for the audition. Go to the jam and sign up and play. So what if you think everyone there is a better player than you. They weren't born that way. They took a chance. Now they're better for it. When will you start doing something you haven't yet done to get what you haven't yet got?

If you don't know where you're going, how do you know when you get there?

This line is actually out of Alice in Wonderland. Can you imagine taking a vacation, getting in your car and just driving? You don't know where, in what direction, or for how long you're going. Ridiculous! The sad truth is, most people spend more time planning their vacations than they do planning their own destiny. It can be scary to plan your own musical career and goals. You'd have to write it down, commit to it, and other people would know and, god forbid, you might not live up to it. Failure. The path of least resistance rears its ugly head again! Guess what. Do you know who lead the league in strikeouts in his day? Babe Ruth! He obviously didn't let those little failures get in the way of his success. This leads me to the next words of wisdom for today.

Think of your goals in terms of meaningful specifics, not vague generalities.

Vague generalities, due to their very nature, are safe. Since they are difficult to define, it's hard to tell if you failed and easy to redefine your vague goal if it looks like you might fail. An example of a goal spoken in vague generalities would be; "I want to gig more." On the other hand, to say; "In one year from today I want to be playing 3 gigs a week regularly with my band" is a meaningful specific. It is a specific goal within a specific amount of time to which you can lay out specific plans to attain this goal. Another example of a vague generality is; "I wish I had better chops". A meaningful specific would be; " I will spend 30 minutes a day practicing scales" or "I will memorize one Charlie Parker solo a month". Again, a specific goal with a specific time frame. See the difference? Do you think of what you want to accomplish musically in terms of vague generalities or in meaningful specifics? It's OK to speak conversationally in vague generalities. Too much focused, positive talking puts off many people. They find it intimidating and often confuse it with bragging. But it is critical that you speak to yourself in meaningful specifics. This will give focus to your positive self-talk and guide you through your musical career. Your success in music, however you define it, will be made up of a focused series of baby steps (small specific goals). Which leads me to my next pearl of wisdom for today.

Your mind moves in the direction of your currently dominant thoughts.

If your self-talk is "I'm not good enough to try to get a record deal" you probably won't get one. If your self-talk is "I don't think clubs will want to book our kind of music", they won't. Either because you probably won't even call them, or if you did , your negative self-talk would speak louder than your words. You know when you're speaking to someone that reeks of confidence or lack of it. Assume the people you speak to can do the same. Think positive thoughts and positive things will begin to happen. Take a chance. What's the worst thing that could happen? Constantly visualize where you'll be in 6 months, a year, and 5 years from now. Brainwash yourself with these thoughts in your idle time. Driving in your car. As you're going to sleep. As you watch another band and wish it were you up there.

Surround yourself with people who don't already believe it can't be done.

I love this one! I use it everywhere. Are you around people who keep finding and dwelling on reasons why something can't work the way you want it to? I don't know about you, but I don't want to hear it! Tell me how you think it can be done and we've got something to talk about. The other day I wanted to return something without a receipt. The person behind the counter was saying no as though they had said it so may times they weren't really aware of what they were saying. I said to them, "I'd like to speak to someone who doesn't already believe it can't be done." Bewildered, they got me that person. It was the manager, who did allow me to return the item with store credit. Hmm, I wonder why they're the manager and not the person behind the counter. It could be a number of reasons, one of which is that they didn't already believe it (or any challenge that came their way) couldn't be done?

My own personal word of wisdom is:

A goal without a deadline is just a dream.

There's nothing the matter with dreaming, as long as you're not fooling yourself into thinking it is a goal. Recognize and differentiate between the two.

What does this all have to do with music? It has to do with all of life. Music just happens to be one of the best parts of life. Make it one of the best parts of your life if you haven't already. It's worth every effort. Both the failures and the successes.


And now, I'll lighten things up a bit with:
Musician Joke:

How many blues musicians does it take to screw in a light bulb?
One to screw it in and three to talk about how much they miss the old one.


Mike Mindel has been a professional musician for over 40 years and is currently a member of The Bills Toupee Band.

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