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For almost 10 years, I’ve had the opportunity to work with famous musicians. First by writing about them and interviewing them for the music blog I founded and ran for a few years, afterwards by changing camps and starting to promote indie artists – especially rappers.
I’ve had the opportunity to get to know them really well, from the early days when nobody knew who they were, throughout their whole ascension, up to the point where every single person in the country knew them. Their songs played whenever you turned on the top radio stations, they were on the covers of the big magazines, toured and sold out stadiums where the public knew and sang along all their lyrics, and some fans were even getting tattoos to show how much they love them.
They thought the good times will last forever.
They foolishly thought future singles and albums will have the same success as the previous ones.
They expected brands to keep coming with sponsorship offers and throw money at them.
They believed all their social media channels will continue to grow and gather tens of thousands of positive reactions forever, and that the media will always love them.
They recklessly threw money on things they wouldn’t normally need or afford (by the way, a few days ago I discovered on Twitter an interesting way to define what you can’t afford: it’s something you can’t buy twice).
And, sadly, I’ve also witnessed their fall. They went back to a phase where nobody cared about them. Bitter, poor and frustrated, they blamed the system, saying that the game is rigged.
Instead of learning from all the cautionary tales of those who’ve been previously been on the same journey, they let their egos take control over them. They thought they’re special, that it will be different for them. It wasn’t.
This has been a recurring theme in the conversations I’ve had in the past few weeks. While I decided to “retire” from the music business more than a year ago, I’ve remained close friend to a handful of artists. I also became familiar with the world of endurance sports and now I’m watching high performing athletes follow a similar pattern: reaching the summit and acting like they’ll remain there forever.
While this is definitely not true only for athletes and musicians, it’s certainly more visible and extreme in their fields.
Here’s what set apart the ones who succeeded:
– They were a walking history book. They were so passionate by music, that they studied all those artists who’ve been on the same path before. They studied what they did right, what factors mattered in their success, but they also studied their mistakes. They observed the differences between those who were once considered the best in the business, and how they ended up so badly – where did they f*ck it up?
– They didn’t fool themselves and arrogantly presume that in their case it will be different, that they will know better. They were painfully aware that success doesn’t last forever and they only have a small window of opportunity to take advantage of, so they planned accordingly.
– They had a purpose that was bigger than their identity, and they capitalized on the attention they were getting. They used the money to build businesses that bring value and make a difference in the lives of people they cared about. For some, this type of contribution translated in creating record or production labels that would support the new generation of musicians. For others, it meant access to education or connecting those in need to a community that can empower them.
– They imagined all possible situations and how things can go wrong. They anticipated and thought about how they’ll handle the struggles. Hope for the best, but prepare for the darkest days!
– They set higher and higher goals for themselves. They visualized where they’d want to be 20 years ahead, identified what skills they need to work on in order to get to the next level, and prioritized time spent learning more or talking to people who can mentor them.
– They made sure those businesses are independent and will succeed no matter what happens to their musician careers. In the meantime, most musicians only focused on creating merchandise with their own brand, or attracting sponsors, forgetting that fame comes and goes just as fast.
– They knew their weaknesses. Instead of pretending to be gods, they had a beginners mindset. They looked for business partners with complementary skills. For example, if they were highly creative, but impulsive, they tried to work with people with analytical and strategic thinking.
– And, most importantly, they didn’t surround themselves with “yes-men” who’d always agree with them and avoid telling them the hard truth. They preferred people who challenged them and could bring a new perspective, help them become aware of their blind spots.
So, tell me: how can you learn and apply these lessons in your own life? How can you override your ego, have a stoic approach and plan for the long term instead of getting lost in toxic vanity? And who’s going to deliver you the hard truth when you need it more?
“When you’re a young kid, you’re like, I wanna be a millionaire! I wanna be a billionaire! And then you realize, making five grand is really fucking hard. And your perspective on making millions to billions of dollars is completely changed. So you start to reevaluate and set new goals. What number is enough for me? I was very lucky to start passing those numbers when I was twenty-seven. At thirty, you start seeking people out that have so much more than you financially. All right, when do I stop being hungry for this? Because I’m confused now. I didn’t get any of the satisfaction when I hit my number. I thought when I hit my number, I’d feel something. And I felt nothing, and that was depressing. My life didn’t change. I just had more in my bank account. What the fuck? That’s when David Geffen told me to read that poem “Ithaka,” which is about the journey. It’s always about the journey. And he said something to me I’ll never forget. He said: “Hundred years from now, no one’s gonna remember me, and sure as hell no one’s gonna remember you.” And I realized, he’s right. No one’s gonna remember me. But they’ll feel my impact, and that’s good enough for me.” (Scooter Braun)
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