The Mindset of Success: Four Pillars for Today’s Music Entrepreneurs

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Note: A longer version of this post appeared in I CARE IF YOU LISTEN.

It is a fascinating, challenging time to be a musician.

Traditional institutions struggle to remain relevant as new technologies and new ways of performing, disseminating music and interacting with audiences are changing our very world. A new model and more entrepreneurial model of success is emerging.

What kind of mindset do you need to create success in these unchartered waters?

2100158919 79d58e88feMy sense from observing successful entrepreneurial musicians like the 4 alumni of the Yale School of Music who recently appeared on a panel in my class is that the mindset of success encompasses 4 elements, the 4 pillars for today’s music entrepreneurs:

• Passion
• Positivity
• Possibility
• Perseverance

Here are some reflections on the mindset of success and how it is manifested in some of today’s most promising up and coming musicians, Owen Dalby, Mellissa Hughes, Missy Mazzoli and James Moore.

Each of these artists has followed their own, unique path to creating success. Yet they exhibit similar characteristics, starting with the way they think about and approach their careers.

They are all passionate about what they do, they are optimistic and look for opportunities to share their unique way of making music with today’s audiences, and they work hard and are committed to making things happen. And the consequence is that they are creating their own success. To me, that sums up the mindset of the successful music entrepreneur.

Let’s examine the four pillars of this mindset.

1. Passion: I love this!

Passion underlies any successful entrepreneur. As Steve Jobs told the graduates of Stanford University in his epic 2005 Commencement Address, the only way to be truly satisfied in life is when you follow your passions and do what you believe to be great work:

“You’ve got to find what you love. …Your work is going to fill a large part of your life, and the only way to be truly satisfied is to do what you believe is great work. And the only way to do great work is to love what you do. If you haven’t found it yet, keep looking. Don’t settle. As with all matters of the heart, you’ll know when you find it. …So keep looking until you find it.”

I love this advice because passion is a powerful motivator. Researchers including Dr. Amy Wrzesniewski, Associate Professor of Organizational Behavior at Yale University’s School of Management, have observed that people’s attitudes towards their work fall into one of three categories:

• a job, where the motivation is a paycheck;
• a career, where the motivation is likely to come from extrinsic factors like money, prestige and promotions; and
• a calling, where one is fueled by an inner passion and finds his or her work to be personally meaningful and fulfilling.

It is the third category—the calling—that characterizes the successful music entrepreneur.

Thus, Mellissa Hughes described her “calling” as working with composers in a variety of styles. She exhorted our students to show their passion when they perform because audiences respond enthusiastically when they feel passion coming from the stage.

Owen related that his calling or “true north” is chamber music, with offshoots that include early music and leadership in ensembles. Owen told us to be convincing and passionate as you break the rules, to create something meaningful and to advocate for music.

And both Missy and James radiated passion when they were speaking about their work.

We could all feel their passion. So to me, that is one crucial element in the mindset of success.

2. Positivity: I can do this!

4985660916 279d3aca23Another aspect of this mindset is positivity, the feeling of optimism that no matter what, you know that you can accomplish what you set out to do.

Positivity stems from trusting your unique and authentic voice and vision. The mindset of positivity means that you inspire yourself from this place of inner trust, which enables you to radiate confidence and generate the kind of positive energy that attracts other people to your cause. We can feel the difference in the energy that is generated from those who have this deep-seated optimism. While some musicians complain that opportunities for artists are disappearing, music entrepreneurs like our four panelists feel that we are living in a world of new possibilities and it is highly energizing to be around them, as opposed to being surrounded by those who see the gloom and doom scenario.

For starters, all four musicians emphasized the importance of being yourself and offering your authentic vision.

Missy is committed to writing virtuosic music for today’s audiences.

For Owen, the vision of the DeCoda is a dedication to excellence both in performance and in outreach.

Mellissa and James embody versatility. Mellissa performs early music and contemporary music in a variety of styles, while James is committed to high-quality performance that transcends the divide between classical and rock-infused music. Owen also stressed the importance of being yourself and not trying to fit into the prescribed norms of music making.

Moreover, all four of our panelists felt that that today’s audiences want to experience something special and that live music continues to be important. They emphasized their commitment to writing and performing high-quality music, whether in a classical or a rock setting and no matter who is in the audience, and trusting their audiences to go along with their vision.

3. Possibility: I see the opportunities and I will build my own success!

The third element of this mindset of success is the belief that it is up to you to seek out and create the opportunities to make your vision happen. This belief is yet another powerful motivator that underlies success, especially in this new DIY generation to which our four musicians belong. As Missy observed, if you are outside of the mainstream, you are not affected by the economic crises or problems with traditional institutions and therefore, you have an advantage by generating your own opportunities. As we saw from a previous post, all four of these musicians went out of their way to create their own opportunities from the time they arrived at Yale, through their early years in New York and continuing to this day. It is a mindset that does not wait for things to drop into your lap but rather proactively goes after what you dream of as possible.

As James Moore commented:

“I find myself looking for opportunities and creating those opportunities and being self-motivated to make it happen.”

Owen’s advice was to create your own niche based on what you do best and who you are.

Missy felt that it was fine to be at the bottom and emphasized that as part of the first DIY generation, you have to create your own opportunities, even if you do not know where it is going.

The result is that they have created new ensembles, perform in a wide variety of venues, collaborate actively with In short, all four of our artists saw the many possibilities that exist in today’s world and have worked hard to create and nurture those opportunities. That leads us to the last of the four elements of the mindset of success:

4. Perseverance: I will work hard and do whatever it takes to make things happen.

The fourth factor in the mindset of success is the willingness to work hard and to do whatever it takes to create success and not simply relying on your “talent”. And that mindset inspires you to take risks, experiment, stumble, and even “fail” and keep on doing it until you create your success.

This mindset has been the object of research of Stanford Professor Carol Dweck, in her groundbreaking book, Mindset, The New Psychology of Success.

Dweck posits the “Fixed” vs. the “Growth” mindset:

Fixed Mindset
The fixed mindset is based on a perception that you are either born with talent and intelligence or you are not. Therefore, you cannot change how talented or smart you are. The consequence is that you do not want to rock the boat and you are afraid to take risks and make mistakes because then it means you really are not talented.

Growth Mindset
The growth mindset, on the other hand, stems from a belief that you can cultivate your talent and intelligence through hard work, experimentation and growth. Your talent and intelligence may be the starting point, but success comes as a result of effort, learning, and persistence. Those with a growth mindset are more resilient, work harder, embrace collaboration with others and as a result achieve greater success than those with a fixed mindset because they are motivated by the desire to grow and learn.

As Carol Dweck explained in a recent interview, the growth mindset is essential for creating success in today’s world because “you cannot keep up with all the changes that are happening if you are not committed to growing.” You need a mindset that is curious and open to learning and believes that you can improve throughout your life. It’s about working hard and putting in the effort and practicing and achieving mastery as opposed to believing that you are talented and that talent will get you places.

That sounds a lot like our panelists whose experience shows us how hard they worked, how persistent they were, how they tried things out and were constantly moving forward and growing.

James said that talent is one thing but “I am an incredibly hard worker. There are days when I all I do is send out email.” Owen related that DeCoda involves a lot of travel and hard work to create great relationships and continue to excel at what you do. We heard the same advice from Mellissa and Missy about working hard to network and to create and nurture connections.

As we have seen, our panelists with their very different paths all share a common approach to creating success. It takes a lot of energy to make things happen! With the right mindset, it is a labor of love and it is possible to carve out your niche and create success in this rapidly changing world of ours.

© Astrid Baumgardner 2014