In 2015 I wrote an article published in the International Trumpet Guild titled Dream Career – Principles and Tactics that Lead to Success in Music–and Everything Else.
If you haven’t read it it yet, check it out below.
I want to help you succeed. Let me know if you find it useful!
Principles and Tactics that Lead to Success in Music–
and Everything Else
by Chris Coletti, Canadian Brass
Success in Music
“Getting people to show up to your concert is easy. Getting them to come back is the challenge.” -Chuck Daellenbach
These are the words of Chuck Daellenbach, tubist and founder of Canadian Brass, who, despite all odds, created an internationally renowned classical ensemble that continues to tour full-time after 46 years of concertizing.
For me, along with my colleagues, landing a job, especially one in Canadian Brass, was just as unlikely–yet, it happened. If you are reading this, it is likely that you have considered, or are considering this path. While it is no secret that a successful music career is extremely difficult to attain, it is possible.
The purpose of this article is to share with you some commonalities I have found nearly all successful musicians have, and to give you some tools that you can use to increase your chances of success. These are the underlying concepts, principles, and techniques that have helped me and countless others succeed–from getting into my dream school, landing my dream job, and living an awesome life–so you can too.
How I Joined Canadian Brass
The phone rang–it was Brandon–asking if I wanted to hang out and play duets. While an out-of-the-blue call to play duets isn’t uncommon among trumpeters, we hadn’t spoken for years, and besides a Bach Cantata gig back when we were freshman, we had never played together.
What I didn’t realize was that this was to be the “first round” of my audition for Canadian Brass.
What followed was an invitation to record as an extra on the album, Echo: The Glory of Gabrieli, and next, a concert.
Little did I know that three years later I would be auditioning Caleb Hudson much the same way.
He got the job.
How did we get so lucky, you might ask? Luck is what happens when preparation meets opportunity. Luckily, Caleb and I were prepared when we got the phone call that changed our lives. Of course, we were also “lucky” to get the phone call, or opportunity, in the first place. Is there anything you can do to stack luck in your favor?
Becoming “Lucky” – 4.5 facts
1. Someone you know NOW will eventually be in a position to hire you.
Here’s the catch: there is no way to know who they are.
Maybe it’s your teacher, or maybe it’s the guy who started learning electric guitar because he thought it would help his chances with girls, or even the girl who thinks the guy that just started electric guitar is a huge dork, or maybe it’s the bassoonist you always say hi to but never really met; you’ll never know until it happens. Establishing a good reputation with your peers is extremely important. Almost every successful music performer and teacher I know made a conscious decision early on to be known as a great player; someone who is positive and enjoyable to be around, trustworthy, and dependable.
2. You are the average of the five people with whom you spend the most time.
I love working with the guys in CB because they DO things. While most people say, “imagine how great it would be if we
3. Contrary to traditional advice, “opportunity does not only knock once; any given moment offers a plethora of opportunities in continuum.”
It takes wisdom to recognize said opportunities; it takes courage to act on them.
I really like Facebook’s motto: Doing is better than perfect.
Usually, jumping into action will open up more doors than waiting for that perfect moment (which doesn’t exist), or waiting until you’re 100% prepared.
Tim Ferris, author of several NY Times best-selling books, says, “Conditions are never perfect. ‘Someday’ is a disease that will take your dreams to the grave . . . . Just do it and correct course along the way.”
4. We are not a product of our education, but our habits.
Lucky people tend to share similar good habits. Successful musicians have made habits of practicing daily, staying in touch with important contacts, and listening to lots of great music.
Additionally, don’t try to unlearn old habits, learn new ones. – Arnold Jacobs
4a. What we do with our free-time largely defines who we become.
Identify the habits in your life–beneficial and not so beneficial–so you may become more aware of how you spend your time.
Attention, aspiring performers and music educators! Take advantage of as many performing opportunities as possible!! This is particularly important for aspiring educators; get as much experience performing and speaking as possible–your work will soon depend on these skills.
Action Steps – 6 Rules to Live By
1. Focus on the things you CAN control, forget about the things you can’t.
There are things you can control and things you can’t.
Focusing on things you cannot control is maddening, while focusing on things within your control is a recipe for progress. For example, getting an invitation to audition for Canadian Brass was not within my control. Being prepared if/when the call came was within my control. By focusing on the things within your control (excellent preparation, playing well), you can affect the things out of your immediate control (winning an audition, getting into a school). Eventually, by focusing on the things within your immediate reach, your influence gradually grows to include that which was previously out of your immediate control.
2. Don’t be intimidated by genius, rub shoulders with it. -Chuck Daellenbach
Surround yourself with the most gifted people you can find–it will rub off on you.
3. When choosing repertoire, use the “Masterpiece Approach.”
Give your audience a compelling reason to show up to your concert–only select the best of the best content (the “Masterpiece Approach”).
Your goal is to choose repertoire that satisfies yourself and your audience–you need them to look forward to your next performance.
“You can get ’em there the first time, but if what you’re putting on is not incredible, impactful, then why would they come back?” – Jay-Z
Most musicians don’t see enough performances, or they only watch one style of music. Ask yourself: What was the last performance you attended? What about it convinced you to attend? Was it the performer’s reputation? The repertoire? Working through these questions will help you put together concerts that are more enjoyable for you and your audience.
4. Don’t try to do everything by yourself.
While it’s possible to do OK by yourself, the world’s most successful people didn’t do it alone. Start building a team of friends that will help you achieve your goals, while you help them achieve theirs. This win-win relationship is the key; you have to give if you expect to get anything in return.
5. Track Your Progress.
The progress we make as musicians and music educators happens extremely slowly. Study after study reveals that tracking your progress is the often the single best way to guarantee, and even accelerate, your improvement.
Recording yourself is one proven way to track progress and accelerate growth. Depending on your goals, there are many ways of tracking progress; feel free to get creative with this. I am constantly thinking of different methods and would love to hear what you come up with!
6. Study, read, listen, go to concerts, etc.–as much as possible.
Whether it’s a book on Alexander Technique, a Radiohead concert, reading a Murakami novel, or taking a class on business–all of your experiences go on the plus side. For example, if you want a unique, developed sound, you must put more into your brain than just the sound of yourself, or even just brass. If you’re lucky, that Yo-Yo Ma concert you attend may find its way into your playing–this is a great thing!
Some other thoughts
Not getting accepted into The Juilliard School for my undergraduate studies was my first unsuccessful audition. I played well–my teacher on the judge panel assured me I had a great chance–but I didn’t get in.
This losing experience instilled in me a great quest to define the fine line between winning and not winning . . . was there something in common the few that got accepted had that the countless others that were turned away lacked?
Years of research, including speaking to tons of teachers, mentors and successful audition winners–plus many many hours of practicing, recording myself, listening to amazing professional recordings and attending great concerts–all culminated into getting accepted to Juilliard’s Masters program, confirming everything that I had learned. It is this same curiosity that helped me get where I am today. My advice is that you, too, track the world’s most successful people, aiming to identify any similarities between seemingly opposing paths.
Nothing will make me happier than knowing that you found any of this article useful. I truly want you to succeed! I encourage you to stay in touch via the sites below and let me know what you think. I read every message.
About the author
In addition to his career as trumpeter and arranger for Canadian Brass, Chris Coletti teaches trumpet at Brooklyn College Conservatory of Music in NYC. Coletti is a Conn-Selmer Artist, performing exclusively on Bach Stradivarius Artisan Trumpets and a Conn V1 Flugelhorn.