The Talent Myth

Am IdolDoes talent always propel one to the top? Of course not, says David J. Hahn, but it’s an important attribute to have in getting there. In fact, a musician won’t make it too far without it. But if it’s all a musician has, then he’ll find himself able to go just so far and no further in his career.

We’ve all heard it’s not what you know but who you know. Most of us can come up with a few names of people who have made it in spite of having absolutely no talent. (Or so we say.) But think about that for a moment. Is it really true? Could someone who was completely without talent keep getting better and better gigs? Of course not.

If you’re competing for gigs against some uber-talented players, you may not be able to top their chops. But according to Hahn, the good news is you can still land the gig by developing a few skills, most of which are completely unrelated to talent. They are as follows:

  1. Punctuality. Being late isn’t cool – it’s unprofessional. If you’re always late, word will get out that you’re unreliable.
  2. Sight-reading. Musicians who can sight-read have more employment options than those who don’t. If you can’t read, what are you going to do if a song gets substituted at the last minute, and you’ve never heard it? Reading skills also deepen your knowledge of music and theory, and you’ll be a better composer or songwriter if you have them.
  3. Sociability. Don’t be a jerk. You can be replaced.
  4. Consistency. Make sure the people who hire you always see you as being positive and upbeat.
  5. Flexibility. Like REO Speedwagon said, “roll with the changes.”

To be successful as a working musician, you must first make it to the level where others recognize your talent. Then you must set yourself apart from the scores of other talented professionals by learning and using secondary characteristics (social skills) so that employers will want to hire you. These skills will enable you to keep the gig – which is what all of those years of study were for, anyway.


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