The Ten Thousand Hour Rule

Posted by Aaron Davison on Sunday, July 14, 2013 Under: July 2013

It’s very important to have goals that we work towards.  Having goals motivates us to get up every day and work towards making our dreams a reality.  If we don’t know where we want to go, it’s very hard to get there.  But with something like pursuing a career in music, it’s easy to lose sight of what inspired us to write and play music in the first place.  If all we’re focused on is trying to “make it” and become famous for making music, we risk losing focus on the most import part of what it is we do… MUSIC.

In the past I used to get frustrated when I didn’t feel like I was attaining the success I desired fast enough.  I used to be very focused on trying to “make it”.  I used to be so focused on this quest to “make it” in the music business that music became very un-enjoyable for awhile.  In retrospect it’s clear to me that my priorities were backwards.  I was way more focused on making it than I was in simply getting good and enjoying that process.  Now I focus on becoming as good of a musician, songwriter and performer as I can and I’m not overly concerned with making it or not making it.  I trust that if I get good enough that it warrants other people paying attention, they will.  This approach feels much more light and sensible to me.  Of course I still do things that I hope will further my career, but my main focus is on my craft.

There is a great book by Malcom Gladwell called “Outliers” where he talks about the “ten thousand hour rule”.   Basically the idea is that most artists, athletes, business owners and so on who have “mastered” their craft, have on average about ten thousand hours of experience doing whatever it is they do and that on average it takes about ten years of consistent effort to log that many hours.   This formula totally rings true in my experience, and the few people that I know personally that have gone on to become very successful in the music business have put in this many hours easily.

Now of course just attaining mastery at something doesn’t guarantee success.  I’m sure we all know musicians who are absolutely amazing that are relatively unknown.  You still need to somehow make others aware of your mastery to become “successful”, at least in the eyes of others. 

But I will suggest to you a couple thoughts that I think are vitally important to think about if you’re serious about pursuing a music career.

1)    You need to focus on becoming “great” before you worry about becoming famous!  If you haven’t mastered your craft and logged the necessary hours that it takes to truly excel at something, you don’t deserve to be famous in my opinion!  Think about it, what is your true goal?  Is it just to get lucky and make a bunch of money from a mediocre song that somehow makes it onto the public’s radar?  Or do you want to truly become “great” and then have people recognize that “greatness”?  How you answer this is clearly up to you, but I think the latter option makes a lot more sense and is a much more noble path.  Great artists deserve to be recognized.  Lucky artists are just… lucky.

2)    If you don’t truly enjoy and love writing and playing music it’s unlikely you’ll make it to ten thousand hours.  Think about it, if you’re just in this to try and “make it” because you have some sort of narcissistic desire to be well known just for the sake of being well known, It’s highly unlikely that you’re going to put in the necessary hours to become truly great.  Because let’s face it, if you don’t truly love music, then it’s sort of a stupid business to get into.  I mean, if you’re just looking to make a quick buck there are far easier ways!

It’s perfectly normal and healthy to want to be successful in whatever field you’re in, including music.  But don’t expect to become successful if you don’t first become great and don’t expect to become great if you don’t truly love what you’re doing simply for the sake of doing it.  Don’t put the cart before the horse.  Focus on becoming great and then when you get there, share that greatness with others.  

In : July 2013 

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