3357_the_beatlesSomething that I have observed with students over the years – that has been corroborated by other teachers – is that often it is not the most talented students who end up succeeding in music, but the ones who stick with it and persist. While we all hear stories of the occasional “overnight success,” most successful singers, like other musicians, put in many years of preparation and practice.  In his book Outliers the author Malcolm Gladwell says it takes 10,000 hours to become an expert at anything.  He uses the Beatles as one of his examples, who laid the foundation for their success by performing live in Hamburg, Germany over 1,200 times from 1960-64 (over 10,000 hours), prior to their “overnight success.”

While some talent is a prerequisite to success in singing, in my experience, it can be outweighed by sheer determination.  Many talented people simply give up too soon, while others who may not be blessed with as many natural abilities (and I’m one of them!) just keep plodding along, practicing and improving.  They take lessons,  practice diligently, and learn from their mistakes.

This is true when it comes to getting gigs and building a career as well.  Many times when I landed a good booking or when I put together a short tour I got questions from other performers like, “how did you get that?”  The implication was that the booking landed on my lap.  In reality, it was achieved through a great deal of effort, including: investing time and money in creating good promo materials; spending hours researching, contacting and re-contacting venues; fighting my fears to make follow-up calls; and often, handling rejection.

Although I can take criticism as personally as anyone else, I tried to use the rejection I received early on in my career to address my weaknesses and then get back into the game swinging.  Several times I had the experience where I was initially told “no,” by a club or agent, but after taking more lessons, making a better recording, or getting more experience, was able to come back later – sometimes years later! – and get the booking.

On the other hand, if you contact a venue manager or booking agent and they ignore you, don’t assume it is a rejection! Keep in mind that many of these venues are bombarded by similar requests and they simply get overwhelmed.  This is why persistent follow-up is so important.

For example, here is a common pattern: 1) Initial contact – send promo kit to venue (no response);  2) Follow-up (two weeks later) – call venue, leave message (no response);  3) 2nd follow-up (two weeks later) –  call again, this time speak to actual person! Person says, “No, sorry, did not see your email.  Can you send again?” 4) Rinse and repeat steps 1 -3 several times until you reach step 5.  5) Finally get through to manager. They look at promo materials and you get booked!

As Derek Sivers, founder of CD Baby says in his excellent free e-book How to Call Attention to Your Music: “Persistence is polite and considerate, because it shows that you understand how busy people can get.  It also shows that you care.”

Unfortunately, in my opinion, shows like “American Idol” and “The Voice” have created the illusion of instantaneous success for aspiring singers.  While that may happen in a very tiny number of cases, there are also a very small number of people who retire on lottery winnings.  For the rest of us, success in music will look much more like steady achievement over the long haul.

But, really, how else would you want to spend your time?






  1. LOOOOORRRRD, you are hitting the nail on the head w/ booking. Ha! I know very very well. It’s a full time job, quite honestly. Persistence does pay off though most of the time as does a good attitude and professionalism. I’ve had people take chances on me because they liked me personally or got a good vibe due to the way I have interacted with them. Of course they heard the music too, but in some cases, they went on a gut feeling and their gut was not wrong. Keeping good relationships with bookers and other musicians helps. Often, other musicians you know can help with referrals or references if cold calling a club. Knowing someone can help get a conversation going…”my friend Lisa Marie who plays at your club mentioned she thought you’d find us to be a great fit for your audience.” The club owner is like “oh I love Lisa and I trust what she has to say…” and the conversation can start a little more easily or even get the club owner more likely to call you back vs. if you just were cold calling and they didn’t know you from a hole in the wall. Anyhow, great subject and one I know very well. 🙂

    • I know you’re an expert on this, Gretchen, and you’ve got the steady gigs to prove it! I love what you say about professionalism and attitude, too. No one has time to deal with anyone with attitude these days:-)
      Also, the personal connection is great….mentioning someone you know or even if you happened to grow up in the same town or something can help. It’s important to remember that the people on the other end of the line are just PEOPLE too!

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