"How goal setting can put you on the fast track to musical success"

This Article Originally Published in 1994

by Bob Baker

When the topic of goal setting comes up, it seems most musicians run for cover. From the way they so frantically avoid dealing with the subject, you'd think somebody just cranked up the new Bee Gees record.

So relax. I'm here to tell you that planning for the future doesn't have to be that painful. In fact, you'll find that getting on friendlier terms with the noble art of goal setting will propel you toward reaching your musical dreams—not to mention giving you more juice and energy with which to pursue them.

Of course, you may be one of those people who says, "Planning never gets me anywhere. I always run into brick walls and end up bitter and frustrated. No, I just like to let things happen and let nature take its course."

While there's nothing wrong with letting your instincts guide you toward your true passion in life, I must say that taking the "let-things-happen" approach too far can lead to an equal amount of bitterness and frustration.

How else can you explain the slew of cynical, wandering musicians who populate most music scenes? They muddle through gig after gig, waiting for nature to take its course, and then suddenly wake up one day and wonder why they're no better off today then they were five years ago.

If you read nothing else in this article, at least contemplate this: When you just "let things happen" with your musical career, you take the steering wheel of success out of your own hands. You'll always be at the mercy of someone or something else. In essence, you lose control over where you really want to take your skills and talents.

People who succeed in music use goal setting to get back in the driver's seat and step on that accelerator pedal known as "accomplishment." (Pardon the poetic analogies, but they help make the point.)

The good news is that you most likely already possess the skills to set goals effectively. Have you ever written a song? Have you ever gone into a studio to record your music? If so, you've probably been setting goals and didn't even realize it.

Here's what I'm talking about: When you showed up at the studio for your first recording session, what did you do? Did you look at your fellow band members and say, "Geez, I wonder what we should do now? Anybody got any good song ideas?"

Well, unfortunately, some of you have done this (I talk to local studio engineers, you know), but most of you realize that would be nonsense! You've got money invested in the session, you've had a dream to put out your own CD for years, plus you've got fans who are eagerly awaiting the recording... you'd be nuts to go in there unprepared!

You haven't done that, have you?

Of course not. You went into that studio with a game plan—a list of songs, who's playing what parts, when the harmonies will come in, maybe even a title for the album. That's all that goal setting is: knowing what you want to do before you set out to do it.

So in the same way you'd be wasting your time and money not being prepared to go into that studio, so too are you wasting your precious resources by being unprepared when it comes to your overall career. Does that make sense to you?

Another key to goal setting is knowing that it isn't a rigid science. The plans you come up with are fluid—you can expect them to evolve and change over time. This is yet another concept you should be familiar with, especially if you're a songwriter. Many songwriters I know (myself included) write using just a guitar or piano and voice.

However, when many of these artists create a new composition, they often hear much more than that sparse arrangement in their heads. The drums, the bass part, maybe an entire string section... all of it is there in the mind's ear. Perhaps you create the same way.

Then you take this skeleton of a song and show it to your other band members, explaining to each the parts you hear ringing through your gray matter. But, as you songwriters well know, the song the band ends up playing and recording is usually quite different from the version you originally heard in your head. However, the newer version is almost always better.

The moral here is this: The plans you come up with when goal setting will change as you work toward them. But the mere act of coming up with an idea, visualizing it in your mind and acting on it will drive you to create something. While the end result isn't always the one you expected, it's usually one you can learn and grow from and hopefully be proud of.

By pushing yourself, through advance planning, to head off in a specific direction—whatever direction that is—you create the opportunities from which real success can be realized. By waiting for things to happen, though, you set the stage for stagnation. That's why setting goals for yourself is so important.

What follows are eight quick and easy tips for getting the most out of goal setting:

Bob Baker is the author of "Guerrilla Music Marketing Handbook," "Unleash the Artist Within" and "Branding Yourself Online." He also publishes TheBuzzFactor.com, a web site and e-zine that deliver marketing tips, self-promotion ideas and other empowering messages to music people of all kinds. Get your FREE subscription to Bob's e-zine by visiting http://TheBuzzFactor.com today.