Surfing makes a great analogy for the music business and for participating and making a career out of it. They both have the elements of intent, timing, passivity, endurance, uncontrollable forces and even sharks.
Let’s start with intent
You’ll notice that on the beach there are a variety of folk for a variety of reasons. Some are there just to enjoy the water and sunshine, some to casually watch the surfers, and then there are those fans of surfing who are ready to help a surfer with a run to the cabana for a cool one, or Ron Jon’s for more lotion … the super fans.
You’ll also notice a group of folk who by all intents and purposes look ready to hit the waves. They got the board, the body type, the vibe and yet … they never go in the water. These are the people who primarily keep the surfboard manufacturers in business. Then of course you have the myriad surfers who are either catching a wave (or not). But they are out in the water giving it their best.
Similarly with the music business you have the casual observer with no intent and you have the ardent helper. Not really making a clear decision to be in the game, but they love to hang out at the table and be a part of the energy. Then of course comes the musician who thinks for any number of reasons it would be nice to have a career in music and so they think they are having one. They have got all the gear and the attitude, but never seem to jump in and figure out what it takes to participate. These are the kind of folk who keep the musical instrument manufacturers in business. These are the wannabes who think it is about being discovered. But that’s analogous to thinking that someone is going to ride the wave for you or carefully pick you up and place your surfboard on top of the wave. Some folks just wanna be famous without putting in the work and worse yet, not enjoying the process of what it takes to get the ride.
Importance of timing
Timing is everything to catching the big wave in surfing. You have to watch the cycle and know when to paddle out. If you get out too early, (or too late) you are going to miss getting the optimum spot on the crest of the wave. Early or late, you can still catch a part of the action, but not the big energy. You have to get on the wave before it crests. You can’t just all of a sudden be on the top of all the action. And getting there either too early or too late has its different consequences.
In the business of music there are waves as well… big and small. Think of the Beatles and the first British invasion. Their timing could not have been better with all the social trends, baby boomers at the perfect age needing something, and growing recording technology. There were of course dozens of bands that were on this wave. Some a little early, some a little later. Also, consider Kurt Cobain and his timing with Nirvana. Again many bands were there a little early and many came too late to take full advantage of the trends and advantages of Grunge. The Beatles incidentally rode a few waves. Along with the pop phase, they had the psychedelia and introspective fads.
Endurance and being prepared
So what happens if you catch a huge wave while surfing and you don’t have the talent, physical stamina or mental endurance to deal with the overwhelming force of the water? You crash and burn. And what happens if you don’t have the talent, physical stamina or mental endurance to deal with the overwhelming force of stardom? You crash and burn. Ya gotta be in shape for both these sports. Anything less can meet up with disastrous results. You have to get clear on your strength and comfort level. Do you just wanna body surf, or be one of the Endless Summer guys? Where do you really see yourself? If you are not up for the event you will just continue to sabotage yourself and your efforts to stay in your comfort zone.
What we can’t control
In his book Outliers, Malcolm Gladwell writes about the random timing in chaos and how it can potentially affect your level of success in any certain field. What year you were born and even what time of the year you were born has an affect on the outcome. All elements that are out of our personal control. The Beatles could not control when they were born, nor the chances that they might all meet and create a band. How random was the fact that the Hamburg venues they played and prepared in, happen to go through an agent who booked exclusively bands from Liverpool. Likewise, in surfing, who can control the vagaries of a wave, where no two are exactly alike? To a certain extent it is like winning the lottery. Only once you win you have to have had a financial game plan already in place or you’ll end up like most people who win the lottery – eventually without much money again or worse yet, further in debt.
Moral of the Story
So what can we learn and take away from this? Well first you have to get to the beach… ya gotta get into the game. Where are you in that process? Be real clear about your intent and be honest with yourself about where you are on the beach. Are you even at the beach?
Be honest with yourself about your endurance and comfort level. Is massive stardom (the BIG scary wave) something you are up to handling?
Be honest with yourself about your talent level. Get some real and honest evaluation. Do you even know HOW to surf?
And most of all, give yourself a break if you are in the water and keep missing the wave you want. Don’t go beating yourself up. At least you are in the pool trying to catch the wave. So when you start to run and listen to your personal mindful tape loop of discouragement, stop and think about the wave. Because with tenacity, some smarts and perseverance, you will eventually catch one. Maybe just a little one, but it will still give you a good ride. Just remember to smile and wave.
PS … The caveat, addendum, exception to the rule is that every once in a while an apparent novice paddles out and some how miraculously gets the timing, breaks and balance on the wave and rides it like a pro, amazing everyone on the beach. Likewise, every once in a while an apparent newbie in the music industry comes along and gets the perfect breaks, timing and hits the big time. Amazing all the industry onlookers who think this is the norm and how it’s done. This is like winning the lottery or getting struck by lightening. So don’t count on it.