Most musicians have goals they want to achieve.  From being able to play well to landing a great gig, these goals keep many musicians practicing, rehearsing, and performing.

One interesting aspect of achieving goals is that the path to success is often full of failures.  If you expect the road to be bumpy, it’s easier to keep going when things don’t go your way.

In his book This Is Your Brain on Music, neuroscientist Daniel Levitin writes, “…on average, successful people have had many more failures than unsuccessful people… It’s what you do after the failure that is important.  Successful people have a stick-to-it-iveness.  They don’t quit…successful people have had many, many failures, but they learn from them and keep going.”

The best example of this idea of “keep going” for musicians is taking auditions.  Auditions happen in all genres of music.  They can be formal or informal.  But, no matter what the audition situation, they are nerve-wracking.

I’ve auditioned for rock bands, Broadway show pit bands, orchestras, and R&B groups.  Many of these auditions have been successful–but just as many have been unsuccessful.

When I have lost auditions, there have been many factors leading to my not landing the job, including:

  • My Playing.  This is actually the easiest to deal with.  Most musicians know when they don’t play well enough to get the gig.  You just return to the practice room and keep working.
  • My Look: In certain genres, how musicians look is as important as how they play.  If you want to succeed in these genres, you’ve got to decide if you are willing to change how you look or dress to match the other musicians.
  • My Personality: If you’re auditioning for a small group like a rock band or a string quartet, everyone needs to get along.  There’s not a lot you can do if you don’t fit in with the other musicians.

Every time I’ve lost an audition, I’ve gone through an evaluation process: What can I do differently next time?  Should I worry about what I wear to an audition?  What am I really looking for in a playing situation?

The answers to these questions give you a framework to work in, so you can be better prepared for the next audition.  No matter what decisions you make, the only decision you MUST make is this: Do not give up!

The most brutal form of musical auditions are auditions for major symphony orchestras.   Every time there is a job opening in one of these groups, hundreds of people apply to audition.  Many of these applicants are extremely qualified, so who actually gets these jobs?

Basically, it’s the people who audition the most who win these coveted positions.  Successful musicians just take a lot of auditions.  But, remember: They do not win most of these auditions.  Though this situation could be viewed as failure, they simply continue to practice and take more auditions.

Unsuccessful musicians fall into two categories: (1) they never show up to audition at all (and, by definition, cannot be successful) or (2) they do take auditions but never win them.

What we all need to realize is that each failure puts us one step closer to success.

It’s like a friend of mine who is a writer.  She tells me that she doesn’t even feel she’s tried to get a piece published if she hasn’t received 20 rejection letters!  It’s the effort of putting the work out there that eventually leads to success.

For two musicians with relatively equal skills, only the player who goes out to as many auditions as possible has a hope of getting hired.

Are you ready to risk failure in order to succeed?

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