Seven characteristics shared by the most successful people in the music industry

By Preshias Harris

Being proactive is not the same as merely being active. When you are proactive, you take action in advance of a situation. That might mean taking action to make a good situation even more beneficial to you, or taking action to prevent or minimize the effects of a bad situation.

Here are two scenarios:

You've been asked to open for a fairly well-known act in a nearby town, and, although the money isn't great, it could be an opportunity to make more people aware of who you are and what you do.

Scenario # 1. The 'reactive you' thinks, "Yeah that's cool." You're pretty sure you know where that town is, and anyway, how hard could it be to find the venue when you get there? No problem.

You know a whole bunch of songs by heart, even though you haven't performed some of them in a while. Even if you forget a few of the words, it's no big deal. People won't mind. And they've probably got a sound guy who knows what he's doing, so that's their concern, not yours.

On the day of the show, traffic is pretty bad and then you get lost a couple times because you felt sure you didn't need directions. You show up just minutes before the show and run to the bathroom to fix your hair. You notice the sweat rings under your arms and wish you'd brought an extra shirt.

You make it to the stage and only then do you realize you've got a broken string and the sound guy hasn't laid out a cord to plug into your guitar. Huh! Some sound guy he is. He should have thought of that. But it gives you time to replace your broken string while he finds the cord. Not too many people in the crowd tonight, and they're getting restless as the show is now running late, but finally you start to perform. You can't hear yourself in the monitor and you have to keep stopping to signal the sound guy to pot it up.

You're about to start your big final number, the best one in your repertoire, when the promoter walks on stage applauding and signaling that it's the end of your set which has already overrun. Darn it. You never got to do your best song. As you leave the stage, someone asks if you have any CDs for sale. Oops. They're all in a box at home, with your business cards and promo material. Hopefully you've got enough gas in the tank to get home…

Scenario # 2. The 'proactive you' begins making plans as soon as you get the call, starting with mapping directions to the venue and figuring how long it will take to get there. You ask the promoter how much time has been allotted for your set and ask if she has any specific requirements about the music you will perform. You ask how and when you'll be paid. You ask for contact info on the sound engineer who'll be operating the board that night, and make a note to talk to him in advance about your mic and monitor needs.

You would like the local news outlets to know about your appearance, so you identify the print and broadcast media in that city. About two weeks before the show, you send them a brief paragraph, including the date, time and location of your performance, and request that they include it in their upcoming events calendar. You also find the name of the reporter(s) who cover the music scene and personally invite them to come and see you play. Even if the promoter is advertising the show, you are in control of your own publicity.

You carefully review your playlist; which song should you start with? Which is the best one to finish with? Which one will you drop if there are time constraints? You practice each song, even though you already know them well. You put together a box containing CDs and any other merch you hope to sell at the show, and make sure you have business cards and any other promotional materials. Plus extra guitar strings, just in case.

You make sure that details about the upcoming show are on your website and on social media, where you encourage family, friends and fans to spread the word, so you have a better chance of having an enthusiastic reception.

On the day of the show, you arrive early. You make contact with the promoter and go over the final details of your slot in the show. You confirm your payment agreement. You get with the sound guy in plenty of time so that, together, you can review and set the optimum sound levels you'll need. You set up your merch table and you're cool, calm and collected when the MC announces your name.

In Scenario # 1, you are reactive. Stuff happens and when it does you have no choice but to try and deal with it. It just seems that one thing after another is thrown in your way and you hadn't seen any of them coming.

In Scenario #2, you are proactive. You plan how to turn this event to your advantage by contacting news outlets and taking advantage of social media. You bring plenty of merchandise and promotional material. You also anticipate potential problems by rehearsing your playlist and making sure that the audio engineer will help you sound your best on stage.

Striving to be proactive is beneficial in every aspect of your life, particularly when you are determined to succeed in the music business. Successful people habitually think proactively; they consider what might go wrong and they have a plan to deal with it when it does. Problems, sometimes serious problems, will rear up unexpectedly, but the proactive person isn't fazed because he or she knows they will and is prepared to minimize the effects or work around them.

Similarly, preparing to take advantage of favorable opportunities is another trait of the proactive person. I've heard it said of one successful female star, "She's so lucky!" Perhaps luck had something to do with it. But when you are prepared, when you have plans in place, when you are proactive, it's amazing how 'lucky' you can get. This particular young lady was remarkably proactive in everything she did, and when opportunity came knocking, she was totally ready to answer the call.

You can become proactive by thinking and acting ahead of anticipated events and using foresight to avert disasters and turn every eventuality to your advantage. Make a pledge to yourself to take at least one proactive step along your career path every single day.


Successful people maintain a positive attitude. This doesn't mean they adopt a 'Pollyanna' approach, being unreasonably or illogically optimistic. They simply know that they can achieve their goals some way or somehow, even if the exact path isn't immediately in front of them.

Maintaining a positive frame of mind can be the hardest task for many artists and songwriters. One reason: unlike most 'regular jobs,' a career in music, particularly songwriting, can feel like a very solitary enterprise. There's nobody at the next desk in the office or beside you on the factory floor. Lonesomeness breeds negativity. That's one more reason to stay close with other writers and artists who share your passion, and why so many major hits are the collaborative work of two or more writers.

It's also important to avoid the company of 'doomsayers' (including certain family members and so-called friends) who want nothing more than to pick holes in your creative aspirations. There will always be people who will seem to take pleasure in saying, "See! I told you so," whenever you encounter a potential problem on your career path. Certainly, things won't always go the way you wanted or expected, but you will find a way around the problem if you focus on the solution, not the problem.

Successful people in every walk of life know that developing and maintaining a positive attitude actually helps them achieve their goals and attain success. It produces a cycle of energy that flows from you to those around you and then back to you, re-energizing your own efforts. To put it another way, your positive attitude inspires and motivates others and their positive vibes reinvigorate your own frame of mind.

Thomas Edison, one of America's most positive men, said, "I have not failed. I've just found 10,000 ways that won't work." He regarded each so-called 'failure' as simply a step closer to a solution that he absolutely, positively knew was out there, waiting to be found.

More recently, Bob Mankoff, cartoon editor at the New Yorker magazine, was asked by an aspiring cartoonist, "How many cartoons should I draw each week?" Mankoff replied, "Ten." Why ten? "Because," he explained, "Nine out of ten things in Life don't work out. The way you get GOOD ideas is by getting a lot of BAD ideas."

And have you noticed that positive people seem to 'get all the breaks' that somehow elude negative people? Coincidence? I don't think so!

Preshias Harris is a music journalist and music career development consultant with the emphasis on new and aspiring artists and songwriters. Her book, 'The College of Songology: The Singer/Songwriter's Need to Know Reference Handbook' is available at www.collegeofsongology.com Follow her blog at www.nashvillemusicline.com