How To Build a Music Career Like a Scrappy NBA Player

build a music career
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build a music career
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I grew up playing pickup basketball. And because I was 5’10” / 150 lbs, I was never the tallest or strongest player on the court. So I had to rely on out-playing everyone else. I had to get creative with how to win a game. And I realized I can apply this approach to my music career. Here’s what I mean…

Develop Your “Music Career IQ”

Basketball IQ just means you know how the game works and how to outsmart your opponent. In the same way, you need to develop your Music Career IQ.

A Music Career IQ is another way of saying “work smarter, not harder.” You have to get creative with how you stand out in today’s attention economy. Instead of following the path that every other musician does, you have to find a way that works for you.

I spent 10 years following the “standard” path of an indie musician. Until I realized it wasn’t for me. So I made a plan for myself based on what I wanted to do.

Having a high Music Career IQ also means adapting to the times. Stay up to date with the most effective ways to promote your music. Keep tabs on new tools to help you make more impactful music. Pay attention to new ways to make money and old ways that no longer serve you.

Rely On Hustle

As a smaller pickup baller, I had to rely on hustling. I had to play lockdown defense. I would go after loose balls. I’d get the rock to my teammates when the defenders weren’t looking.

I know I just said to work smarter, not harder. But sometimes you do have to work hard and work more in order to develop your skills and get more ears on your music.

I know “hustle” has been commandeered by finance bros and entrepreneurs, giving it the meaning of “work all the time, you don’t need sleep.”

So I’d like to present another definition of “hustle.” This comes from Hustle by Neil Patel, Patrick Vlaskovits, and Jonas Koffler:

“Decisive movement toward a goal, however indirect, by which the motion itself manufactures luck, surfaces hidden opportunities, and changes our lives with more money, meaning, and momentum.”

Hustle is creating momentum toward the kind of music career you want. And sometimes that means working hard.

Practice a Lot

In Malcolm Gladwell’s book Outliers, he talks about the 10,000-Hour Rule. It states that the key to becoming an expert in your field requires 10,000 hours of practice. Even though this is an oversimplification, it’s a helpful guideline.

Basically, more practice means you’re moving toward becoming an expert. Do you think Michael Jordan became the best basketball player of all time without practice? (And yes, he is the best, the stats speak for themselves).

“Practice isn’t the thing you do once you’re good,” Gladwell writes. “It’s the thing you do that makes you good.”

So what do you want to become an expert in as a musician? Do that thing over and over again.

Find a Good Team

Basketball is a team sport. When I was on the court, I relied on my teammates to hit shots, guard their man, and make good passes.

Look at any musician who has the type of career you want. Have a conversation with them and you’ll realize they had people in their corner. They had a team, so to speak.

My tendency is to stay in my bubble and do everything myself, so I’m actively trying to include other people and collaborate more. It may take time for you to find the right people for your team. But you do need a team.

Collaborating with others causes you to stretch yourself creatively, which can lead to more interesting music. As Rick Rubin says in The Creative Act:

“Each time we cooperate, we’re exposed to different ways of working and problem-solving, which can inform our creative process going forward.”

Stay Consistent

The most celebrated NBA players are those who have consistently been great. Many talented players have their moments of fame, but they’re not that impressive compared to the Jordans and the Lebrons and the Kobes of basketball.

Consistency is maybe the most important characteristic of a successful music career. The musicians who reach the careers they want are the ones who don’t stop.

Award-winning actor Bryan Cranston talks about acting in the same way you should view your music career.

“It’s a relationship,” he says. “It’s not a fling. It is committing to something for the rest of your life. When I think of acting and I think of creating and writing, it occupies all of me. And I love it.”

This, I’m sure, is how the greatest NBA players view basketball. And it’s this love of your art, your craft, that will keep you consistent.

The question is, do you view music this way? Does it occupy all of you? If so, you’ve got a good shot at turning it into your career.