Musicians and humility. These are two words that most musicians would never imagine being in the same sentence. In fact, when most musicians are trying to advance their skills for the next live show, or their next recording project, they rarely think of anything outside the scope of their technical skills. If we were to take a moment and look at not just the music industry, but commercialism as a whole, we will quickly find out that what matters most is not only the products that we receive, but the service that delivers them. Have you ever found yourself going back to that same egotistical, sarcastic barista every morning for your daily dose of caffeine? I hope not. Chances are that if the service is bad, you can find someone or somewhere else to get the product that you want. Additionally, I’m willing to make a bet that neither you nor I are in such high demand that we are simply irreplaceable. As musicians for hire we have to become the great product and the great service!
In light of this knowledge, we are challenged to set ourselves apart from the next musician in line. We can do this by not only our skills as a musician, but as a person who has the deepest respect for the people hiring us and their vision for the music. Rarely is a musician called into the picture to be served musically, but rather to serve others. It is this type of mind set that permeates every way that we interact with our fellow musicians inside and outside of the music. It is this type of mind set that makes playing with us enjoyable for the person that hired us, and the listener. We can apply the principle of humility to two different relationships: our relationship with the music, and our relationship with the musicians.
In relationship to the music, humility does not mean playing parts as quiet as possible, nor does it equate to weakness in any way. Musical humility challenges the musician to think about everything on an entirely different level, a selfless level. How can we play in such a way that we make the people around us sound good? A great first step in humility is for us to stop telling people what we play and how we play it. Rather, we should be asking what they would like for us to play. Imagine yourself as a buffet of musical options. Your goal should be to increase your technical skills in such a way that you can offer as many musical options on your buffet as possible. At that point, a humble musician can allow the employer to approach the buffet, take what they want and leave the rest. It is your job to present these options and to understand that it is their vision for the music that we are trying accomplish. It is also important to recognize that at no point are we losing our own unique identity as a musician. Every option on that buffet came from us and will have our personality in every fabric of its existence.
When discussing humility, it is imperative that we try and recognize what can prevent us from becoming a humble musician… Pride! Humility and pride have been arch enemies since the dawn of time. Sometimes, our pride about what we play, or how we play it, prevents us from exploring new musical opportunities. At the very least, it can prevent us from getting that next gig. If we ever find ourselves dealing with a producer, or any band leader on a project, we will quickly find that they often times have a very specific vision for the music that we are supposed to carry out. This is certainly an opportunity to adopt humility and drop the pride act. When dealing with a band leader we might be asked to do any number of things which require us to cling to their vision of the music, and to let go of our own. A few examples of this might include: being asked to play a super boring groove after you have created a drum beat of great rhythmic beauty and complexity, playing with brushes or rods when you prefer sticks for a groove, playing someone else’s drum set, playing someone else’s cymbals, playing insanely quiet so the drums can be recorded with super hot mics. The list goes on but the principal stays the same. Are you willing to walk into any musical situation and play exactly what and how they want?
As musicians for hire, humility is an invaluable tool. We need to be just as focused on the business side of the industry as we are on the music itself if we truly want to thrive. In light of that, musicians with humility market themselves in so many ways without spending a dime or saying a word. You have the opportunity to become known as the person that is genuinely a joy to work with both musically and personally. It is important to note that we will have those times when we get to just walk in and lay down some tracks without investing so much energy into the creative process, the relationships and so forth. However, the purpose of this article is to remind us of yet another way to set ourselves apart from the competition, earn the respect of our peers, and hopefully provide more opportunities for us to play. I wish you all the best in your musical endeavors.