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Seth Godin’s Message to Musicians at the Manhattan School of Music

Yesterday, I was lucky enough to see marketing guru, author and lecturer Seth Godin speak to a room full of dedicated musicians at the Manhattan School of Music.  I think it’s safe to say that many of the people in the room were unpleasantly surprised by what he said. However, his overall message turned out to be a very positive one. Here is a quick review of some of the key points of his lecture:

1) Most of the people in the audience are being scammed. Mr. Godin began to describe what he called “the music factory.” Music schools, and really the educational system in general, are essentially built to encourage more people to become “factory workers.” What does this mean?  The creation of recorded music led to a massive change in the way the music industry functions. It used to be that your only opportunity to hear a piece of music was to see it performed live. Many people would never see the same piece performed twice in their lifetimes. Now, there are hundreds of recordings of the same piece easily accessible on the Internet and often for free. There is almost no demand left for performances of music that is 50 years old and older. Yet at music school, teachers enforce the method of spending hours and hours learning old music. As Mr. Godin said, there will almost always be 100 people who can play an old piece better than anyone in the room. And besides, learning to play old music off of the page isn’t truly a creative process. It’s a factory process. It is highly unlikely to get you anywhere in today’s market.

2) Our “lizard brain” makes us feel apprehensive and often stops us from being brave and doing something new and unexpected. Mr. Godin described our lizard brain, a concept that stems from the amygdala, the part of our brain that makes us feel nervous. However, in today’s world, we are unlikely to face the same threats that made the amygdala so useful, for example, escaping from predators and staying away from cliffs. Mr. Godin suggests that we do the opposite of what our lizard brain is telling us. He tells us to be bold, get naked and expose ourselves, fail over and over in an attempt to do something new and truly creative. This is how to get noticed in today’s world.

3) if musicians can learn to overcome the factory and do something new instead, there is an incredibly positive and hopeful future in store for them.  Today’s market is a niche market. It’s no longer about appealing to the masses, but rather about finding a smaller group of people who truly love what you do. Mr. Godin describes the concept of having 10,000 true fans. If you have just 10,000 people who are absolutely devoted to your art, they can sustain you for the rest of your life. Just imagine, if you had just 10,000 people who would buy your album for $10, well, you do the math. 10,000 may seem like a small number at first, but it isn’t so bad after all.  While he was in college, Mr. Godin realized that if he simply sacrificed getting A’s in all his classes for B’s instead, he could spend 10 additional hours a week working on projects that he was truly passionate about. Do what you are passionate about, not what the factory tells you to do. Instead of spending 8 hours each day learning old music and hanging onto a thread of a chance that you might be that one person who gets to perform Beethoven at Carnegie Hall, do something new and exciting. Be you. Find the people throughout the world who love what you are doing.

As Seth Godin ended his lecture, “I hope you all go out and create a ruckus.”

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