Average Is Boring

If you do something and you think, “That really seems like me and I don’t think anyone else does that,” then you’ve got to jump on that with both feet and do it over and over again until it becomes something that really works. That can take a long time or it can happen in a day. There’s that moment when you’re like, “Yeah, that’s what I do, right there.”

Ethan Iverson, pianist in The Bad Plus*

Finding an artistic voice is personally fulfilling and the key to standing out in a noisy world. The musical landscape is more crowded than ever, and the only artists we pay attention to are remarkable and unmistakablelike The Bad Plus.

In the 21st century, average is boring.

Photo courtesy of Flickr/William Andrus

As a culture, we say:
“The only thing we care about is,
the only place we’re willing to cross the street to go,
the only thing we’re willing to buy,
the only person we’re willing to vote for,
the only stuff we’re willing to talk about,
is interesting,

is art,
is new,
will touch us,
is valuable.”

And then we spend all of our money and all of our time teaching people not to do that.

– Seth Godin on the future of education


Well-Rounded is Overrated

For years, well-meaning musicians and teachers have told me that having proficiency in many areas would make me more “marketable.” Maybe this was true 20 years ago, but today we have a surplus of skilled and competent musicians who are struggling to earn a living.

Sometimes I meet musicians who hand me business cards that looks like:

John Musician
Trumpet, keyboard, vocals
Performance and instruction, all styles and abilities
Ensemble coaching, adjudication
Arranging, Transcription,
Production, Mixing

I’m sure John is competent in all these areas, but being a jack-of-all-trades is a losing strategy. When I need these services, I have never called a musician like John.

When given a choice, most of us will seek out remarkable specialistseven if they are more expensive. When I scheduled piano lessons for my daughter, we chose the studio that specializes in group lessons for beginners. I reached out to Ingrid Jensen to play on my record for her unmistakable sound. When I was ready to mix my first record, I sought out the best engineer in town for mixing acoustic jazz.

Personally, we may have a wide range of interests and hobbies, but artistic and professional success comes to those who stand out rather than fit in. (Of course, being remarkable in two or three areas is even better, like Ethan Iverson who stands out as a pianist and a scholar.)

Iverson’s words of wisdom goes beyond finding an artistic voice. Carving out a unique path and resonating with audience is the key to building a thriving career. Also see my article “Why Only is Better Than Best.”

*I found Iverson’s quote in an alumni newsletter from New England Conservatory, announcing that he is joining NEC’s jazz faculty. Iverson’s stellar blog Do the Math is filled with brilliant interviews with renowned jazz musicians.)

– ST

Reserve a free digital copy of my forthcoming book Creativity Triggers for Musicians. The practices and strategies will help you unlock and unblock your innate creativity.