As musicians and music fans we experience many of the same feelings. As years go by, you will constantly be learning your craft, you may even change your instrument of choice, the genre you play, or even go through fads were you decide you are going to master jazz or classical pieces, even though your band plays metal. As these change you may find yourself getting annoyed with band mates, the material you are playing or the region you are playing in.
In the professional business world people are taught to pick one specific concentration and become as fluent and knowledgeable in it as possible. Such as choosing your major in college education, finding a career with that focus and then working a lifetime constantly growing, being promoted and becoming and expert in your field. But is this the same for musicians? What creates a more successful musician, one who is well rounded, been here and there, played keys in one band, guitar/vocal in another, and plays bass now, or one that has always and only been lead guitar since they began playing 15 years ago? Unlike most other professions, musicians do have the choice, and can be successful whether they are moderately good at many different instruments and styles, or focus on one main attribute, but there comes a time when you have to decide which is best for you.
Instances when it can be productive to be a well rounded musician:
- Your band is a cover band who plays a large catalog
- You are in higher education for music teaching, theory, composing or music therapy
- All members of your band play many instruments and you can create a dynamic live show by switching up who plays what throughout the show*
- You are a studio musicians who writes and records solely your own materials
- Playing music is your favorite hobby and passion but not career
When focusing on one instrument, one genre is good:
- You are trying to get your full band signed and put out many albums (A&R reps need to see constancy and steady growth in what the band or artist has been doing, they need to be well maintained and clear visions and goals for their music)
- You are trying to be a mainstream top 40 artist (think of all the successful legends, they are know for being the best at one thing, the best guitarist of all time, the best female soul singer, the greatest bassist to ever live)
- You want to maintain a steady and loyal fan base (think of the musicians who have dramatically changed their style, or bands who come out with a second album sounding nothing like their first and how negatively their fans react and the press ridicules them)
If you have or plan to work with the same band for years and decades, it is important that everyone in their own time is experiencing with different sounds and improving their own skills, to consistently bring new and exciting concepts to the bands writing of material. It's like being in any other type of a relationship. You have to work as a team, grow together, communicate, express feelings, and if not things could end badly, just think of how many bands end up slitting ways.
While the benefits of practicing and learning many different styles and instruments can be debated, it is always a valuable attribute to be a well informed musician. Reading up on other genres, current events, learning the history of music, especially your genre and about legendary musicians is always beneficial!
Regardless of which you decide is best for you, the main idea to keep in mind is time. Being a successful musician takes time, a life long journey of never quite being perfect or feeling like you have mastered your craft is the true reality of being an artist. So if you think it is a better use of your time to dabble here and there with different genres or instruments and the idea of actually mastering of a particular instrument does not entice you then go for it. But if you find a connection and passion while you are behind the mass of a particular instrument or voice then focus on that one thing. If it truly is your passion and you feel connected to it, it should never really feel like a job or chore, but a duty you must do be an accomplished musician and reach your goals.
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