Making a good decision about your career, or anything for that matter, requires input from a variety of sources: mentors, career professionals in your chosen field, your family and friends. The biggest source of input, though, is you. Ultimately you’re the one who has to live with the decision, so it behooves you to choose wisely — will you research and make a ton of pro/con lists, or will you trust your intuition or “gut” more than mounds of facts?
My answer is this: have a well-informed gut.
Fear can make a great case for taking the easy/safe road, and it’s pretty easy to rationalize that fear. The problem with consistently taking that safe road is, though, is that your career growth will be slow, or worse, will grind to a halt and you’ll end up in a dead-end job, wondering where all the time went. Think of your career like investing in stocks. Financial advisers often tell their younger clients to invest aggressively and not be afraid to take risks because they have a lot to gain over the long term. Suburban American culture largely tells us to avoid risk, so our intuition leads us to avoid it — fear it, even. Sometimes, though, like in investments for young people, that risk we fear is really the best thing for us, so we must get past the fear with facts and TAKE it.
Since we don’t have music business advisers on every street corner like we do financial advisers, finding the facts to calculate the risks we take is harder. While not everyone in the music business is out to scam you or screw you over, a lot of them are and they are SUPER-slick in the way they word their sales pitch to you. The trick to finding out who’s legit and who’s full of… well, you know… is doing your research. If you’re out there asking other musicians how they’re succeeding (or reading their articles and how-to videos), then you will have a well informed gut that can sniff out the bad eggs pretty quickly and know which risks are worth taking and which aren’t.
The other problem with knowing when to take risks is that so many people will try to talk you out of it — not the least of which will be your parents or your family. Lots of kids have dreams of rockstardom and their parents play along for awhile and roll their eyes, but once those kids turn 18, the parents want to see them get “real” jobs instead of pursuing music. Parents and even friends will have a lot of very legitimate reasons that you should abandon your music dreams and get a 9-to-5. When you actually take the time to inform that decision-making gut of yours with advice from those succeeding in the industry, though, you’re not just chasing a dream, but making an informed career decision. That way, when you DO decide to take a stab at a career in music, your parents or friends take a look at your album promotion and tour plan and instead of yelling at you, they make that “Not bad” face.
I’m not saying, “Go take risks for the sake of taking risks, even if they’re scary.” No. This is not a battle cry of dream-chasers to “Go with your gut!” as an excuse to make bad decisions. This is a real question you must ask your young performer self when you are deciding between pursuing music as a career or doing the college/job/kids thing. In an ageist industry like entertainment, time is of the essence for you as a performer, so take those risks early on if you can stomach it. Most colleges will accept you over the age of 25, most jobs will still hire you after 25, and you can still have kids for another decade at least once you turn 25; but your “older and wiser” self probably won’t get another shot at the rockstar dream.