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How to be a Master of Your Skills in the Music Industry

Jack of all trades, master of none…

Many of us have heard this phrase, but what does it really mean? Is it meant to be mean, or realistic? In our field of audio and music, with so many unique jobs to be done, it’s easy to take on tons of work and spread ourselves too thin.

While it seems simple, do one thing and stick to it, that does not always make us happy or pay the water bill.

My Experience

For example, way back in high school, I started playing trumpet and tenor sax, two very different instruments. I took lessons from one guy to learn tenor, but he knew I was a trumpet player in high school. He always warned me to be careful doing both, it is basically impossible to master two distinct instruments.

He said every single lesson, “Don’t be a jack of all trades, master of none,” and it was frustrating. Frustrating to the point, I doubled down on playing seriously and developed my career on Sounds.com and Landr by being a multi-instrumentalist.

A bit petty on my end.

But, I did find my limit, and maybe I can help you find yours!

Our Limits

What does it really mean to be a jack of all trades? It does not simply mean doing too much work. What it actually means is doing too many different tasks and trying to do them well. Here are some examples:

  • my personal first-hand experience, playing two different instruments professionally
  • being a producer and a mixing engineer, those are really two separate jobs
  • running social media and online marketing while being a serious performing artist, they usually have whole teams for marketing
  • doing A&R and merchandising, really should be two people or teams depending on the scale of a label

Either way, I think it’s becoming clear it is not possible to do everything. There is a reason people work together. How does this apply to our phrase, jack of all trades, master of none?

If you assume too many roles, it will become impossible to do them all to the highest expectations. That can happen in one of twos ways:

  • You do not have the most professional skills in either discipline, and you cannot advance since you are too focused on one or the other
  • You may be great at both, but you are still splitting your time between them, and neither get the proper attention

Even if you are a master or want to be, it is too much to handle all at once. The limit then is whatever you are not proud of.

My Limit

Throughout college, I pursued a double major in Composition and Jazz Trumpet. While there was an overlap, and I love both ends of my studies, one clearly gets more attention than the other.

I discovered my passion for writing and that I wanted to move further in that direction as I developed my career. Does that mean I gave the trumpet up?

NO! I still put considerable effort into the horn. I am not giving it up because it makes me happy and pays the water bill.

How is this an example of my limit, then? I grow prouder of my compositions every day, and it simply develops faster than my playing. I still play every day and record for all sorts of applications like Sounds.com and Landr.

This means it is not the lack of skill, but the lack of time that affects my growth on the trumpet when compared to my composition.

Is It Possible?

It is possible to do both. From my experience, I tackled both the trumpet and tenor sax at the same time and made my career out of that. Now that I am putting composition on top of that, I have to budget my time and integrate them.

Here are a couple of methods to budget your time:

  • Strict daily calendar with built-in practice and writing times, you have to work to develop your trade
  • If a gig or work needs to be accomplished, prioritize it, then take the extra time and swap it out with a different day in your calendar.
  • Wake up at a reasonable hour. Yes, we producers and musicians love the night, but getting up on time gives you more hours in the day.

Seems simple right? It really is, but it is hard to dedicate yourself to routines. That itself takes practice, but that is for another blog.

Now, besides managing your time, how do you integrate your work? While it is different for everyone, here is my personal experience.

  • I get gigs that require both composition and horn playing, and this enables me to practice both disciplines.
  • Write for my instruments in my free time. This keeps me accountable both ways.
  • Turn my sax and trumpet gigs into arranging gigs. I now write and perform with local bands, not just play.

While the crossover between whatever it is you are trying to do is probably different than mine, it does exist.

Simply make time, make your work, and you will be a master and defy the odds against you.

About Cj

Hi, I’m Cj Rhen, and I am a composer, arranger, multi-instrumentalist, and producer. You can find my work at cjrhenmusic.com or on sounds.com where I write and record high-end sax and horn loops for your music. Feel free to contact me with questions and inquiries about private lessons in all things writing!

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About Audio Issues and Björgvin Benediktsson

At Audio Issues you’ll learn simple and practical audio production tips you can use right away to improve your music from your home recording studio.  Björgvin is the best-selling author of Step By Step Mixing and the founder of Audio Issues. He helps musicians and producers turn amateur demos into professionally produced records they can be proud to release.

We help home studio musicians and project studio producers make a greater musical impact in their lives by teaching them the skills needed to grow their hobbies and careers. We do this by offering simple and practical music production and success skills they can use right away to level themselves up – while rejecting negativity and gear-shaming from the industry. A rising tide floats all boats and the ocean is big enough for all of us to surf the sound waves.

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