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The Importance of Focus for a Successful Career in Music

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There isn’t just one straight path for every musician, engineer, or producer in the music industry.

Aside from making records for artists, think of all the other types of music that’s being produced. There are TV and movie scores, and Broadway soundtracks, just to name a few. Whatever your interests are, I think there’s one topic worthy of conversation: your career path.

By the time you move to a major music metropolis like NYC, your concept of how to make money has to change. It’s possible you’ve been able to wear many hats before, switching your focus to follow quick money.

I’m not saying this doesn’t happen in the city, but one thing changes considerably…the competition for work.

In a place like the Big Apple, there are many who take their work seriously. There’s a career path for just about every category in the music business.

Fresh Off the Bus

I came to NYC as a multi-instrumentalist, composer, producer, and engineer. I was capable of doing many things on a pro level. This wasn’t bad; it just meant things weren’t going to be easy for me.

Things tend to get a little blurry when you have to focus on your real interest and make money. This becomes obvious when your income is derived from your music skills.

Zig Zag

I jumped all over the place when I arrived in NYC because I could. One thing became apparent after some time though. There’s no such thing as “quick” money.


Getting a session to play on a TV commercial is not going to be a quick pick-me-up. I’m not saying you can’t score one. I’m saying that without focusing on that specific area of the business, it’s not going to happen regularly.

There are professionals who put in a lot of time to grow their network and experience just for their style of work.

Mirror Mirror

NYC forced me to ask myself some hard questions about my goals and intentions. You can’t focus on all of the possible paths.

It’s not just skills as a producer, musician, or engineer that are required for success. It’s getting accepted into a community. For instance, musicians who are looking to play on Broadway spend years getting into the network. It’s not a side gig.

Side Show

I’m not saying you can’t have numerous skills. I still play every instrument I did when I came to NYC. What’s changed is what I do with them.

My experience now tells me there’s no quick pick-me-up. Are you a good drummer? If the answer is yes, that’s good news. The bad news is, there’s an incredible number of great drummers in NYC.

So, just phoning things in won’t fly so well. Those on a career path will tend to put a little extra in. They’ll understand a little more about how the “politics” work. They’re building a reputation with every gig they take.

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Time Suck

Getting distracted from your main focus will be one of the biggest issues.

Let’s say you’re scoring for movies. That’s a very specific path that takes years to make progress. Doing a side gig can distract you from that path. It’s time you could have spent gaining experience in your desired sector of the industry.

With that being said, outside experiences are valuable. But, you have to be aware of what’s an experience versus what’s an express lane away from your destination.

Around the World in 30 Days

At this point in my career, I’ve been a visitor in many musical countries. I’ve produced records, performed and composed TV commercials, performed in theater, performed in cover bands, acted as a musician on TV shows, engineered records, worked as a sideman for artists on tours and recordings, composed for my own band, composed for TV shows, film and video games, taught guitar, drums, and bass, wrote a book on music theory, blogged on recording and making music. (I know I’m even missing things I’ve done.)

Now, with age and wisdom, I’m a lot more focused on a clearer path. I’ve realized the work I really like to do.


Steering clear of gigs that don’t make you happy can be an important move.

Reputation can really make or break you. Every gig you do is a little building block. If you’re unhappy, it can show. You’re building a resume and leaving a breadcrumb trail for other similar gigs to follow…the ones you want or don’t want.

If you can, avoid the ones that won’t lead to the mother ship. You are what you surround yourself with.

Mark Marshall

Mark Marshall is a producer, songwriter, session musician and instructor based in NYC. More at