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Participation Medals & Living the Dream Part 2

A few months ago Jack wrote an eloquent piece about Participation Medals & Living the Dream. I just re-read it, and it got me thinking – the point I’m about to make might be somewhat contradictory, but hopefully largely complimentary to Jack’s.

Putting in the hours does not earn you a participation medal. It should not, and does not guarantee success in your field. But it does give you a damn good chance. Here’s an example:

Whilst at school I wanted to be a Product Designer. I studied Graphics & Economics at GCSE, Physics, Maths, Further Maths & Product Design at A-Level and got a BEng degree in Product Design Engineering. Surprise surprise, I am now a full time Product Designer. And not just any old Product Designer, I work at the pointy end of Dyson’s New Product Innovation department (I’m not allowed to tell you much more than that). For a design wannabe, this might be the dream job. (For those of you who thought Chronographs was our full-time jobs, I’m sorry to puncture the mystique.)

I don’t want the above to come across as boastful. I’ve done well, congratulations to me, but that’s not the point.

The point is that from the age of about 13, I was making choices and spending vast amounts of time trying to become a Designer, and 10 years later, here I am.

The music industry is famously tough, but I wonder how much tougher it is than Product Design, Medicine or Entrepreneurship. I suspect not as different as everybody thinks. Perhaps people just don’t work as hard at music. It’s often a hobby that becomes a passion, but rarely do I hear of people truly making sacrifices to focus on and develop their craft, and approach that learning process with the formality that one might employ when training to be a Doctor.

Of course, some people do focus on music in their teens, and they’re probably the ones bagging all the jobs as session players, studio assistants & budding conductors. They have experience, skill, and a highly developed taste, as I do in design, but realistically probably don’t yet in music. But it is the vocal majority we hear harping on about how tough the industry is – the people who haven’t dedicated the most part of their lives to becoming musicians, who haven’t studied prior art (apart from their favourite bands), experimented, made mistakes, had mentors, made contacts, and haven’t immersed themselves in their field, with peers to learn with and from.

Perhaps I should clarify what I mean by success. The comparison cannot be made based on salary, but instead on experience, reputation & getting work. For the most part I expect that Dentists will earn more than a person in the music industry of an equivalent reputation. Perhaps that’s why many don’t choose to pursue music as their full-time focus.

So what the hell am I doing designing consumer products five days a week? Well one day I am going to take time out to pursue music and develop my craft, and find my true voice – hopefully the voice that defines my career. Perhaps I’ll do a degree, or a masters, but for me, what’s more important than the qualification or taught material is the space and time to focus. This is something I try to do as best I can even now, by setting out blocks of music time in my week – sometimes whole weekends. I refuse invitations to do other things, I turn off my phone and the internet, and I have silent time to study, play (as in, playing like a child – pointless, limitless fun), experiment and create, and that’s the time when I find I really make progress.

I can’t close this piece with a word of advice, because it’s not a plunge I’ve taken yet. But I plan to do so when the time is right – I’ll keep you posted.

I hope that’s an interesting perspective.

Tom