The Mindset of Music Professionals

Phil McGowanThoughts 1 Comment

I am nearly finished reading “Mindset” by Carol S. Dweck and I can’t help but draw parallels between the growth mindset described in her book and successful music and entertainment industry professionals.

Firstly, I suggest everyone read her book, regardless of what industry or stage of life you find yourself in. It is an excellent study of how changing the mindset of how you face challenges in life can drastically alter your level of success in any pursuit you follow. In short, Dweck outlines how having a “growth mindset” as opposed to a “fixed mindset” can allow you to grow and improve from criticism, fear, anxiety, insecurity, and challenges when you face them. People who possess a growth mindset believe that skills, intelligence, and traits of personality can always be improved upon as opposed to the fixed mindset that these aspects are fixed at birth and cannot be changed. The fixed mindset inevitably leads people to believe that success, whether it be their own or of someone that they admire, is the result of inherent talent or traits and that if you are not gifted with these things, you have a limited chance at success.

As I having been reading her book, it has occurred to me that those of us who are professionals in the music and entertainment industry have only found continued success as a result of a growth mindset. Surely there are people who have found some level of success in this industry because they have an overwhelming level of talent, but we almost always see these people eventually fade away from the spotlight because of their fixed mindset. In reaction to praise and success, they believe that they are innately superior and that they no longer need to apply effort in their field due to their level of talent. They soon plateau because their lack of effort and security in their natural talent causes their creative output to stagnate. Concurrently, there are many people whose fixed mindset has led them to believe that their lack of immediate success in their pursuits is a sign that they just don’t have what it takes, leading them to give up without applying enough effort to achieve their goals.

Nearly every industry legend that I have heard interviewed almost always mentions that they maintain an open mind to learning and the development of their craft. You’ll find that people who have had continued success in whatever facet of the industry they pursue maintain a constant view that they can always improve and that there is always more to be learned in their field. The most successful of these people even go on to say that they can learn from anyone, whether it be a fellow seasoned professional or a student first learning about the fundamentals of their craft. They are always open to new ideas no matter their source. Their growth mindset has given them security in the fact that their continued effort will bring them to achieve their goals. These professionals don’t need to concern themselves with constantly seeking validation of fixed talents. They seek to collaborate with people who will challenge them to improve because they know that in the end, effort is what always brings you to consistent achievement, not talent. Fixed mindset individuals will only seek to collaborate with people who will pat them on the back and validate their perceived talents. These fixed mindset bred insecurities and inflated egos almost always result in their undoing. Just look at Jeffrey Skilling and Kenneth Lay and Enron or Lee Iacocca and Chrysler and you’ll see what I mean. Both of those fixed mindset failures are detailed in Dweck’s book.

Dweck also outlines the different ways that those with a fixed versus growth mindset handle failure and criticism. Failure and criticism are unavoidable aspects of creative pursuits, especially creative efforts that are “work-for-hire.” Professionals that work in creative fields that provide services for clients face this on each and every project that they are involved with. There will always be a certain degree of notes, criticism, and changes of direction during any project and anyone who has been successfully working in a work-for-hire creative field has found ways of fruitfully reacting to these criticisms. The fixed mindset leads one to believe that their talent and skills are inherent traits and results in a fear of criticism because of the perception that it is an attack on deep and “fixed” aspects of one’s person. Alternatively, those with a growth mindset view their skills and talents as things that can always be developed, so criticism is instead seen as an opportunity to learn and improve. This allows these professionals to maintain an open mind and view criticism as a way to better understand what their client desires as an end product as opposed to seeing criticism as a sign that they do not possess enough talent to be successful in their field. Growth mindset professionals are always working to improve and believe that their continued efforts will bring them success.

Time and time again I’ve seen people walk away from their passions because of their reaction to failure. Many people feel that if they receive a lot of notes or criticism on their work that it is a sign that they are bad at what they do and that there is nothing they can do to change that. Their fixed mindset leads them to believe that if they do not immediately find success, that they must just not have what it takes to succeed. Certainly there are people that are not cut out for the field they are pursuing and Dweck does recognize that not everyone can just apply effort and become Einstein or Mozart. What she does recognize is that Einstein and Mozart did not just emerge from the womb as successful geniuses. They both certainly possessed a high level of talent but they also applied an enormous amount of effort in their pursuits. This effort was an essential factor in their success that all too many overlook in their admiration of any successful person.

When you receive notes and revisions on a project or criticism of a creative work, view it as an opportunity to learn how to improve or see the project from a different perspective, not as an indication of the inability to succeed. Often when I start on a mix for a film, television show, or video game, I mix a larger and more complicated piece first to get an idea of the sound, tone, and character of the project. There have been plenty of times that I feel like I’m really hitting the first mix out of the park and that the client is absolutely going to love what I’ve done but when the terrifying moment of review comes, they have many changes that they’d like to make. It’s easy to get pissed off and say that the client is wrong or to demean yourself and your skills but in the end, you will find it much more beneficial to view those criticisms as a chance to see the project in a different way. Embrace these moments as an opportunity to take a new approach that you may not have come to realize before. I can’t tell you how many times I’ve gone back and compared my first amazing, perfect, “hit it out of the park” mix to the final and have much preferred the adjusted mix based on the clients notes and direction. I’m constantly reminded of how much I can always learn on every project from notes, criticism, and changes of direction. Naturally, there are cases where in the end I maintain a disagreement with the client on various aspects of a mix but I’ve found that these situations are more the exception rather than the rule. Learn to put your ego aside and embrace the wonderful results that can come from collaborative effort.

I consider myself fortunate to be in a field that places a high value on being in a constant state of improvement and education. I can’t tell you how many times I’ve heard legendary Mixers and Engineers state that they are always seeking to learn new tricks, techniques, and approaches to their craft. I’ve also heard many state that as soon as you begin to believe that you know it all and that you have nothing left to learn, that is the moment when your career plateaus and reaches its ceiling. Only after you realize that you can never stop growing, learning, and improving can your career continue on an upward path. Dweck’s study of the growth mindset reinforces these ideologies and I highly suggest that everyone check out her work.

Visit this site for more info on Dweck’s work and grab a copy of her book.

Comments 1

  1. This book sounds enlightening and encouraging and beneficial to anyone no matter what your pursuits are.
    I thoroughly enjoyed reading your thoughts and reflections…….

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