Want to know the critical insight I had early on in my career? Something that changed my life and was one of the determining factors for my success?
I had an insight related to partnerships, artistic and professional. And this is the key to the success of many great artists we know and admire.
A simple attitude changed my trajectory
In my second year of college, I put my ego aside and sought partnerships with people who were 'better' than me.
It may sound simple, but it can be very challenging, especially when you are young and need more self-confidence. It is normal to be afraid to work with people who are much more experienced, professional, or talented than us. Sometimes we don't feel able; we can feel ashamed or even taken by the impostor syndrome. I forced myself to abandon this mindset in my early 20s.
I looked after fellow musicians who were extraordinarily talented and produced music that inspired me. These were the people I should carry out projects with in partnership.
I remember the scene - on New Year's Eve of my first year in college - and the promise I made to myself: "Next year, I want to do a project with this person and this person." These young musicians had already won national awards or played at prominent venues in my hometown. In that regional universe, they were my "heroes."
The truth is that working with people so good or better than us raise and enhance the level and result of our work. I noticed a big difference immediately, and as a consequence, many other doors opened for me.
Let me loosely quote director and screenwriter Woody Allen: he said that the better his cast and team are, the easier his work as a director is, as well as the artistic results. Similarly, you must carefully select artists to work with you on your projects.
In opposition, it is much harder to evolve in an environment where we are much more experienced, proficient, or talented than everyone else. In these circumstances, we have no one to pull the level up.
Complementary skills and capabilities
But distinguish my attitude in seeking specific musical collaborations from a disdain for less experienced colleagues. Many times we can find skills and abilities in these people that are complementary to ours and that pull us up in other aspects of our artistic journey.
Miles Davis is an example of a musician who did that a lot and did very well! He invited talented musicians younger than him to participate in his groups. These young talents brought freshness, creativity, and vitality to his work.
In the end, everyone wins!
Study environment and artistic institutions
I emphasize the value of the study experience in universities or conservatives, especially where the application process is demanding and selective. The entrance barrier - such as a multi-day aptitude test - makes only those interested and dedicated to musical study enter. In this way, we can be side by side with other people who, like us, worked hard to get there. These musicians are probably good at what they do. Being next to talented and dedicated colleagues creates a conducive environment for development, raising expectations and boosting everyone's growth.
The same goes for being in a city with a high-level music scene, a subject for another article on the page.
A final tip
Put yourself in situations with people you admire and who are producing fantastic things around you. Always try to work with artists who bring something unique to the table and that are better than you in some aspect. Or, at least, collaborate with people with complementary skills as good as yours!
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Also, check out my online courses: “Creative Processes” and “Fundamentals of Audio and Video Production for Musicians”.
About the author
Rafael Piccolotto de Lima was nominated for a Latin Grammy as the best classical composer. He holds a doctorate in jazz composition from the University of Miami and has multiple awards as an arranger, musical director, producer, and educator.
His works have been premiered and/or recorded by jazz legends such as Terence Blanchard, Chick Corea, and Brad Mehldau, renowned Brazilian artists such as Ivan Lins, Romero Lubambo, and Proveta, and orchestras such as the Brazilian Jazz Symphony, the Americas Symphony Orchestra, and the Metropole Orkest (Netherlands).