Scarcity thinking in musicians

My client David, an accomplished pianist, came to me because he wanted to learn how to book higher-profile performances—both solo recitals and concerto opportunities. As a musician does this sound like you?

David had been booking his own concerts for about 3 years and was fairly successful at it, playing 15-20 performances a season. But he was frustrated because he wasn’t getting the bookings he wanted most and thought he deserved—ones with university presenting series and with more prestigious regional orchestras.

In our coaching sessions, we focused on overhauling David’s promo materials. We worked on his concert programming descriptions, bio, email pitches, and his community engagement offerings. Things were moving forward with all this until we got to the actual communicating with presenters and colleagues.

It was there—in working on his follow-up emails and networking skills—that we came to an impasse.

What’s really preventing your forward motion?

The problem was in how David viewed the profession and his place in it. And to be fair, I’ve known MANY “Davids” over the years—his case is certainly not an anomaly.

Though he was professional in his communications, David wasn’t really connecting with presenters and artistic administrators on a human level—person to person. And this, of course, affected how people responded to him.

Over the course of our sessions, it became clear that David considered these people to be gatekeepers. Ones who were all too often (in his mind) blocking him from achieving his goals.

Scarcity thinking: does this sound like you?

For David, the competitive nature of the music business had ingrained in him a “winner takes all” Scarcity Mindset. This is the self-centered, “what can I get from this person?” thinking. It’s limiting and short-sighted, and it reduces other people to “prospects” or “targets”—and reduces your peers to “competitors.”

In The 7 Habits of Highly Effective People, author Stephen Covey explained that the Scarcity Mindset is the notion of “life as having only so much, as though there were only one pie out there. And if someone were to get a big piece of the pie, it would mean less for everybody else. The Scarcity Mentality is the zero-sum paradigm of life.”

All this was getting in the way of David connecting well with presenters, colleagues, fans, and funders. For David, all the exchanges with these people were transactional—strategic moves—as opposed to being relational and focused on making real connections and building relationships.

What’s more, David was resentful of other pianists who were getting the performance opportunities that he wanted—especially if they were younger. David spent far too much time and energy resenting and comparing himself to others, and being frustrated and angry as a result.

This insured that David had few musician friends, since they were all the “competition.” David’s inner world was pretty bleak. He was driven but not all that happy, since he was obsessed with what he didn’t have.

The Scarcity mindset is a negative loop that keeps us thinking—and playing—small. It keeps us rooted in comparison and score-keeping and can keep us isolated, distrustful, and yes, limited artistically.

How does Scarcity Thinking affect your music?

It’s common for musicians to tell me that yes, they have some scarcity thinking when it comes to their career concerns. But they say that this has nothing to do with their work in the practice room, composition studio, or onstage.

That’s what David believed, too. He thought the only thing holding him back was the fact that he wasn’t being given the opportunities he deserved. He blamed the gatekeepers.

Well I’m here to tell you the truth: the Scarcity Mindset always bleeds over into a musician’s performance or composition work. And it directly limits the musician’s artistic potential.

How does this happen?

Stay tuned—I’ll have answers and practical interventions next week!

In the meantime, post your comments over in our Free MusiciansMakingIt Facebook group: I’d love to hear about your experience dealing with the Scarcity Mindset. And participate in our weekly FB Lives on Tuesdays at 12 noon ET—we’d love to see you there!

And if you’d like to find out how getting expert coaching can help you bring more of your best work into the world, let’s talk.

Looking forward,

Dream Big, Plan Smart, Live Well

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