The Localist: Don’t Compete Locally, Compete Nationally
One of the fundamental mistakes of musicians trying to grow a music career is that they try to compete locally instead of competing nationally. Under the local competition mindset, gaining success on a larger level is a matter of winning at the local level, where winning at the local level helps you to “get to the next level.” Under this mindset, other local musicians are not just competitors, but are in fact obstacles to your professional advancement as a musician.
Under a national competition mindset, you don’t view other local musicians as your competition – you view nationally recognized musicians and acts in your genre as your competition, be they Beyoncé, U2, Bon Iver, etc… Beyond the object of your competitive drive being different, the national competition mindset is different in that you simply don’t view other local musicians as obstacles to your professional advancement as a musician.
The local competition mindset leads to a lot of negative and self-defeating behavior, which I’ll talk about later, but let me start out by pointing a few practical problems with the local competition mindset.
The first is a really brutal truth that local scenes are oftentimes controlled by people who are primarily looking out for their own interests, which is to say that “making it” locally is not exactly like a musical competition where an outside impartial tastemaker comes in and chooses who wins and gets to go to regionals. You have to rely on local tastemakers for your fate who may not particularly care for you, which can be frustrating. The second is another really brutal truth, which is that many local musicians also have a local competition mindset, and as a result, simply do not want you to succeed. This is because, when you take the local competition mindset into account, local competition is really a zero sum game. If “winning” locally is what gets you to the next level, then others winning makes it the case that you do not get to the next level. This mindset is what results in the perennial “crabs in a bucket” phenomenon that plagues so many local music communities.
The third is a much less brutal truth, which is that you don’t need to compete locally in order to get your music on the radar of people at the national level, which makes the idea of competing locally an entirely unnecessary affair. Many wealthy indie kids already know this, and pay tens of thousands of dollars into publicity and production to help get their music into national publications. Of course, doing this when you don’t have as much money is more difficult. However, there are ways to compete on the national level if you’re willing to do a lot of work and research on your own. Moreover, at least in my experience, people already do in fact waste hundreds of hours, thousands of dollars, and substantial amounts of their material competing locally. So not only is competing locally terribly impractical, but competing nationally is I think, in the end, not that much more expensive. Keeping this in mind, the local competition mindset is unhelpful, because it’s essentially based on a lie – that defeating other local musicians is a prerequisite to professional success.
Separate from these practical issues, the local competition mindset is just really self-defeating and will make you unhappy. If you adopt the local competition mindset, you will become jealous of even the small successes of your fellow musicians. You will come to view your fellow local musicians in an adversarial manner. Beyond that, the local competition mindset makes it more difficult for effective local music communities to develop, which inhibits a really valuable source of emotional support – something musicians could really use a lot of. When you move away from the local competition mindset, you stop comparing yourself to other musicians in your community and the successes of other local musicians stop being a source of anxiety – maybe they even become a source of joy.
The Localist is a column focusing on issues relating to aspiring local musicians in New York City. In his free time, the author performs as St. Lenox. St. Lenox’s most recent record, “Ten Fables of Young Ambition and Passionate Love” was placed on Best Albums lists at Pop Matters and AllMusic. AllMusic credits St. Lenox with “some of the most unique and unconventionally thrilling pop music in the late 2010s.”