Daily DIY: Practice Does Not Make Perfect

n this last of five excerpts from Reality Check – A Common Sense Guide to Breaking into the Music Industry, author Matthew Walt examines the importance and the limitations of practicing.

My high-school tennis coach, Mr. Murch, taught me an invaluable life lesson when I was about fifteen years old. He said, “Practice doesn’t make perfect. Perfect practice makes perfect.” To me, these are Practice
words to live by.

In context, what Mr. Murch was telling me was that it didn’t matter how many balls I hit, or how many backhands and forehands I took every day. If I wasn’t hitting the ball the right way, if I changed my grip and developed a bad habit, then I was ultimately doing more harm than good, no matter how much time I spent on the courts. This is true in every facet of life.

As a musician, you can play for hours at a time but if you aren’t properly warming up and down, or you develop a habit of squeezing your throat and straining to reach the high notes, you can really do damage to your career.

As a band, if you spend hours during rehearsals running through songs but don’t really work through the tough parts—whether it’s the intros or bridges or the segues between songs—then you’ll never be as tight as you can be (or perhaps as you think you are), and you aren’t as likely to make it big.

The same is true for those aspiring to work in the music business and band-related activities. For example, some years ago I was the booking agent for a pop band that I really thought was on the verge. Unfortunately, however, their approach to doing business always drove me crazy, because the bandleader was extremely headstrong and he always had to do things his way. He couldn’t take criticism at all— anything remotely negative drove him into childish fits and it took its toll on the band. He would tell me that the band spent hours each day working in their makeshift studio/office, yet in two years' time I saw little progress. Their draw was inconsistent. Their performances were, too. They had a street team that they insisted was amazing. They worked hard and loved what they were doing (both important qualities) and had all the makings of a successful organization, except one—they weren’t doing the right things. They weren’t flyering the right shows; they weren’t building relationships with the right fans; they weren’t sending the right message to the millions of CD buyers and showgoers within their reach. As a result, they didn’t go anywhere, which ultimately forced me to walk away.

The point is, you may have the talent, the songs, and the will—but without the understanding of how to do the job you severely diminish the opportunity to succeed because practice doesn’t make perfect, and being proactive doesn’t necessarily produce results. Doing the right things is the only way to achieve, no matter how much time is spent at your desk, onstage, or in the field, or how great everyone feels about their organization.

So, seek out opportunities to learn more about the business. Find mentors and ask their advice. Perfect practice is the only way to make perfect. To me, that’s a lesson for life.

Reality check cover

You can purchase Matthew Walt's Reality Check – A Common Sense Guide to Breaking into the Music Industry as either an e-book or paperback here.

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  1. Thank you for the follow up, Terry. We are saying the same thing here. Practicing the right things is how I define Perfect Practice.

  2. I just wish someone would say what the “right thing” is. Articles like these are always delivered in a vague sense, and I understand because you want someone to buy the book to find out more, but at the same time, it doesn’t really outline any details so as to offer something different than what’s already been written by guys like Bob Baker, Tim Sweeney, David Hooper, Peter Spellman. The thing that always gets me is that you never see any successful bands employing the obscure techniques in these types of books.

  3. Sorry I didn’t see this follow up note sooner, Rick. If you’ll reread the excerpt you’ll see that I specifically reference some very commonly overlooked suggestions employed by almost every successful band, such as warming up and down – something many singers learn the hard way after bouts with laryngitis or worse: polyps – and practicing intros and segues between songs to avoid the awkward pauses that cause sets to stagnate and become disjointed.

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