There are many intricacies to having a long-lasting career in music. I learned so much from being around great musical minds and incredibly talented musicians, producers, and arrangers. I’ve been around this business for 41 years and I still feel there is much more for me to do that I haven’t yet done. Here are just a few things that I hope you’ll keep in your back pocket and learn from as you embark on careers of your own.
1. Be Unique
When I came to New York City there were some absolutely amazing musicians on the scene. The competition was fierce! What was I going to do to make my voice heard above the fray? My answer was that I chose to be an early adopter of synthesis. As much time as I spent practicing, connecting, and writing, I also put into learning about synthesizers at a time when many people really didn’t know much about them. I programmed my own sounds and used them on live shows, and soon the word started to spread that I did something special with these new instruments. You have to find something that separates you from everybody else.
2. Learn from the Masters
When I started out, I wanted to work and hang out with as many as great musicians as I could. My enthusiasm for music held no bounds. Knowledge and wisdom
from experienced people will take you very far in this business. There’s so much to learn, and you simply can’t learn it from yourself. Keeping your mouth shut and observing the work of great musicians in different situations will go a long way to giving you the experience you need.
3. Patience, Patience, Patience!
When I came back to New York City in 1974, my goal was to work with Miles Davis. I worked and worked and in 1986, it happened. Was there some luck involved? Of course, but when the moment came I was truly ready for it. There was a lot of pressure and responsibility involved in making Miles’ album Tutu, including new technology and new ways of making music—but I’d been preparing for that moment for years. Nothing happens overnight, but if you hang in long enough, you will get a shot.
4. Know Your Music History
I had a great record collection and I spent hours and hours listening to all kinds of music. Later when I met well-known musicians, they realized I was familiar with their work, and consequently they were much more friendly and interested in me. When I met Josef Zawinul for the first time in 1974 he looked at my girlfriend and said, “This guy knows his stuff!” We ended up being friends for over 30 years. You need to be a mini-encyclopedia of music. It will help you understand how to move forward by respecting and learning about the past.
5. It’s Called the Music Business for a Reason
This is not always a kind business, nor has it ever been for anybody. Everyone has his or her terrible music business stories. The more you know about the business side of things, the better chance you have of surviving its ups and downs. Learn about contracts, royalites, and performing rights organizations, and last but not least, surround yourself with people you can trust and who truly have your best interests at heart. I’ve been in this business for four decades and even during its most difficult moments, my wife Kathy always supported me unconditionally.
Jason Miles is a Grammy-winning producer, keyboardist, synthesist, composer, and arranger who has worked with Miles Davis, Sting, and Michael Jackson. His latest project with his band Global Noize is a groove/jazz/world tribute to Sly and the Family Stone called Sly Reimagined. Find-out more at jasonmilesmusic.com.