Career advice Barry Manilow gave me
October 1, 2015
Years ago, when I was still in music school (and Massachusetts was still a colony), Barry Manilow came to talk to my Berklee classmates and me in our chilly Boston classroom. Manilow, who for all his lack of street cred has had a blockbuster career, shared business and career advice interspersed with commercial breaks: jingles he had written (“Like a good neighbor, State Farm is there”/“I am stuck on Band-Aid [Brand] ’cuz Band-aid’s stuck on me”) that he now engagingly sang for us at the piano.
As far as his advice, one line in particular clicked with me: “If someone asks you if you can do something, say ’absolutely!’ Then scramble like crazy to figure out how to do it.”
This advice has value because specific opportunities tend to knock only once or twice, and when you respond to opportunities with “that’s not my bag, baby! ” or “I’m not prepared to do that,” you take the risk that the door you don’t walk through may never be open again.
But there’s a point in the growth of a career, musical or otherwise, at which Mr. Manilow’s advice, which on the surface sounds so expansive, paradoxically becomes limiting. Because if you continue over the years to refuse to focus, you ultimately restrict your chance to grow. If you can’t sustain your own confidence in a single (and, with luck, singular) vision enough to hone, develop, and sell that vision to the world, you’ll never be, on whatever scale and in whatever idiom you operate, the next Miles or Dylan. You’ll always remain the Blues Brothers at the “Rawhide” bar, trying to play in styles that don’t suit you, as long as the money is good.
So, in the end, I think I come right down on the fence (ouch!) on this one. The value of Manilow’s advice–to try everything, to accept every opportunity and then work like the devil to live up to what is required–fluctuates in value over the course of a career. At the beginning of, or at a lull in, your career, it can be phenomenally valuable to be open to everything that comes your way. And be especially open to those opportunities that can be thought of as “better-than-lottery tickets”: things with a truly unlimited, though unlikely, payoff.
But be careful, because a time will come in the growth of your career and your art when Mr. Manilow’s advice, if you continue to follow it, can limit you and drag you down. Once you’ve found your direction, it’s time to focus as if your life depends on it. The life of your muse, your band, your personal brand actually might.
President & Founder
Oasis Disc Manufacturing