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The Emerging Artist
Assessing Your Abilities Honestly and Accurately
By Leon Olguin, Edited by Sheryl Olguin

© 2000, Leon & Sheryl Olguin. All Rights Reserved. Used By Permission

Every musician needs to, at some point, evaluate themselves as a writer and performer. He or she needs to ask: What am I good at? Where do I need to improve? What follows is a short (and certainly not exhaustive) list of questions every performing songwriter should ask themselves:

  • Just how much do I want to be a performing songwriter? Do I have a desire to do this that just won't go away? Why do I want to write and perform songs? Desire and motivation are not "abilities", they are characteristics about yourself you should fully understand. When progress toward your goal seems slow, or you've just had the worst performance experience of your life, or your gear gets stolen or broken, or you don't get paid what was agreed upon in your performance agreement/contract, your desire and motivation to do what you love will keep you going. How do you assess your desire? The "bad stuff" is your measuring stick. If you can go through all the "bad stuff" with your desire intact, then you've got strong desire - and you get the "Glutton for Punishment" music career award.
  • Am I a strong singer? Do people respond to my voice? Would I benefit from vocal lessons? (We believe that every singer can benefit from the right kind of voice lessons.) Rate yourself honestly on a scale of 1-5 in these areas: ability to stay on pitch, breath control, control of dynamics, vocal range, ability to use stylistic interpretation appropriate for your genre. Now pick a successful artist from that genre and rate him or her. How do you measure up? Ask someone whose musical expertise you respect to rate you.
  • Am I a strong player? Are my instrumental skills what people most comment on? Am I able to effectively accompany myself? How hard am I willing to work on my playing? Again, rate your playing abilities on a scale of 1-5 in the areas appropriate to your instrument (this will be different depending on your instrument??¦you know what's important for your instrument, and if you don't, ask a great drummer/pianist/guitarist/sax player what those abilities/skills are). Now go rate a successful player, and ask someone to rate you.
  • Am I a good songwriter? How do my songs realistically compare to what is already out there? Am I willing to accept constructive criticism? Am I willing to work hard at the craft of writing? If you haven't already joined a local songwriting organization, this should be your first step. If there isn't one in your area, think about starting one yourself. As subjective as "art" may seem, there are objective criteria by which songwriting can be evaluated. Pick up a book on songwriting (such as "88 Songwriting Wrongs & How to Right Them: Concrete Ways to Improve Your Songwriting and Make Your Songs More Marketable" by Pat & Pete Luboff).
  • Where can I improve my performance? How can I make my total presentation more effective? Video tape yourself at your next performance to make this assessment. Does the total package hang together (clothes, demeanor, musical style)? Does the audience respond to you? Can you see any habits or quirks in your videotaped performance? (For fun, play the tape at fast speed??¦any quirky motions will become really obvious??¦be prepared to laugh at yourself!) Have a trusted friend or fellow performer evaluate you too. Any artist who is completely honest knows that there is room for improvement in every area. He or she is willing to put in the work, and make the necessary sacrifices for his/her art.

Perhaps you have already asked yourself questions like these. If so, you are well on the way to discovering who you are as a musician, and starting down the road of constant growth and improvement. It may sound like an old clich?©, but the most important thing is to be you. Don't try to do a particular style of music just to be "hip." Most people can easily tell when an artist tries to change their sound to be more "with it." If you write and play a certain style of music well, whether it is country, rock, or pop, or Celtic folk tunes, there will be people who will listen and enjoy, and want to buy your CD. If your music is a little "left of center," then maybe you'll be a performer who sets the trends, rather than trying to follow them.

Without exception, every performer who "makes it," who is effective in what they do over a long period of time, is constantly trying to improve in every area of their craft. Those who make it, and then let their craft slide, usually don't get away with it for long! For those who haven't "made it," there is no shortcut to greatness, no substitute for learning and practice.

This all may seem like basic stuff, but it's essential to have a firm foundation for your music. All these things ought to be settled before you take the major step of recording and releasing a CD.

A short bio:
Leon and Sheryl Olguin are the owners of S.O.L.O. Productions, a music production and digital media company, founded in 1990.

Sheryl Olguin: Sheryl is a performing songwriter with three independent releases and several published and recorded tunes to her credit. She has an extensive background in digital media. She led strategic Internet initiatives at Harris Corp, and later was responsible for the interactive digital TV demonstrations on the Harris/PBS DTV Express nationwide tour to promote digital television.

Leon Olguin: Leon is an arranger, producer, and recording engineer with two independent instrumental releases and numerous published and recorded compositions to his credit. He's a classically trained pianist with a BA in music theory and composition. He's had extensive experience as a studio musician, live performer, and music minister/director. His song "White as Snow" reached the status of classic worship song faster than any other song in the history of contemporary Christian music.

You can learn more about S.O.L.O. Productions, and about our studio, by visiting us at

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