Have You Thought About Adjacent Skills?

At the moment I’m on a plane headed to Atlanta. It’s 3 days before Thanksgiving and I decided that before meeting my family further south in Georgia, I’d spend some time on my own exploring the city and learning how to use my new camera. I have plans for some exciting projects in the works and I’ll need to be recording lots of video for promotion purposes. I’ll be wandering downtown for a good portion of these couple days just experimenting with this new and exciting tool, learning how to make the best use of it possible.

While I know I’m nobody’s photographer, I also know that this skill will be very valuable to me in growing my career. There are (for the most part) two ways to get things done in this profession. Do it yourself or pay someone else to do it. At some point in the future I look forward to paying others to do my demo videos for me, but that day ain’t today. If I want to get these projects off the ground, I’m going to need to do most of it myself.

The acquisition of adjacent skills – skills that aren’t exactly music, but sit next to music and are profitable for career building – has been (I think) my reason for success. In high school I was building websites and learning about HTML, just out of curiosity. In early college I started learning about social media. Later in college I started learning to audio record myself. At the end of my college career I started video recording myself. These skills at one point or another have helped me win competitions and scholarships, start a successful residency with my 8 piece band Full Force, build a significant online audience and much more.

These skills will never be a top priority for me. I’m a musician. Although I’m forever curious and I’m taking the learning of this new skill seriously, I’m not a marketer, audio engineer or photographer, and this has some important implications.

First, unless I really make building on these skills a first order priority, I’ll never become an expert. It’s important to set realistic goals with these as I don’t want to find myself in over my head or discouraged by my results. The camera that I just bought is a central tool of an entirely different profession. A photographer is never going to just pick up a drum set, practice it for several hours after they get it, read a couple books, watch some videos, and all of a sudden be able to keep up with me on the drums. Why would I expect something like that to happen for me with photography?

I have every intention of becoming proficient with a camera and no interest in becoming an expert. I’ve got to focus on my music. Photography, videography, graphic design, and film editing are and will always be no more than adjacent skills, acquired only to make the foundation of my music career more robust and wide. If it somehow became a distraction, that would be detrimental rather than profitable.

Additionally there will come a time when the acquisition of this and other skills will serve its purpose and it will be time to outsource them. This will be a good sign when this happens, it’ll mean that acquiring the skill was worth it. I’m really excited for when this happens!

Also, being able to do these skills at a level of proficiency means that I can get paid for doing them. A prime example would be what I’m doing with Giving Tree Music. Right now I’m not only a lead drum circle facilitator with GT, I’m also the media and marketing manager for the company. My adjacent knowledge of social media marketing came in handy and created an opportunity for me to make additional income with the organization. There are upsides and downsides to this. On one hand, every moment I’m working on adjacent skill building is a moment I’m not drumming. Every instance where I’m getting paid to do an adjacent skill is an instance where I’m not building my own business. Striking a balance here has been a challenge, honestly. I wouldn’t say I’ve mastered it but it’s getting there gradually.

Lastly, I wouldn’t invest time in adjacent skills that don’t interest me or that I wouldn’t enjoy. This decision has a cost too though. If I decide not to do this myself, I’ve got to pay someone else to do it if I ever need it. That’s an opportunity cost! It just so happens that my proclivity for curiosity makes almost every music adjacent field fascinating for me, but even that in itself has its costs! As I mentioned earlier, every moment spent learning about social media consumer behaviors is a moment spent not drumming. Those add up! Weighing all these costs and making a decision feels like the right way to decide about adjacent skills to me.

Overall, I’m convinced (based on my own experience and the observation of others’), adjacent skills are a necessity to making the beginning of your career go. From getting projects from your brain to the band stand, to making extra money, these additional tools help you start (and continue) moving towards meaningful goals.

If you’re in an entrepreneurial position of some kind, especially as a musician, have you considered what other skills you might be interested in that will help you accomplish your ultimate goal? It might just make the difference between success and failure!

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