FEATURE: Music Musings and Such at Six: The 10,000-Hour Rule: Burnout, Progress and Ambition



Music Musings and Such at Six:



 The 10,000-Hour Rule: Burnout, Progress and Ambition


MAYBE that order of words is wrong but I wonder…



at a time when artists have to work so much harder (than ever) to prove themselves – are we putting too much pressure on their shoulders?! For me, I wanted to raise this subject for two reasons. For one; the sixth anniversary of my blog is upcoming: it is something I have dedicated a lot of my free time to and am constantly searching for rewards and new chances. Another reason involves the lengths musicians have to go to achieve their dreams – and whether innate talent and dexterity is more important than work ethic and commitment when it comes to achieving goals. Before I come onto my own experiences; a quick question: Where does that 10,000-hour rule from? It is from Malcolm Gladwell’s popular book, Outliners, and states, in order to perfect a craft/object; one must expend that many hours. I was interested in a BBC article - that went into more depth:

But Ericsson (Anders) was not pleased. He wrote a rebuttal paper in 2012, called The Danger of Delegating Education to Journalists.

"The 10,000-hour rule was invented by Malcolm Gladwell who stated that, 'Researchers have settled on what they believe is the magic number for true expertise: 10,000 hours.' Gladwell cited our research on expert musicians as a stimulus for his provocative generalisation to a magical number," Ericsson writes.

Ericsson then pointed out that 10,000 was an average, and that many of the best musicians in his study had accumulated "substantially fewer" hours of practice. He underlined, also, that the quality of the practice was important.

"In contrast, Gladwell does not even mention the concept of deliberate practice," Ericsson writes.

Gladwell counters that Ericsson doesn't really think that talent exists.

 "When he disagrees with the way I interpreted his work, it's because I disagree with him," he says.

"I think that being very, very good at something requires a big healthy dose of natural talent. And when I talk about the Beatles - they had masses of natural talent. They were born geniuses. Ericsson wouldn't say that”.

I have a concern modern musicians/music personnel are getting caught in a trap between talent and expectation. That 10,000-hour figure seems arbitrary and random but is there truth that, regardless of your level of expertise/proficiency, you can master anything in that time? Modern music requires total focus and balancing so many different aspects. The industry is so competitive so I wonder, regardless of the number of hours expended, are the hardest working and most dedicated likely to get the same amount of success as those who ride and skate through life? In music, I see so many artists who have big labels behind them and get into music to get money and easy fame. Other have joined the business relatively late and, by being in the ‘right place at the right time’, they are granted golden tickets and fabulous rewards. There are many more who toil and endless work, only to see their fastidiousness and dedication go unnoticed. One of the reasons people like me get into journalism is to support new artists who create fantastic music – only to find very few people who will offer them exposure. Small venues and spaces are willing to put artists up but there are fewer people turning up to see performances. If a band/act struggles to draw people in; will talent and potential all count for anything?! It is hard organising and policing music so we can get people into spaces and ensure the best and brightest artists get their just rewards. The comparative lack of gig-goers is another area to explore but I wonder whether natural ability is as important as grafting and intent study.



It is clear the most respectable artists in the world did not get where they are by hard work alone. One needs talent and ability in the first place but it is important to supplement that with constant effort and attack. There are so many great artists emerging and putting their all into things but I am concerned, regardless of whether they obtain ‘expertise’ and a sense of perfection that will be enough. There is an inverse relationship between hours spent and success rate. If certain artists are getting to the precipice on looks and a certain personality; does that send a negative message to other artists – who, in turn, will quit and think they are not going to get anywhere?! I would say we need to do two things in order to sustain the quality and profligacy of music and ensure our best do not burn out. I think we need to re-nurture and subsidise small venues so those starting out are provided proper promotion and chance. If a lot of small venues are struggling to get people in; we need to look there. I have seen a lot of bands call time because punters are not coming out and seeing them. If the likes of Oasis and Primal Scream, back in the day, had been in the same position then they could have enjoyed very short careers. Regardless of the number of hours you put into music; are there structural and foundation issues that need to be addressed? I feel, in a digital age, hard work and talent need to accompany a savviness and market-minded brain that recognises the way modern music is going. It is all very well having awesome music and crafting endlessly. If you do not understand the intricacies, mechanisms and motives of Spotify – and other streaming services – then you are risky falling at the first hurdle.



One needs to assess a lot of different sides to the argument to get a clearer picture. Another article, that contradicts the rigidity of K. Anders Ericsson’s assumption, argued it is better to focus on quality rather than quantifiable hours:

In deliberate practice, you need to be fully tuned in to learning the skill you are working on, and minimize distractions as much as possible (put away your phone). Because focusing intently takes so much energy, you can really only sustain that level of practice for 60 to 90 minutes at a time, perhaps two hours at most.

Putting in too much time might mean you're not making good use of it. If that's the case, you're more likely to burn out. Instead, try to focus harder for a defined period of time, then take a rest.

Even when doing deliberate practice, reaching the top levels in a field is long road. Photographer Dan McLaughlin tried to develop the skills to become a PGA tour golfer with 10,000 hours of deliberate practice, despite having little experience with the sport. His mission stalled out just past 6,000 hours, when his body stopped cooperating and the demands of life made it hard for him to continue.

However, deliberate practice is still your best bet for mastering a skill to the extent your personal ability allows. So the next time you're trying to learn a new skill, worry more about the quality of your focus than the hours you log”.

As I come to my sixth anniversary of Music Musings and Such – in a couple of weeks – it is interesting looking at that magical number and whether expertise (whether that is possible) is the same as happiness and fulfilled? If one was to master an instrument or profession; does that make them more rounded and better suited to the industry?! In terms of music; maybe a more targeted approach to work is the best way to go about things? It may sound illogical but is it possible to put fewer hours in and produce something of a higher quality – that, in turn, is a more economical way of doing things?! There is always a part of my mind concerned musicians feel they need to push themselves to the point of breakdown in order to get further ahead.



There is no evidence to suggest a certain number of hours and effort will guarantee success. Music can be arbitrary and unpredictable: there is no golden rule as to what the industry will favour and what will strike the collective heart. One of my main problems is the burnout possibility and putting too much out there. If the article above suggests focus and logic is more important than irrational exhaustion and quantity – it gives me much to ponder as I continue to write and search. My goals is to monetise what I do and be in the position where I have influence and can mix it with the big guns – whether that is at a big radio station or newspaper, I am not sure. Are we in the music predisposed to expend an insane amount of time and effort simply to exist and remain stable? Maybe that is an issue in the wider working world but it is hard breaking away from an intuitive (if irrational) way of life and embracing something new. I am excited as I head into my seventh year (writing the blog) but am determined to reverse my current status and adopt a healthier approach to writing. Doing fewer pieces/interviews means I can concentrate on documentaries and single articles. It might not seem the best way to do things – fewer pieces means I there are fewer shares/retweets and people seeing my work – but people can see when someone is under pressure.


IN THIS PHOTO: Stefflon Don (an artist I am tipping for big success in 2018)

There is no point doing anything when you feel it necessary to push yourself to breaking-point. I feel the best way for myself, and people in the music industry, to get where they need to be is to preserve their health and look after themselves. One cannot function and work if they push their minds and bodies to the limit. Stepping back and allowing oneself to relax and recharge every now and then is a better long-term strategy. Sure; one needs to put the hours in but it is no good thinking you will master music and be a major success if you put in a five-figure slog. I am not near the 10,000-hour figure but feel, even if I do reach it, my success and potential will not be down to that milestone. Success and happiness will come, in time, but we need to – whether it seems impossible or not – stop chasing the eternal carrot and assuming failure will come if we do not constantly work. If it is deemed we all need to bust a gut and sacrifice so much of our self pursuing our dreams; the only way to confront this ill is to put ourselves first. I will take this approach because, for all of us, wellbeing is…



MUCH more important than popularity.