Do We Need Back Up?


The great artist Byron Stripling paid a visit to the University of Denver last year and blew everyone away! I HIGHLY recommend that you book this wonderful artist-speaker-entrepreneur for your event, concert, festival, performance, band whatever! He is wonderful on many, many different levels. Indeed, I believe him to be one of the most effective artists who came on the scene in the 20th Century and made the switch to the 21st Century out there. Please go to this site and book him right now: HIRE BYRON STRIPLING!


So, along with helping a friend by hopefully tossing him some work, I wanted to bring up Byron because of something he said to us in his wonderful presentation at DU that hit home with me…and I find it to be a great subject for a 21CA Blog post. So here it is:

Byron looked around the room and asked the students “Is there anything else you like to do besides music?” (One could also put the word “arts” in place of music) Some of the students raised their hands, Byron listened to their answers, then said: “Well you’d better do THAT then! Because music is HARD!”

Mr. Stripling went on to use a phrase I had not heard before (what rock had I been living under!) “Burn Your Boats!” A phrase that comes from the popular belief that the famous Conquistador Hernán Cortés told his men that they were going to conquer the Aztecs and take over Mexico…there was no other alternative…no turning back…and now you CAN’T because we just sank the fleet! Historians disagree if the ships were actually burned, if they were sunk by another method, if the soldiers were told in a dramatic fashion, or if it was a secret later revealed, but they do seem to agree that the ships were actually destroyed. And of course the brutal destruction of the mighty Aztec empire and peoples are a sad-but-true historical fact as well. (CLICK HERE for a bit of history on Cortés courtesy of PBS.) Byron used this well known metaphor to underline the fact that if you want to “make it” in the arts, you need to be ALL in, 100% -NO BACK UP PLAN!

But doesn’t this go against what most parents tell their children? I (and I’m sure MANY others) were told: “You’d better have something to fall back on honey. That music business is TOUGH!” Are these well-meaning and loving parents wrong about that? I think not. I believe what Byron was saying is that YES, the music business (and indeed all of the arts today) is TOUGH! Actually, it’s almost impossible! So you had better commit FULLY.

Indeed if you apply the teachings of my favorite philosopher: Jedi Master Yoda (Ok, full disclosure…I also am a devotee of Dr. Seuss and Mr. Rogers) then you know: “Do or do not. There is no try.”


What does all this mean? Well, there are others who take up this philosophy of “Burn Your Boats” such as successful entrepreneur John Dunham on his blog: Burn The Boats and their is even a blog on “take no prisoner” style entrepreneurship by a young independent Internet technologist (not really sure what that is) called Kevin-Mikhail Man­sour Sin­gara­yar titled “Burning Boats” CHECK IT OUT.

Does this kind of single-minded devoted approach mean that artists in the 21st Century need to be so committed that they starve? Nope. If we stick to the 21CA mantra of  Survive and Thrive then it’s ok to take a part-time gig of some kind so that you can put food on the table while you develop your artistic endeavor. This is also common sense. Indeed, the whole idea of 21st Century entrepreneurship in the arts is to diversify enrich and defy categorization. But perhaps then it is NOT ok to go about the incredibly important and SO very challenging task of pursuing the arts for your life’s work with a “back up plan” or “fall back” option. Does one strive to the fullest if one knows there are boat in the harbor for a quick getaway when the going gets tough?

I believe that the entrepreneurial motivational folk, Byron Stripling and yes: even Yoda are saying that we as 21st Century artists need to approach this whole thing with a spirit of “there is no other option” we are here to stay and we have NO plan to leave!

Is there any other way to go about doing all of this?

Your thoughts please. Think Tank…ASSEMBLE!

21 thoughts on “Do We Need Back Up?

  1. David Bernot September 30, 2015 / 5:03 am

    When I applied for college after high school, I told my parents I was between engineering and music for majors. I didn’t say this to satisfy them, even though I absolutely knew that I would want to major in music, it was a dream of mine to play jazz saxophone professionally ever since middle school, but as I was graduating high school, a sense of reality began to hit that I really wanted to be successful, I would have to be in it for the long haul or I could potentially be wasting time. I think I always knew I would choose to play music, I enjoyed my calculus and physics classes in high school, but I didn’t have nearly the same level of passion for engineering, if anything I thought it might be cool to understand the world on a more scientific or physics based level, but the real reason I was hesitant was just because I was afraid if I didn’t major in something more common, I might end up poor and unsuccessful as a musician. On the other hand, I could potentially still play music with a job in engineering or science to pay bills.

    It’s interesting how this thought enters the minds of even the most passionate musicians at some point or another. There may not be a way of knowing whether a challenging moment for an artist is worth falling back on another option, but we do know that the greats, all the people who inspire us as musicians or whatever kind of art we choose to create, they had those moments too! And of course the only proven way for it to work out as an artist is to adapt ourselves and push through those tough times. Someone who is forced to push through because they have burned their boats, is really the only one who even can even become a great artist.


  2. Junxiang Kuang October 1, 2015 / 8:44 pm

    I totally, absolutely, definitely agree with Byron, and “burn your boats” is a nice example.
    To be honest, I have burnt my boat since I chose art(specifically, music) to be my career for my whole life. The choice is happened when I was a sophimore in the high school. That day I make most important decision of my life. My parents was also surprised by me to tell them”I have already decided to apply for the bachelor degree in music ” “What? Are you serious?” Of course I am serious for 10000%. The reason is I really find out that I love music, and I enjoy to stand on the stage to perform for the audience and the clap they give. That is why I live in the world. From that day on, the relationship between me and my father is not that good than before because he want me to participate the army instead of being a musician. I sitll do the things I think right, and I believe he will understand me one day, and now he does. Actually, I have learned vocal since I was 10 years old, from that day on, I know I have no other choice to go, and I have to focus on what I really like and what I good at. Music is also the significant factor to distinguish me and other guys.

    But, in my opnion, “burning your boats” does not mean there is no way for a artist to pull back when them almost can not survive.Yes, we love art, but we also need to survive. “burning your boats” prefer to remind artists to focus on the art they work on, and do not find the reason readily to escape whenever they face the challenging problem. You, me, he or she who devote to the art should be firm when we got the challenge on our art way. We should always have belief of our art and belive the things we are work on is worth to wait. After all, there are a variety of ways for us to survive and reflect what we got and who we are. The live show is one of the way which is mentioned in the article.

    Overall, the answer of ‘Do we need back up’ depends on individual’s option. For my, I will never give up what I really love easily, and I will also go ahead on my art way.


  3. taylormartinconductor October 5, 2015 / 2:47 pm

    This is, I think, the big question we all face when we head into the realm of higher education in this field. I remember beginning to pursue a degree in Music Education because it meant a job (at the time…) but about halfway through my undergrad I was struggling with this idea that even though I was pursuing this career, that it was in a way a “life boat” because I didn’t find this “all in” passion working up to it. It was interesting because I strictly remember making the decision to go all in..and then ended up working at Starbucks for a year after college. The thing is, I needed that year – a lot! I had some growing up to do, I had things to learn about responsibility, and in the end it prepared me better for what seems like an eternity of graduate school. And now I’ve had that experience of working for my living outside of music, and I know that it does not fulfill me in the ways that it means to be a 21st century artist, even though I was still making music at the time. Telling a student to “burn their boats” can be a really good thing – many caring professors sat me down in college to tell me essentially the same thing. And what it meant was not that I would never work part time in another field, I think it just meant that I would always desire something beyond that. I would never settle for work that wasn’t me, and their challenge to work and work until I’ve “conquered the Aztecs” (that’s a terrible metaphor – but *context*) is what stuck with me about their charge. And I have to say that this philosophy really dictates my life and my career now, and it feels like it always will.


  4. Eunha So October 8, 2015 / 12:53 am

    “Do we need a back up?” This is a hard question to answer, because you never know that you would need a back up till you need one. Especially, for a student who is trying to decide their career/future plan. This question allow me to think further, “How do we prepare a back up?”. The first time I had to think about this question is when I was choosing a major in college. Choosing a major between music and other majors (those are more likely to make a sustainable income) was a tough decision. At that time I was into science and math and music, and I wanted to do everything, but I was not able to do everything I wanted to do. I did not want to spread myself too thin, so I had to decide one. The most important part of this process is what comes after. After I decided to be music major, I have been dedicating my effort/time sole into music. As Mr. Stripling said I decided to burn my boats. I think important to do this, since I really want to become a performing professional musician, dedication is required.
    However, just because I decided to burn the boat to do music does not mean I have to starve myself. There are other back-ups available that is related to music. For example, I am doing an internship that is related to non-profit local music organization, the skills I learned from being music major are still applicable to my internship. Music majors can also takes gigs such as wedding band, bands for background music at a cooperate event. As a music major, it is important to know what other possibilities to make money are available to musicians. “What kind of back up do we need?”, “How can we utilize our skills to prepare a back up plan?”.


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