Generally, accomplished musicians attribute their success to a combination of talent, luck, hard work, and the help of a few key mentors. When asked if they had a concrete plan for their career path, most successful musicians will say no.
Either they had no plan at all or they had only a vague vision. They stumbled onto opportunities. There were stretches of time when their lives made no sense, when they seemed directionless. They bounced from project to project relying on their instincts and following the “path” of their artistic integrity. Miraculously, it all worked out pretty well. Accomplished musicians often find the idea of career planning in music to be strange. They may think, “How can you plan for success when you can't control luck or talent?”
I want to come clean about some inherent problems with the concept of career paths. It's a problem inherent to books such as this and to my profession, career counseling.
It's blasphemous for me to admit, but the real way people go through life is not with a handy map and directions. They don't usually set goals and plan carefully and work systematically toward success. Why? Because there's so much in life we can't control and so much of our career direction depends on exploration. Life is fluid and so are careers.
Musicians usually experience their careers as a series of projects, such as recordings, work with various ensembles, commissioning or grant projects, involvement with specific repertoire, residencies, and so on. These projects may overlap and connect but just as often they don't.