1. Don't be a dick.
There a fuckload of dicks in the music business, don't be one of them. The best way to avoid having to shift into "dick mode" is to be SMART and know all the little tricks the dicks are gonna use to screw you. See, dicks don't trust their talent enough anymore to just be themselves, they have this insecure need to screw people over and inject drama into every room they enter because then they get to wreak their havoc.
But when you let a dick know that you're already well-versed on such tricks and are not going to be a patsy, they will give you this look that says, "Note to self, do not fuck with THAT one." See, dicks don't like confrontation. To put it in Texas Hold 'Em terms, they wanna scare you away with their bluster so they don't have to show you their cards. In other words, it's a bluff. They are a bluff. Oh sure, sometimes they might really have a nice hand, but don't let them scare you off your hand, which is usually better.
Develop your talent. If you play bass, immerse yourself in the work of the great bass players and avoid all the usual inter-band drama that pops up when a dick gets bored or begins to feel insecure. Best move I ever made as a band member was to become a "student" of the synthesizer. Instead of hanging around after rehearsals to sip beers and gossip with everybody else, I was back to my apartment to plug in my synth and get back to work.
The next practice, I would not only know my shit forward and backwards, but I would get the "greatest hits" from the last post-rehearsal knitting club, including the bit about the dick in the band getting a few beers in them and being openly critical of a fellow band mate.
2. Be the one others "cheat off of in class".
In putting together my last live band, I brought in two guys who were the rhythm section for of one of my favorite bands in the '90s. These two got to experience the "rare air" of life as a major label recording artist for a good five years and before having to return to the local scene and do things on a much smaller scale. Some people who have made it that high up the ladder and fallen back to earth never quite recover. They develop bad habits, get lazy, or just can't imagine working that hard again to build something from scratch.
The bass player, who has a family and a day gig, was the first to arrive at our first rehearsal with a notebook of all the chords, all the lyrics, and a ton of notes about anything he had a question about.
And when we played out, after the show, people were constantly coming up to me to comment not on how great I was, but how fucking stellar my bass player was.
I didn't take offense because I knew he deserved all the attention that came his way. I knew that, in rehearsals, he was always the guy the others looked to for direction as we learned the tunes.
3. Enjoy the preparation as much as the game.
Some view practicing, rehearsing and learning as a necessary evil while a successful musician looks forward to spending any quality time they can get with their instrument or band. Every time you rehearse, you learn something. Every time you practice, you refine your abilities. So why not look forward to that time by reminding yourself that for all the nights spend onstage or in a recording studio, there will be just as many spent in a rehearsal room or at home just honing your craft.
For many, 98% of their time as a musician is spent off-stage. The more successful you are, the lower that percentage gets. The harder you work behind-the-scenes, the more time you get in the spotlight, so relish the preparation and savor each and every second spent in front of an audience.
4. Roll tape at all times.
We musicians of a "certain age" all know the feeling of being part of a group of players that are "in the zone", laying down some serious boogie for the ages, only to have absolutely no idea how to recreate such magic once its over because nobody could remember what they played.
Back then, a smart band could've hit "RECORD" on a $20 cassette player just to be safe, but then they'd also have to remember to flip the tape over every 30 minutes, which always proved to be the tough part, especially when the band was really grooving and creativity was running wild.
These days, with enough storage space on your SD card, your iPhone, or your laptop, you can "roll tape" indefinitely. Truth be told, these days, it's just as easy to shoot video as capture audio and, thus, there is no excuse for not rolling tape at all times because you could wind up capturing that song or moment that kicks you up a few tax brackets.
5. Throw away the rule book.
In music, nobody remembers those who play by the rules. You think Prince or David Bowie played by the rules? Bowie got big only after he decided to stop being "normal" David Jones and decided that he was going where there were no rules.
Remember when Liz Phair made her ridiculously obvious pop album in hopes of becoming a mainstream pop star? It was a dismal failure and copies of that album now litter the used bins, yet folks continue to talk about her legendary debut effort Exile In Guyville.
The reason they're talking about Guyville is because that album broke all the rules. If Liz would have continued on being the bad-ass for whom rules did not apply, we'd be talking about more of her albums than just Guyville.
So the next time you tell yourself that you can't do something because it goes against "the rules", perhaps it is finally time to chuck that book out the window.