After winning a context, guitar performance student Ben Levin—last seen auditioning for Lady Gaga’s band—is in Los Angeles at a master class with his creative hero, Berklee alumnus Steve Vai—and he’s just stuck his foot in his mouth. Fortunately, they move on….
Steve immediately opened the floor for questions and not too many people were raising their hands. Since I had A LOT of questions, I ended up asking a ton of them and I got some incredibly inspiring information out of him! He also asked us what our goals were and offered personal advice.
Here are my two most important questions and Steve’s answers as I understood them:
Q: I write more material than I can afford to record. My goal is to be able to record my music whenever I want, in the most pristine quality, and have my albums fund the production, promotion, and tours of my next albums. Do you have any advice for me?
A: Steve said that there is absolutely no reason why I can’t do that, and that the first important thing to do is to visualize myself achieving my goal. When I get a clear mental image of how success would look, feel, and sound, I can properly take the steps to reach my idea of success.
Secondly, to achieve my goals, I have to look at the journey to my idea of success as a path with little steps. Navigating through each step or idea I have requires a lot of creative thought of course, but ultimately, successfully climbing one of the steps requires me to find joy in the process of climbing in the first place. In other words, the way to move closer to achieving my goals, is to focus on the things that I love about the process. Steve said that you can only truly succeed at something that you love doing. To me that means if you have to get a day job, you should view your job as something that further enables your passion. Your job is something that enables you to move forward on your journey. Having this positive perspective allows you to maintain focus on everything you love about the process, so that you will be better at it. Clearly people do a better job when they love what they’re doing. Also, each time you take one of those little steps forward, you feel really great and accomplished, which encourages you to do even more!
Finally, you must never question whether or not your goal can be achieved because that sucks the pleasure out of everything and leads to failure. Vai said, “If you think you’ll fail, you’ll fail. If you think you’ll succeed, you’ll succeed. No matter what, you’re right.”
Basically, success comes from love of the process, having a strong idea of what the process is, and NEVER allowing yourself to doubt whether or not the goal can be achieved. The love has a spiraling effect to it, where the more you love about what you do, the more you love what you do.
Q: I am about to graduate from Berklee, and I am making the sudden jump from the academic bubble to the professional universe. You made that switch very abruptly jumping from Berklee to Zappa’s band. Can you tell me about that transition and what it was like?
A: There is nothing you can do to prepare for it. It is chaos. However, if you focus on your goals (through the process described earlier,) you will find your way in the business. You need to truly believe in yourself. If you doubt yourself, you become that doubt. The game is 99% mental.
I had a very positive attitude going into the clinic thanks to my morning with Josh, the other guitarists were extremely cool, and Steve Vai was so inspirational. I feel like I was really able to soak it in. So, when it came time to give Steve my press kit. I simply told him what it was, and that if he wants to check out the music it’s there for him. I let him have my work that I poured my heart into, but didn’t pressure him to keep it. I didn’t have to, because I know that no matter what happens, I will succeed.