1. Take Responsibility
America’s greatest songwriter’ Irving Berlin, celebrated as ‘America’s greatest songwriter’, wrote 1600 songs, including the including many of the standbys for Ella Fitzgerald, Frank Sinatra, and Fred Astaire. But his beginnings did not guarantee any type of success.
Born Israel Beilin in Belarus (country between Poland and Russia), he saw the Cossacks burn down his village, back in his home country. They lived in a little windowless basement in New York, until his father died at the age of 13, when he left home, because he felt that he was too much of a burden on his mother. He lived in a flop house with dozens of other boys, and survived by selling newspapers and busking (singing songs for tips) in bars.
2. Focus on Your Strengths
Irving Berlin’s father had been a cantor. When the family came to the states he could find a position as a cantor, and so had to take other work. But that art, that inherent talent was passed to his son, Irving. Even though his father died, even though he was living in desperate circumstances, or perhaps because of it, he immediately focused on what he could do: Sing!
3. Start where you are
Berlin wrote: “Everybody ought to have a lower East Side in their life.”
Irving Berlin, could think as many immigrants do, that education is the way to move beyond a difficult situation. Like Benjamin Franklin almost 200 years earlier, he did not receive schooling beyond elementary school. Berlin could demand his rights, that others provide him a quality institutional education. He might have said, if only my circumstances were better. He might have said, the government, my family should support me, I’m only 13.
But he saw where he actually was. Living in a ghetto within a ghetto. He saw that people paid kids to sing songs in bars. He began singing. 10 years later he was making $100,000 per year. But at that moment, he just started singing.
4. Build on Your Strengths
Berlin once said: “Talent is only the starting point.”
From the moment Berlin began singing songs in the bars for tips, he had an urge to start writing songs. He wrote his first hit at the age of 15.
So he was an artist, as showman (in fact he wrote the song There’s No Business Like Show Business, as part of his musical: Annie Get Your Gun). However he built on his talents, a growing technique.
He never learned how to read music, nor did he learn to play the piano beyond the key of ‘F’.
So he brought in those who could complement his art and his technical ear. He worked with musical secretaries who would write his scores. He could hear syncopated melodies in his mind, and sing them, but he built his team that could manifest it on paper.
5. Don’t stop
The toughest thing about success is that you’ve got to keep on being a success, Berlin famously complained.
Berlin wrote 1600 songs. Not all of them were hits. Perhaps 100 or so are really remembered today. But he kept producing throughout his life. Of course, he loved writing songs, loved singing, and that’s the point. To be successful, you’re going to have to keep working – so make should it is work that you love.