The Pyramid of Excellence: why those at the top get MORE help, not less

“Bop Skizzum?  Why did THEY sign up for your bootcamp?”  

That’s what the mother of one of my students said.  
Bop Skizzum is a great 7-piece Denver funk band that’s been around for years, has released several albums and EPs, puts on a tight stage show, and has an incredibly dedicated fan following.  The last show of theirs I went to was themed “Nerd Prom”, complete with a competition for Nerd Prom King and Queen.  At least half the fans dressed up as nerd prom attendees!  With such a dedicated fanbase and so much success, why would they need to get any better?  Aren’t they already good enough?  Aren’t they already successful?
My husband, a competitive athlete his whole life, summed it up with a perfectly simple image:  a pyramid.  Call it the pyramid of excellence.
The pyramid of excellence contains everyone who participates in some sort of activity that has limited room at the top for success:  javelin throwing, dog breeding, marathon running, politics, American Idol, whatever.  There’s only so much room at the top for the best.
The bottom of the pyramid is full of the novices, the hobbyists, the people who do it on the weekend or once or twice a month just for fun.  They’re content to take a lesson here and there, maybe a free one from a friend.  They dabble.  They aren’t trying to be great – and greatness isn’t going to come bite them in the butt. There’s certainly nothing wrong with being there, as long as you know that you’re not going to magically rise to the top of the pyramid.
The top of the pyramid contains those who take an endeavor so seriously that they live it and breathe it 24/7, and they have edged out most or all of their competitors.  They continually strive to get better.  They use every tool at their disposal.  They have a team of people helping them do the best they can in every facet of their career.  An athlete may have a coach, a nutritionist, a manager, and a physical therapist.  A musical artist may have an agent, a manager, a publicist, a web developer, a record producer, a voice and/or instrument coach, a tour manager, a sound engineer, a lighting designer, a stage designer, a live music producer… and on and on depending on the size of the production.
The middle of the pyramid is a churning mix of people who take it more or less seriously.  At any given moment in time, some of them are moving up toward the top, trying to displace the people on top.  And some of them are past their peak, or have stopped working to maintain their position, and they’re falling.
Why do so many musicians think that the better they are, the more fans they have, the more success they’ve achieved, that the LESS help they need?  Athletes sure don’t think that way.  The more elite the athlete, the more elite coaching she gets.  Why?  
Because it’s more competitive at the top!   Every time you get better, your competition gets better, too, because you’ve moved up a level in the pyramid.  So every time you move up, in order to move up again, you have to displace ever more skilled, talented, trained and dedicated competitors.  
There may not be a shotgun start or a finish line in music, but you’re still facing competition from other bands.  There’s competition for show dates, music sales, fan attendance at your gigs… and even simply competition to be heard above the din of the thousands of other bands in your local area.
So what did Bop Skizzum say when they called me to sign for the bootcamp?  Exact words:  “We’re just always trying to get better.”

Check out Onstage Success Backstage for lots of free resources, as well as an inexpensive subscription membership to the premium content.  There’s a ton you can learn in there while spending only a minimal amount!  It’ll help you move up the pyramid.


(c) 2011 Adrienne Osborn

Adrienne Osborn is a vocalist and performance coach based in Colorado.   For more free articles and tips, visit