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How To

Bruce Lee: What Indie Artists Can Learn

Photograph of the blog post author, Jon



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Indie music is a way of making and producing music in a way that does not follow old traditions. For those who don’t know, independent music is created, produced or released by artists. They either release this by themselves or through independent record labels, normally on joint 50/50 terms. In many ways, Indie music is similar to the philosophy of Martial Arts master, actor, and filmmaker, Bruce Lee. In this article, we will look at lessons that indie artists can learn from Bruce Lee, and how he created success for himself.

bruce lee actor

Why Bruce Lee?

You might be wondering how does Bruce Lee tie in with indie artists and success in the music industry? Well, Bruce Lee had an approach to life that was unique and focused. It did not follow pre-determined paths or match what was happening in the industry at the time.

Lee was born in the US but lived in Hong Kong from when he was a baby until he was 18 years old. He started studying the art of Wing Chun Gung Fu when he was 13. At 18, he moved back to the States and settled in Seattle. He enrolled in the University of Washington to pursue a degree in philosophy, waiting tables and teaching Gung Fu classes to support himself. Lee had a dream of becoming an actor – but how could he make that happen?

As a young actor, he struggled to get movie roles in Hollywood. In Seattle in the 60s, there weren’t many roles for Asian actors. So, if he was going to make it in the industry, he would have to make his own films. Sound familiar, indie artists?

Bruce Lee: From Struggle To Success

Lee faced many obstacles in his quest to become an actor in the US. When he first arrived in Hollywood, he found that his lack of perfect English and institutional prejudice from within studios made it tough to get roles. Although he had been a child actor in Hong Kong, appearing in 20 films, he struggled to get parts in American TV shows. 

Bruce was frustrated, but rather than give up, he returned to Hong Kong. There, he signed a film deal with Raymond Chow, who has recently set up his own production company, Concord. The Big Boss (released in 1971) broke all Hong Kong box office records, leading to two more films with Chow. There was Fist of Fury & The Way of the Dragon, which Bruce starred, directed and co-produced himself. He then went on to become the biggest actor in Hong Kong, and an internationally recognised martial artist and director.

Hollywood caught wind of the huge success Bruce had achieved in Asia, and Warner Bros offered Lee a deal he couldn’t refuse. In 1973, he co-produced and starred in a film collaboration between American and Chinese filmmakers. The iconic Warner Bros film “Enter the Dragon” was born, and catapulted him to superstardom. Released two weeks after his untimely death, it was a smash hit movie overnight.

What Indie Artists Can Take Away From Bruce Lee

1. Never Give Up On Your Dreams

Lee’s philosophy on life was simple. He believed that he could achieve anything if he worked hard enough and showed determination. Many in the music industry also have to work hard for years to break through. Rarely in creative industries is it easy, and overnight successes are nowhere near as common as they seem.

A lot of people tried to discourage Lee, saying he’d never be accepted in the US, but he didn’t let that bring him down. He had a plan and he was determined to make it happen. No matter what type of obstacles you may face, have the courage and determination to believe in yourself and never give up. Also, make smart, strategic choices and constantly work on improving your art. Let’s take a look at what Lee did:

  • Surrounded himself with others who inspired him
  • Dedicated himself to honing his craft
  • Learned how to do multiple things such as choreographing fight scenes, directing and filmmaking
  • Used his popularity in Hong Kong to break into the US film industry

2. Learn From The Masters

bruce lee quotes

Bruce Lee’s personal library of over 2,500 volumes is on display in the Wing Luke Museum. Besides reading books on philosophy and martial arts, he started writing some of his own books, sharing his ideas to help people achieve their own goals.  

If you want to gain knowledge and skills, study the experts in your field. Learn how to make your own music videos, write your own songs, and record your own music. Also, make sure that you know how the release process works, and how to promote your music once it is out in the world. You also need to know how the music business works, so you can make informed decisions.

3. Use Your Time Wisely

bruce lee movie

Although martial arts is a physical sport, he understood that besides training his body, he also had to train his mind. One of his famous quotes is: 

“Defeat is a state of mind; no one is ever defeated until it has been accepted as a reality.”  – Bruce Lee

He worked hard to train his mind and sharpen his focus. He kept a journal of his daily activities as proof that he was making good use of his time. Time is a precious thing, so don’t waste a moment on self-doubt or fear of failure. Use your time to better yourself and learn as much as you can to support your music-making.

4. Be Determined When Facing Opposition

Lee fought against racial stereotypes, people with doubts, and those who said he wouldn’t make it.

The films he auditioned for were casting white men in roles playing an Asian character. He realised that if this was going to change, he would have to start his own film company and make movies the way he thought they should be made. Rather than conforming to what others thought about how to make martial arts films, Bruce wanted to make movies that accurately portrayed the Asian culture and his style of martial arts.

The moral of the story is: don’t listen to people who keep you from doing what you know to do. Don’t let doubt hold you back, and don’t worry about what other people will think. If there isn’t a place for what you want to do, then make one. If you have limited resources or funding but want to make music, get creative and make your own home studio.

5. Don’t Overthink Things

bruce lee in film

“If you spend too much time thinking about a thing, you’ll never get it done” – Bruce Lee

Another of Bruce Lee’s quotes, this rings true for all creatives. When faced with new challenges, we tend to want to take our time and think about it. This is a wise decision, but don’t think about it to the point of putting off acting on it. 

We tend to make things more complicated than they need to be and if you begin questioning “what if?”, you may never get anything done. Chances are, you will talk yourself out of making something happen if you overthink.

6. You Need A Support System

While Bruce lived an incredible, but short life he had relationships with others that he took the time to build. He had close friends, including a young Jackie Chan, Steve McQueen, James Coburn, his wife Linda Lee and their two children that kept him pushing for greatness.

Don’t think you have to do it all on your own. You need people who encourage and inspire you to learn, grow, and who can offer advice or feedback where necessary.

7. The Key To Success Is Focus

Keeping a laser-sharp focus on your goal is required to make it happen. 

In martial arts, you are taught to block out distractions in order to focus your mind on the techniques being taught. It is the same way with art. When you work or practice, remove all distractions like phones and tablets. Disconnect yourself from outside influences for a period of time so you can focus on the task at hand.

Final Thoughts on Bruce Lee’s Ethos For Success

Using nunchucks

Lee inspired millions of people to set goals and not let anything hold them back. The takeaway from this article for independent artists is that you don’t have to be the best at everything, have a lot of money, or come from an artistic background. Having talent is a start, but to achieve what you want in life, you need determination, self-motivation and the willingness to work hard. Also, remember that sometimes the biggest obstacles in your path are the mental barriers we create ourselves. Good luck and keep pushing and thinking outside of the box!

If you are interested in the crossover between music and film, check out our article on music supervisors. With our concierge and service and extensive music library, allow us to help you find music for your film. Sign up free for Мusic Gateway now!


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