Why Money Shouldn’t Be Your Only Motivation For Making Music

In cities like LA, New York and London, you can’t throw a stone without hitting a musician intent on finding fame and fortune through making music. Despite existing in an oversaturated industry built on its workforce making less and less money, the idea that you could pump out a couple of hits and start making as much money as Kanye West is one that seems to persist despite mounting evidence that proves otherwise. If money is the motivating force behind why you create music, you might want to reconsider.

It’s not morally wrong to want to earn a living from making and performing music, but it is becoming increasingly unrealistic for songwriters and performers who write their own songs. Yes, there will always be jobs in cities like New Orleans, Nashville, Las Vegas, and Austin for hardworking musicians, but those positions are almost always reserved for world-class players who can perform covers of other artists’ music. If you want to make a living off of writing your own songs, that’s going to be a much tougher gig.

Money shouldn’t be your motivation for making music because, well, you most likely won’t succeed. And if people only made music if they were paid fairly for doing so, the world wouldn’t have nearly enough of it. Is it fair? Absolutely not, but the quicker you can accept this, the quicker you can focus your energy on doing what you love without the added pressure of trying to make money.

“Have you considered changing your music to sound like Mumford and Sons?”

I’ll never forget an exchange I had with the father of one of my guitar students. “We’re opening up for this really great band called The Oh Hellos,” I told him one night after the lesson. “Two sold out shows!” He smiled and asked, “When is your band going to be the one selling out the big shows? Have you considered changing your music to sound like Mumford and Sons?”

Though I didn’t show it, my initial response was anger. But the more I thought about it, the more I could see his point. He was a businessman, and he was saying that if the product I was producing wasn’t selling, it was time to rethink things. But rather than taking his advice and changing my music in order to cater to the masses, I decided to keep making music on my own terms knowing full well that there probably was never going to be money in it for me. Music has enriched my life in so many ways, but none of them have been through money.

There’s nothing wrong with making music and wanting to get paid for it, but creating any sort of art puts creators on an uncertain path when it comes to knowing what their making is worth and figuring out how or if they’ll ever get paid for it. If you’re one of the lucky few musicians who can earn money writing and performing their own music, that’s fantastic. But the rest of us might have to settle on making music because we simply can’t see ourselves being able to exist without doing so.

Patrick McGuire is a musician, writer, and educator currently residing in the great city of Philadelphia. He creates music under the name Straight White Teeth, and has a great affinity for dogs and putting his hands in his pockets.

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  • Walter Saenz - December 16, 2017 reply

    Doing what I love which is making music , it’s not about getting paid for it but making a living out something you love to do . Makes sense ? How can one person do that , how can I start from nothing to something in the music industry? I’m from Houston , Texas as you might know it’s where the music is . Houston Rappers , some which are really good songwriters and good instrumental and making a movement in Houston , that’s what’s music is about . Giving out a message to the people , your city , country whatever . It’s how I see it. How can I become someone here in Houston , I go way back in music, from old school like Ritchie valen era , Blues , Classic Rock like John Lennon , Marvin Gaye Era to Tupac and real song writers . I see the real side of music not like this new music movement the, “hippiity hop Pop pop Blah blah” , how can I join this music industry and make something ?

  • Annie Lynn - December 16, 2017 reply

    Good article Patrick! Thanks for writing and sharing the truth. Write music because you love to and need to. Often the money seems to find you as a result, anyway…just watch and see…. Happy Holidays from Annie Lynn AnnieBirdd Music, LLC Philly Girl✌🏻️😊🙋🎶🎹🎸🖖🏼

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