Music is, was, and probably always will be an often brutal and thankless career path for most musicians. Summing a musician’s struggle up as lots of work for not much money would be way too simple because for serious songwriters and musicians, the emotional toll of trying to forge a path in music proves to be emotionally unbearable from time to time. For most musicians, money is secondary to their passion, but rejection after rejection and the creeping feeling that an artist’s sacrifice, talent, and work won’t ever amount to anything is often so damaging that it makes even the most promising musicians question themselves. Learning to cope with disappointment is not an option if you love making music and want to share it with people.
The overnight myth
There’s a common theme surrounding lots of successful bands. It’s the idea that musicians without much training or experience got together, started making music, and blew up a short time later. While this narrative is true for some bands, it doesn’t happen very often. And when it does, there’s huge parts of the story often left out to consider. Even musicians who experience quick unexpected success have usually put in years of hard work to get where they’re at now. The overnight myth builds hype and sells concert tickets, but there’s rarely much truth in it.
For everyone else––the 95% of other musicians out there––it can sometimes take a decade or two to make something meaningful happen with their music. These years of development and struggle are critical for a musician, and they’re often filled with crushing disappointment after crushing disappointment. How a musician bounces back after disappointment can mean the difference to whether they’ll go on to succeed or not.
Let your passion be your center
Remembering and re-focusing on what drives you to create music is one of the best things you can do when you’re dealing with rejection or the frustration of nothing happening with your music. Consider what really drives you to make music for a second. Is it to make money? To get famous? To feel the love and admiration that might be missing from other parts of your life? If those are the things that drive you, music will always lead to disappointment. There’s exceptions, but most musicians can’t stay in the game for the long term unless the core of what drives them is the pure love for making music. Coming back to this love again and again is one of the only things that can help you bounce back from frustration, pain, and rejection in music.
Look at the bigger picture and keep going
When you pour everything you have into an album or tour, it can be devastating when things don’t go as well as you’d hoped. During times like these, musicians should try to look at the bigger picture of things instead of giving in to despair. Not everyone is going to like your music. Not everyone is going to understand it. Rather than lamenting that you’re not as successful as you wish you were, accept the way things are and keep making music. Take time to acknowledge your disappointments and feel your feelings, but then get back to doing what you love.
Patrick McGuire is a writer, musician, and human man. He lives nowhere in particular, creates music under the name Straight White Teeth, and has a great affinity for dogs and putting his hands in his pockets.