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.