Because music is closely intertwined with emotion, musicians often approach their work with unrealistic expectations. Big, vague, and unreachable expectations can be dangerous because they lead musicians to exchange focusing on small successes for ones they’ll never be able to attain. Here’s a list of three unrealistic musical expectations to watch out for:
I won’t have to work hard to be successful in music
Our first unrealistic music expectation typically separates serious lifelong musicians from those who show temporary interest and quickly move on to something else when things get tough. Writing music and playing shows can be incredibly fun, but it takes a massive amount of work to get there. From routing tours to investing money, it takes real sacrifice to find success in music, not just hard work. Finding the fun in being a serious musician is essential, but if you’re not willing to work hard, becoming successful in music won’t be in the cards for you. There’s nothing wrong with making music for fun, but if you’re set on finding listeners for your music, some serious work needs to happen.
Someday I’ll be able to focus on nothing but my music
This is a tough one. I wish we lived in a world that valued the hard work of musicians, but we don’t. Even hugely successful musicians are now having a hard time making ends meet with their work, but the truth is that being a professional musician has always been difficult. No matter how much success you find in music, having the expectation of one day being able to focus 100% on writing songs and performing is not only unrealistic but can also be destructive. There’s a time in every successful musician’s career when outside help is needed to steady the ship. This is where accountants, managers, labels, and publishers come in. But letting other people manage all the non-musical aspects in your career is a bad idea. This is why so many musicians sign bad contracts and are taken advantage of. And when it comes to the overwhelming majority of musicians who don’t go on to be major superstars, writing emails, routing tours, negotiating contracts, and promoting new releases will always be a part of working as a serious musician.
My music is only good if it’s making me money
Absolutely untrue. If you’re a serious musician that works hard to create music, you deserve to get paid. But unfortunately, we’re living in a time where audiences are gobbling up as much music as they can listen to for hardly any money. This means that there’s not much money to go around, even for artists who find lots of listeners for their music. While money is of course vital for every musician, it can’t be the only metric of their success. This is another tough pill to swallow, but that’s the way it is. A better way to approach music is to know in advance how difficult it is to earn money in it. Have a plan that lets you be creatively active, but financially sustained at the same time. For some musicians, this means taking side jobs in music that aren’t focused on their own music. For others, it means taking work completely outside of music.
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.