3 Common Unrealistic Expectations For Musicians

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.

Dave3 Common Unrealistic Expectations For Musicians


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  • Chris - November 20, 2018 reply

    Such a grounded perspective also full of compassion and reverence for the music and people making it. Thanks Patrick!

  • Ellen Harris - November 20, 2018 reply

    Now that’s a handful. As a Gospel artist, You must give it all you got, and after that leave it to God. Yes think outside the box and work those “hats” of serving as host, planner, support person behind the curtain. Continue to write, stay busy and do something recreational..have fun with your friends. Host a small dinner party and invite others to provide the entertainment. You don’t have to be up front all the time. I’m praying for direction for my next project.

  • MOZ3Z - December 6, 2018 reply

    I’ve been having a hard time explaining this to some of my mates. I don’t know if I’ll ever be in a position to even sell my music. So far I make, negative(a shit load of hours/dollar.) I don’t have a bunch of fans yet but I know my lyrics are going to compete because I put those hours in. There’s no way to cheat the work. It comes hand in hand with becoming good at whatever it is that you do. I work as a machinist on 2nd shift. I find it helpful to record when all my neighbors are at work during the day. Great write man.

  • marsahye muzik - December 7, 2018 reply

    why people stay so

  • Grain Silo - October 27, 2019 reply

    If you’re a serious musician that works hard to create music, you deserve to get paid.I agree with you

  • BOILER INDONESIA - November 20, 2021 reply

    Good artcile, but it would be better if in future you can share more about this subject. Keep posting.

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