Guarantees are few and hard to come by for those working professionally as music-makers. For most of us, uncertainty is an unavoidable part of writing songs, booking shows, and trying to make a living through music. Through a combination of talent, hard work, and creating the right music at the right time, some musicians find the kind of success in their work that changes the rest of their lives. But for others––the vast majority of musicians––life-altering success in music never quite materializes. The sad truth is that you could do everything right and never find success in music. Here are three reasons why:
Your music doesn’t resonate
The profession of songwriting is strange because it’s one where talented, hardworking people don’t always succeed. Seasoned writers who’ve been making music for decades have roughly the same chance as a couple of teenagers making music in a garage at writing music that people resonate with and remember. In songwriting, a person’s musical intuition and technical ability on an instrument don’t mean anything if they can’t write music that actually means something to people. Lots of songwriters have trouble writing good music because they conflate musical talent with the ability to write memorable music.
You’re not lucky
Music is one of the world’s most competitive industries, and it’s only getting worse. There’s incredible music being released every day that no one will ever hear or remember for no reason other than the fact that listeners are now inundated with more music than they can possibly listen to in a lifetime. Luck has always been an essential part of success for musicians, and the current music climate is no exception. Things like who you meet and the “right place, right time” aspects surrounding your music are powerful things that can make or break careers, and we typically have little or no control over them. Some musicians are hugely lucky, and others aren’t.
You’ve suffered setbacks beyond your control
It’s tragic when talented musicians are kept from realizing their potential because of things like addiction, disease, loss, and conflict. In every profession, not just music, personal challenges often thwart the progress of promising people. A death in the family cancels a tour. A band’s gear gets stolen. A romantic affair between two musicians breaks up a band right before they’re slated to release their debut album. These issues come up all the time, and are often so severe that they knock musicians off course or end their careers completely. Sometimes these issues are problems we cause ourselves and other times they’re completely unexpected and out of our control.
The silver lining here for musicians is that for songwriters not weighed down by the pressures to be successful, most setbacks can be bounced back from. Trying to find success in music is completely different than trying to write great songs. If you love making music, few things can stop you from doing so if you want to badly enough. But earning money becoming famous for your work is another story.
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.