3 Reasons Why You Could Do Everything Right In Music And Never Find Success

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.

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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.

Rebecca3 Reasons Why You Could Do Everything Right In Music And Never Find Success


Join the conversation
  • Sincere - November 21, 2018 reply

    That’s deep!

  • Darrell Heath - November 21, 2018 reply

    Nice message very true its happened to me several times. My song plugger in Nashville was lost in a tragic automobile accident .Haven’t found a guy like him since …..well anyway have a nice THANKSGIVING !

  • Rad-Z - November 28, 2018 reply

    Among all the advice from marketers from you tube and twitter that just don’t pan out…one thing remains music is a luck of the draw type ambition….

  • Jonny Green - November 29, 2018 reply

    Hey guys I whole heartedly disagree with the luck argument. The more biographies of the really famous songwriters like Dylan or Springsteen for example worked incessantly to make their luck. They knocked on door after door. I don’t believe many people are born with the kind of ambition of these people. On the other hand you have artists like Towns Van Zandt a sort of Van Gogh type story. Never finding much success in his own lifetime but influencing music at a heroic level.

  • Fernando - November 29, 2018 reply

    Jonny Green, I disagree with your disagreement. Yes, generally most folks don’t have deep deep ambition, work ethic, and perseverance. Of course, there are/were those talented people who worked really hard AND were lucky and thus became famous enough for biographies etc, or even managed posthumous fame. But you don’t hear about the great many more cases of talented people with all the ambition, work ethic, perseverance etc who STILL aren’t lucky enough and thus don’t achieve fame and fortune.
    Your view (not you personally) strikes me as a brand of that particular heartless American naivete and narcissisism that doesn’t acknowledge the role of chance and even privilege (that’s a big one), and many other unseen, unacknowledged factors that always get left out of the discussion.

    Cris Jefferies - December 3, 2018 reply

    I disagree with your disagreement….that is to say I agree with Jonny Green. Individuals create their own luck by relentlessly going out day after day and chasing their goals and dreams! The more repetitions you put in the better you become and the better chance you have to be discovered. But none of that really matters unless the product is good and touches the heart! It is easier today for anyone to get discovered with all of the free advertisement the internet gives you but the flip side of that is…music is free now so fame can be separate from fortune these days. Heartless American is a good punk rock band name though! However….someone that knows it takes hard work to achieve anything worthwhile and reads about how the greats did it it will never be called naive on my watch…

  • Tony - November 30, 2018 reply

    Timing is a huge factor! I guess you can consider timing part of luck. A good song, a good band, the wrong timing and it doesn’t work

  • Grain Silo - October 27, 2019 reply

    Jonny Green, I disagree with your disagreement. Yes, generally most folks don’t have deep deep ambition, work ethic, and perseverance

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