Gratitude isn’t something we think about much in the music industry. The relentless work ethic it takes to make music and compete in a fierce and unforgiving music climate makes it hard for musicians to think about anything other than what it takes to make meaningful momentum happen for their work. But if you’re a musician trying to build a career in music, stepping back for a moment and being grateful for what you’ve already accomplished in music can help give you a positive new perspective and hope for your work.
What is gratitude in music?
The comparison game is something that plagues a lot of serious musicians working today. It’s an attitude of entitlement predicated on the idea that if an artist works hard and is talented enough, tangible success is sure to come their way. Most of us know that’s not how music works, but we often can’t shake the feeling that when another artist succeeds, we’re somehow on the losing end. Gratitude is a great way to combat that feeling.
Gratitude in music shifts an artist’s focus off of industry expectations and the successes of other musicians and points it back on what’s happening with their own work. It’s about looking away from where you desperately want to go in music and being happy for where you’re at––no matter where you’re at. Instead of wishing you had a certain number of fans, views, likes, or money made from music, gratitude invites you to consider how far you’ve already come and to celebrate your progress. Even something as simple as being able to hold an instrument and summon music from it is a childlike appreciation most of us haven’t accessed in years, but that sort of simple gratitude is exactly what can help us see our work in a new light.
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What is there to be grateful for in music?
Without gratitude, you’ll never be happy or fulfilled in music. No matter how materially successful you are, there’s always going to be someone faring better. This means that gratitude ends up being a big deal in music, whether you’re a major superstar or a kid making music in your bedroom. You can be grateful in music for everything from a tour running smoothly to a fan saying your music means something to them. The key is learning to recognize victories large or small and to take the time to celebrate them.
Gratitude is not ambition or complacency
And before you think this is an attitude that’s at odds with the ambition it takes to be successful in music, it’s really not. Gratitude asks us to look outside of ourselves to recognize everything positive that’s happened with our work. Complacency doesn’t ask us to do anything but go through the motions and maintain the status quo.
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.
Jonzu? - January 24, 2019
Great read! A lot of musicians and even people in other professions need to read this as well.
Kieran Mc Kenna - January 30, 2019
Paul Ashley - January 30, 2019
I really needed to hear thus so thanks. Im a 65 year old retiree who jyst started gigging after 50 years of playing only for myself. Breaking into the music scene us tough and I constantly see people get gigs I don’t get. But … I need to sit back and realize how lucky I am to be playing at all, and also how much I’ve improved in the last few years.
Brian - January 30, 2019
Yes. I’ve spent probably half my life as a gigging musician and now in my 70’s, I’m realizing how grateful I am for the talent I have and the experiences it has provided me. It’s been quite a ride really. So Paul Ashley, sounds like you’re just starting your musical journey outward – I wish you the best and always remain grateful.
M. Compton - January 30, 2019
From one 60+ year old to another I’ll say I get the frustration bit you talk about. It is hard to watch the trends in the music biz (mainly towards younger faces it seems) and fight the feeling that you’ve been left behind. But I’ve been working the music industry since I was in my early 20’s and I enjoy the creative and performance aspects of it way more now than I did early on. Each new composition means so much more than it used to. I am grateful to be doing what I love to do for my occupation regardless of the ups and downs. I made a choice a long time ago that this is where I belong and this is where I’ll stay. Plus, I think I hear improvement!
JD Bradshaw - January 30, 2019
Awesome advice…Keep up the great work
Mark Rwert - January 30, 2019
I’m sorry. This fell short of what I would consider gratitude. Music has to be the one most hatful back stabbing nasty businesses anyone could engage in. Profit. My a**. The only folks making money out of this deal is the bunch supporting your effort. X the stones ect….. I’m grateful for many things but music is not one of them.
Way to much heartache for very little return.
Brian - January 30, 2019
BTW, I went to “straight white teeth” (Patrick McGuire) on SoundCloud and checked out the music. Is this a new genre or “thing”? It’s very dreamy and low key, not exactly fitting the so-called “New Age” (now old) category, but sounds related in some way. A bit similar to Shay Roselip. Anyway, I enjoyed it immensely and recommend anyone curious to give it a listen.
Aaron Ainbinder - January 30, 2019
What a refreshing and true article to read! I glean as much pleasure playing my bass here at home, as I do when I have gigged with a band. The joy of being able to create music, and to play songs differently each time I play them, is joy/gratitude which nobody can give me, nor can anyone take it away. I remain grateful to G-d that He granted me the desire and ability to explore music, to create music, to write my own music, and to find peace while doing so. If one is not content without the accolades and stacks of dough, no accolades or stacks of dough will ever be enough.
Attitude of gratitude……..
Ricky Biggssr - January 30, 2019
the best read I’ve seen in a while so many people out there trying to crush your dreams most support come from people you don’t even know and maybe that’s a plus because I think it’s from the heart.
Steven Johnson BMI - January 31, 2019
I can really appreciate this reading because I have been givin a second chance in life and music! And I have great gratitude for the grace afforded to me! I have a story to tell about my journey, and hopefully someone will believe in me enough to help me tell it on a grander scale! I’ll be loving what I do, having fun, and putting together the best music effort I can! Hope all that listen will enjoy and get something from it God willing!
David Wayne - January 31, 2019
I’m 66, and have been playing music for 60 years, and playing professionally for 50 years. I have a van, a dog, a nice place, and a really cool wife. What else could I possibly want??
Jonny Boston - January 31, 2019
Great article! And as a Christian, I think it’s summed up well in these verses, which I would definitely have on my gravestone…
“But godliness with contentment is great gain. For we brought nothing into the world, and we can take nothing out.”
1 Timothy 6:6-7 CSB
Thomas Stanley - January 31, 2019
I’m fortunate to be playing with an extremely excellent group of guys – we’re in our 40’s and 50’s and gig every weekend with ever-growing crowds of people digging our versions of cover tunes, which are eclectic and varied. Never stop – and the older I get, the more I appreciate what I have now and what I’ve done in the 45 years I’ve been club and concert gigging.
Gordon Smith - January 31, 2019
I found this very helpful. I will certainly be trying to put this into practice. Thanks.
C. Elevation - January 31, 2019
Excellent read! All musicians would do good to practice this. Thanks.
Lori Lynn - January 31, 2019
Thank you so much. I am so grateful for the gift of being able to write and create music. Just being able to write, record and produce a song to full completion is a gift. If you look at the bands who were successful in the seventies such as Rush and Kiss, it actually took them several years of being on a main music circuit, with several albums under their belt, before they actually made a profit in music(I have seen the documentaries). These bands created the music simply because the songs wanted to be written and they were the conduits through which the music was produced. I am glad that God chose me as one of his creative conduits.
Steve Kaczynski - January 31, 2019
Tom Hipps - January 31, 2019
Amen. May I add another verse (not sure what book of the bible it’s from): “A thankful heart is not easily discouraged.”
I enjoyed reading the comments too!
Larry Newcomb - February 1, 2019
Gratitude is a powerful tool for surrendering my ego’s insatiable need for approval. I try to reduce the time I spend entertaining my ego’s fear! Feel it, see it for what it is (or isn’t!!) Return again & again to gratefully acknowledging the support I’ve received from the Higher Power I call God, from my own self-supporting hard work on my playing, from my wife, from my parents and from those who appreciate my music, I get centered in this amazing gift of being able to love, make & share the joy of being a musician!
Dupi 2 - February 4, 2019
Deep message. Thanks for this.