Lots of musicians get jaded over time and shrink their musical ambitions in response for a good reason. Music is a brutal industry, even for those who’ve experienced some measure of success. The story of a promising musician setting out to make a career for themselves only to get struck down again and again is something most musicians can relate to. But even though scaling back plans, hopes, and ideas in music often sounds like it’s the best course of action, it’s something that can damage your career.
Compromised creative processes produce compromised results
Whether it’s writing a couple of songs instead of making an entire album or only working on music for a couple of hours a month instead of devoting three hours each day like you originally planned, your music will suffer if you compromise too much. If you’re like most musicians, you probably have every reason in the world not to devote enough resources to your music, but the inescapable reality is that the artists succeeding in music today are almost always the ones putting the work in. If you think small when it comes to how much time and effort you put into your work, you’re probably not going to experience rewarding creative results.
Money doesn’t necessarily need to be the “big” part of thinking big when it comes to your music, but time does. If you’re busy, one of the best things you can do for your music is learn to give your work the time and attention it needs. For example, if you’re a songwriter who only works when you feel inspired, try thinking bigger by sticking to a schedule and writing music every day, even if it’s just for a half an hour.
Few risks means few rewards
Risks, especially creative ones, are sometimes needed to push an artist forward and create new opportunities. But whether it’s booking a long tour or through experimenting with new ways of making music, many musicians simply aren’t willing to pony up and take risks in their work. If your work feels stale or stuck, it could be because you’ve become too comfortable. I should mention that not all risks are worth taking. Musicians can get into real trouble when they put everything on the line for the sake of their music and things don’t go accordingly to plan. But thinking big creatively when it comes to the ways you create and present your music can breathe new life and purpose into your work, even if the end result isn’t exactly what you’d hoped it would be.
Thinking small in music doesn’t let you grow
Not thinking big in music is a way to stay safe emotionally and financially, but it also limits just about everything in your work. Not every artist is meant (or wants) to be a superstar, but some of the world’s greatest music wouldn’t be around if it weren’t for musicians refusing to let go of their big ambitions. Meaningful success looks different for every musician, but it will be hard for you to succeed if you don’t grow and change.
We like to think of success as being one definable thing for musicians, but that’s absolutely not true. Every musician’s goals and outlooks are completely different, but those who refuse to quit and minimize their work have the best shot at making something meaningful happen with their 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.