Like an interesting song, a music career requires a delicate balance of ideas. Not holding anything back when it comes to what you want to achieve through making music is essential, but not tapering expectations means opening yourself up for major disappointments over and over again. It’s a hard balance to strike, but maintaining a sky’s the limit outlook with an attitude that acknowledges the many harsh realities of being a serious musician in 2019 is something every music-maker needs to try to do.
The cynicism trap
There are a lot of reasons not to make music in 2019. You probably already know what I’m getting at. Since music is now so easy and cheap to create and share, the major digital music platforms are constantly inundated with new songs. This unavoidable reality makes finding listeners a huge challenge for new and unestablished artists. It’s also cheaper now to listen to music than it’s ever been, which is great for audiences and rough on those who want to earn a living making music. There’s a lot to be feel jaded about in the music industry right now.
Musicians have every reason to be discouraged and frustrated, but giving in to cynicism won’t do your music any good. Without believing your music has the potential to reach audiences and enrich their lives, you probably won’t be making music for long.
Working with your eyes closed
The other extreme, which is to give everything up for the sake of your music without accepting the harsh realities that go along with being a musician in 2019, is just as dangerous as succumbing to cynicism. Things like putting thousands of dollars on a credit card to fund an album or ending relationships to put more time into your music can cause serious and permanent damage to your life. You might love making music, but you can’t just be a person who exclusively exists to write songs and tour. And, oddly enough, the more extreme sacrifices you make on behalf of your musical passions, the better chance you have of getting emotionally crushed and becoming financially destitute. The all-or-nothing-musical approach can actually keep you from being able to make music. Passion isn’t just a good thing when it comes to making music. It’s absolutely crucial. What matters most is how you funnel the pure love of making and sharing your work into a life that’s sustainable and rewarding.
Re-defining musical success
It’s difficult, but a healthy balance between dreams and expectations can be struck in a music career. Instead of accepting only conventional definitions of musical success, try thinking about what “making it” in music means to you. If you’re set on selling out arenas and making millions from licensing placements, you might want to dig deeper into your true goals and intentions. For most of us, finding pure joy and relief in making music day after day will have to be the true signifier of success and fulfillment.
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.