Even without today’s modern and unprecedented challenges, sustaining a career in music can be a monumental task. Every serious musician’s definition of success is different, but it’s safe to assume that most of us want to create music and have our work connect with audiences in a meaningful way. That overarching goal sounds simple on its face, but every artist faces massive threats to their career that they’ll have to take seriously if they intend on creating music over the long-term. Here are three to look out for:
Many musicians feel like their work is worth sacrificing everything in their lives for: relationships, non-musical careers, their health. Sadly, this all-or-nothing philosophy usually leaves musicians in a bitter, damaged state where they can’t or no longer want to create music. Music isn’t a conventional job that promises returns and recognition for you to sacrifice because there are no guarantees in making and sharing art. Instead of neglecting your needs for the sake of your music, you’ll have a better shot at building a sustainable career and a happy life if you take care of yourself first. Setting up the time and space in your daily life to devote to music consistently is something that will end up rewarding you far more than martyring yourself on behalf of your music career dreams ever will.
Staying creatively stagnant
Why does someone quit making music? Many give it up in their twenties after serious careers and relationships enter the picture, but other musicians quit out of boredom. Embracing creative newness and risk-taking isn’t just a good idea in music; it’s absolutely essential for staying challenged and engaged. Musicians who still write from the same music-making playbook they looked to early on in their careers are more likely to give up and less likely to find success than the ones who continually make an effort to explore, improve, and embrace new ideas. Becoming a cover artist over your own work can deflate your passion and destroy your career.
Fighting, grudges, jealousy
Being on a tour that never seems to end or stuck in a music studio trying to finish an album tends to bring out the uglier side of human nature in a person. Letting your emotions get the best of you is something that can damage crucial music relationships and leave you isolated and bitter. Solo musicians aren’t immune from these issues, whether they show up in the form of feeling jealous of another artist’s success or in disputes with local venues or hired musicians. Personal skills, like knowing how to communicate and resolve issues, aren’t musical in nature, but they’re paramount in sustaining a successful career.
Turning a passion for making music into a career has never been easy, and most people aren’t cut out for it. But by taking care of yourself, embracing creative risk-taking, and focusing on maintaining harmonious relationships in your musical life, you’ll have the best chance at sustaining a thriving career.
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.