Lots of people know what it’s like to play an instrument for a couple of months, but few can relate to the experience of trying to build a life as a serious musician. Because of how musicians are portrayed in books, movies, and TV, those living in the non-musical world often have inaccurate ideas of what it’s actually like to make music seriously and/or for a living. Here are four things non-musicians inaccurately believe about musicians:
Not having money is fun
Not every serious musician out there is living an impoverished existence, but the musical stories we’re typically exposed to through popular culture often fixate on lovable music-makers who manage to have a blast despite being broke. Popular convention says that musicians and other artists actually need to be penniless for a period of time in order to create meaningful work. This is a gross inaccuracy, and it reveals a massive misunderstanding of who musicians are and what they need. The money troubles musicians often face can be so severe that they can cause some to give up completely and pursue more reliable lines of work. There’s nothing fun or charming about not having money.
Musicians don’t work hard
We’re all familiar with scenes of musicians effortlessly playing on stage and wowing adoring crowds with little or no preparation. Many believe that making music is easy because scenes like this aren’t designed to show what it actually takes to become a serious musician. Learning an instrument, paying for equipment, writing and recording music, pitching work to labels and press, trying and failing over and over again––the real work of serious musicians isn’t cinematic and doesn’t always come with happy endings. Much of the non-musical world thinks being a musician is an easy, carefree profession because most of the musical stories we’re exposed to focus on glamour and success instead of the tedious back-breaking work most musicians put into their careers.
Musical talent is something we’re born with, not earned
Most musicians spend years devoting countless hours to learning instruments and writing songs, but non-musical people seem to believe that a person is either bursting with musical talent or has none to speak of. It’s a lot sexier to say a musician is musically talented than to trace back the roots of their skills to the hard work and sacrifice it took to develop them. Some musicians are more naturally gifted than others, but the dedication and work an artist puts in trumps talent in almost every scenario.
All musicians have destructive lifestyles
One of the most offensive musical stereotypes floating around out there is that serious musicians can’t maintain healthy relationships and are depressed substance-abusers. The truth about most serious musicians is often much more boring than the rock star legends the world is accustomed to hearing about. If every musician out there matched this inaccurate stereotype, the world would have far less music than it does now. Many musicians lead boring lives filled with stable relationships and healthy habits. We mostly hear about stories glorifying musicians with extreme problems and destructive tendencies because these characters are more entertaining than their healthier musical counterparts.
It’s strange that the world gets so much wrong about what being a serious musician because billions of people rely on their hard work, but for many who create music for a living, being misunderstood is just another part of the job.
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.