Earning money, winning over fans, and wowing critics are all reasonable things for an artist to strive for in music. Everyone who makes music seriously has different opinions of what it means to be successful, but we’re all the same in the way we create, share, and perform music with certain goals in mind. But there’s a point for many musicians when zooming in too close on success can actually hurt a music career. When does striving for success become harmful in music?
Conventional success can’t be all you hope to get out of making music
If success is your driving motivational factor for making music, you probably won’t last very long. Today’s music industry is overflowing with an unprecedented amount of musicians creating and sharing their work digitally, and many of these artists are making incredible music without ever connecting with audiences on a large scale. Focusing too much on success in music has always been harmful, but it’s especially detrimental today because there are so many barriers keeping musicians from reaching their goals that they can’t control. You can work hard and produce amazing music, but there’s absolutely no guarantee your efforts will pay off how you want them to. If clear-cut, attainable success is what you’re after in music, you’re in the wrong profession.
How obsessing over success can leave you frustrated and distracted
Adding unnecessary pressure and conditions to your creative process will only hinder your efforts to make meaningful music and connect with audiences. Whether it’s spending more time constantly checking your song’s ever-updating stats than creating or entertaining jealousy over an artist in your scene getting more opportunities than you, your creative focus and energy can’t be directed towards making music when you’re fixated on the non-musical aspects of your career. The music business isn’t fair, but that doesn’t mean it’s out to get you. Making an effort to understand the complex challenges of working in the modern music industry and to continually create the best work you can is your best shot at being both creatively fulfilled and traditionally successful.
Forget success (for a moment). What else inspires you to make music?
This seems like a basic question, but the answer you come up with is something that you’ll have to return to over and over again throughout your music career. You can’t force your music career to reap conventionally successful rewards, but you can choose to make music a staple of your daily life because it makes you happy, sane, fulfilled, creatively challenged, or entertained. The unavoidable fact is that for most musicians, the best reward they’ll get for their work exists in the relationships they have with creating and performing music. By knowing what inspires your work and chasing after it in your process, you’ll be personally successful and fulfilled whether you reach your lofty musical goals or not. Choosing to create music over and over again is a powerful decision that is completely within your control.
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.