Lots of musicians make music with the intention of sharing their work with the world. The main function of being a serious musician is giving music with people, whether it’s through live performances, recorded songs, or both. But making music available for audiences is a serious choice with consequences we don’t often give much attention to as musicians.
What it means to share music
No one forces you to share the music you make with audiences, but you can’t launch or sustain a career in music without doing so. However, there are costs to consider with making your work public that transcend the money it takes to release and promote music. Like all other artforms, making music can be a deeply personal act in which a musician’s work often becomes difficult or impossible to separate from the person who made it. In essence, sharing music with people means revealing parts of yourself that might not have been visible before. Your hopes, fears, and observations about the world are on public display when you release music. It’s an essential part of the process of being an artist that we don’t often talk about as musicians.
Emotional vulnerability is usually part and parcel in the process of releasing music, and another part of the deal is being open to criticism. Whether it’s an honest and thorough review published in print or online or an incoherent comment posted on social media, releasing music leaves it open to be criticized by anyone who listens to it. It can be a terrifying spot to be in, especially if you consider yourself to be a private person, but vulnerability and criticism are prices of admission most of us need to pay in order to share our work.
Keeping music private
Have you ever thought about all the music out there that never gets heard? There’s so much new music being made today that a great deal of it never has the chance to click with audiences, but some artists willingly make the decision not to let listeners hear their music. Whether it’s because one feels their work isn’t good enough or that what they’re writing is too personal to share, there’s an unknown amount of music in the world the musicians keep to themselves. It‘s safe to assume that a lot of unreleased music isn’t very good, but also that there’s remarkable songs floating around out there that could change the world but never get the chance to. If a song’s relationship only exists between it and its maker, what does that mean? It’s fascinating to think about.
The decision whether to release music or keep it private is up to the songwriter––unless multiple collaborators are involved, that is. If something inside of you is saying not to release music, it’s something you should listen to. But there comes a point when musicians need to decide whether their work is ultimately meant for themselves or others.
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.