What about the process of creating and sharing music do you pay the most attention to? Since it’s natural for people to operate on auto-pilot in our careers, this might seem like an odd question. Yet, it’s worth asking. Our focus is incredibly important when it comes to being a musician. Similar to the way losing concentration makes for a bad musical performance, paying attention to the wrong things in our careers can limit our potential and hurt our creativity.
What matters in your music career?
This is a question we should all be asking ourselves whether we’re about to play our first show or have been touring and making music for decades. After understanding what matters in our musical pursuits, we can devote our energy and focus to where it should be. But as any serious musician reading this knows, it’s not easy. What each of us prioritizes in our music careers will be different. However, we should all share the love of creating and performing music at the very least.
Focusing on our musical passions and other career priorities can be complicated for many of us due to the endless number of distractions vying for our attention at any given moment. Whether it’s getting caught up in an obsession of paying attention to the numbers behind your music or focusing more on music promotion than songwriting or performing, paying attention to the things that actually matter in music is endless because it’s something we need to return to again and again. To be clear, statistics like streams, downloads, and follows in music matter. But let’s not confuse these things with the work of making music itself.
Creating and performing is hard work that often doesn’t give us the results we want. Sometimes, without even thinking about it, we devote our attention to the non-musical aspects of our careers. This is because we have more control over them than we do over our creativity. We may not be satisfied with the music we’re writing; yet, we can create a promotional narrative around our work stating it’s everything we wish it was. Making music is tricky. We could give the process everything we’ve got and still end up with stale ideas and dead-ends. We’ve all been in that place of frustration, but there’s a lot of good to be found in it.
Developing grit and working through tough times separates musicians who are in it for the long-haul from those who can only manage to stay active for a couple of years. If you can pay attention to the core things that drive your musical pursuits through good times as well as bad, you’re on the right track.
Focusing on the right non-musical aspects of your career
There’s music, and then there’s everything else. Most of the time, the non-musical aspects of our careers are where things get complicated. Issues like money, relationships, and goals are examples of things you should be paying attention to in your career. Let’s take money, for example. Even if you are the most altruistic, musically motivated musician on the planet, you still need to care about how money impacts your career. On the other end of extremes, musicians who are in it only to make lots of money all too often experience short, unrewarding careers creatively and financially.
The best advice here is something we frequently talk about on this blog: You and your music career will be strong and healthy if you can find a balance in your work. Focusing on touring and making it too much of a priority can burn you out and put you in debt. On the other hand, swearing it off altogether will deprive you of opportunities. A constant obsession over how well your music performs online through analytic data will make you discouraged and distracted. However, never checking in will leave you in the dark and at a promotional disadvantage. The stuff each of us should be paying attention to in music changes from musician to musician. But one thing remains true: The need for balance is something we all need to focus on.
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.