The Biggest Mistakes In Music Aren’t What You Think

When it comes to creating and performing, musicians often take a perfectionist approach to their work. From the second we pick up our instruments, we’re taught that there’s the right way of doing things and endless possibilities for getting things wrong. This all or nothing philosophy can bleed into the ways we measure value, success, and contentment in our careers. This can cause damage to our creativity and ourselves. It’s natural to hate errors like placing a capo on the wrong fret during a live set or forgetting the lyrics during recording. But I’d argue there are much bigger mistakes musicians should be worrying about. 

Burnout

We often associate the idea of being stretched too thin with boring day jobs and parenting. Yet, it’s absolutely something that can do damage to our music careers. An immense amount of work needs to happen to lead a thriving music career. If that work gets in the way of your happiness, it’s not sustainable. Most of us need close relationships and emotional stability to feel healthy and productive. An unhealthy music career can threaten our well being if we’re not careful. To stave off burnout, you must realize that a sustainable, thriving music career has to be balanced with other important parts of your life. In the same way that short breaks help long-distance runners achieve their goals, taking time to focus on the non-musical parts of your life will be a big help when it comes to maintaining your creative focus and energy.

Financial problems

Why are so many musicians saddled with debt? We can give some credit to the fact that fans pay far less to enjoy music than they used to. However, there are other factors at work that we should pay attention to. There’s no getting around the truth that music pays many serious musicians very little. This means it takes a huge financial investment to tour and buy instruments. When our musical pursuits aren’t financially sustainable, we hurt both personal lives and our ability to create and perform. You might want to sacrifice everything for a new record or international tour. But what happens if you don’t make money? Yes, we need big dreams and tenacity to thrive in music. Yet, we also need to work in ways that allow us to make music over the long-term. 

Playing it safe creatively 

This is an issue that plagues countless musicians. Whether it’s imitating another artist’s work or feeling afraid to try anything new or risky, giving in to safety and predictability is one of the worst things you can do in music. If you have a lot riding on your career or are in constant fear of failure, your creative process could suffer from a lack of imagination and curiosity. Getting back to the fun and freedom making music initially gave you is the best way to combat creative stagnation. Let go of the expectations of success and productivity for a while. Focus on having fun and expressing yourself in a genuine way.

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Focusing on superficial success

With constant reminders of how well our music is performing digitally, it can be hard not to focus more on being superficially successful than creatively fulfilled. However, giving more energy and attention to the numbers behind your music than your songwriting routine and career goals is a bad situation to be in. It’s natural to want your music to be heard. Indicators like streaming counts can show us we’re on the right track. But, like everything else in your career, you’ll need to find a balance between checking in on the performance of your music from time to time and focusing on what’s most important in your career. 

Mistakes are inevitable in music, whether they are on stage or elsewhere in our careers. How we recognize them and move forward is what matters most. If you want music to be your career and livelihood or even just a regular fixture in your life, being able to cope with shortcomings and self-induced problems is essential. To do this, we need patience, resilience, and a plan for our music. 

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.

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18 comments

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  • Erockalipse - July 1, 2020 reply

    No doubt!
    I definitely had to learn these things throughout my Music career!
    Thanks! ⭐️⭐️⭐️⭐️⭐️

  • Joe Leonard - July 1, 2020 reply

    Solid advice. Music as a primary career choice is high risk, low reward. You have to work hard and do most things right, and if you introduce risk by partying when you should be rocking, that doesn’t help.

  • Rob Roper - July 1, 2020 reply

    Another good article, Patrick. The last one, “Focusing on superficial success,” is very poignant today. I see a lot of musicians getting caught up in how many Facebook, Instagram, Youtube “followers” they have. Unfortunately the agencies that book for many live music venues are caught up in that too, and they pressure musicians into wasting our time on that stuff in order to get gigs. But experience has shown that social media “fans” and “followers” aren’t real fans. They don’t come to gigs. And of course they can be anywhere in the world. 50,000 youtube views, 50,000 Facebook “fans”– none of that means a single one will come to your gigs. I learned that the hard way. It’s easy to click “Like.” There’s no commitment there. While I still post gigs on social media, I don’t count on it. I get more of a turnout from the email list.

    But I found the main thing is to focus on creating good and unique art. If I waste all my time on social media, like some people advise, then I’m not practicing my instruments, and I’m not songwriting. Better to focus on the fundamental than the superficial.

  • Kathy Crosby - July 1, 2020 reply

    Great article! If you don’t lead a well rounded, healthy life, you won’t have anything to draw from to create.
    My motto has always been, “Don’t listen to the noise.” Do pay attention from an observational standpoint however. There is so much going on to write about these days!!

  • Daryl Thomas Jackson - July 1, 2020 reply

    Awesome Information packed articl! Just starting my career so should prove useful. I’m absolutely horrendous with advice… but I do admire and appreciate wisdom. I’ll utilize it to the best of my ability. Thanks!

  • c.t.maxwell - July 1, 2020 reply

    Very insightful – Thank you very much!

  • Jesús Lomelí - July 1, 2020 reply

    Muy Buen Trabajo y Gracias por concordar conmigo .Pienso exactamente en lo que escribiste y me estoy oyendo a mi mismo Toda la vida Abrazosssssss y Bendiciones del Cósmos

  • George Mokaila - July 2, 2020 reply

    Great points all round. Money is a serious issue for us musicians. There’s no guarantee of getting a return on your initial investment. It’s either you start a business or get a job on the side or you are doomed.

  • Dung Zang Nyam - July 2, 2020 reply

    This is a great read, lots if insights particularly for me, thanks!

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  • Brian O’Neill - July 7, 2020 reply

    I am not a songwriter but I’d like to make one point.
    It seems to me, from a new TV series, songwriters on the
    series and the host/advisors spend too much time on
    what works today, the technically aspects of songwriting—
    like how many hooks to have in a songs.
    Those songs will have a short shelf life.
    They are all disposable ear candy. Here today. Gone tomorrow.
    Write about substance, true passion and life stories and find
    your own unique voice. Don’t imitate. Break new ground.

    RoZita Berry - July 24, 2020 reply

    Amen to that!

  • Bobby Conerly - July 7, 2020 reply

    Great article food for thought

  • Bobby Conerly - July 7, 2020 reply

    Great article food for thought.

  • Dell Johnston - July 7, 2020 reply

    Music is music, artistry is artistry, and the music business is business. I have been writing, composing and recording for years. I have over 175 musical works, 9 albums available for streaming on Spotify, Apple Music, Amazon Music et al. I have provided music for television and have over 280 works registered with BMI. My music has been streamed almost 1/2 million times worldwide. To date, I may have broken even on what it has cost me (mainly studio gear/instruments costs). However, I sing, write, compose, record and produce for the love of the art. If you do not love the art then you are wasting your time chasing a gold record.

  • Sid Sokol - July 7, 2020 reply

    I guess I’m one of the lucky ones. I’m an “old fart”, 72. I started playing guitar and then writing songs about six years ago as a hobby. It is my art, nit my livelihood. My professional name is DJ SoKool. I write what I feel like writing, not what I’m told to.

  • Johnathan Harris - July 9, 2020 reply

    Some Good information. I needed this breakdown. I’ve been going through this myself. This is a Great blueprint on how to solve my writing/composing block.
    Thank You

  • Jesus - July 28, 2020 reply

    Great article food for thought

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