Disappointment is inevitable for serious musicians. This applies whether you’re conventionally successful or have never found traction for your music. Ultimately, this makes the art of transforming discouragement into something positive a crucial asset for a music career. It’s not easy, but learning to cope with discouragement and allowing it to fuel our ambitions as musicians is a survival technique we’ll have to turn to over and over again throughout our careers.
Why there’s so much disappointment in music careers
You’ll find a good amount of disappointment in all art-based careers, but music is exceptional for a few reasons. It’s never been easier and cheaper to create and share music, which makes it a brutally competitive industry. Not only that, but music has largely shifted from physical to digital listening formats. Thus, the cost for listeners to access it has plummeted in recent years.
All this amounts to new significant challenges for those wanting to pursue music seriously as a career. But the truth is that music has always been a cutthroat industry to compete in. It takes an incredible amount of dedication and talent to succeed in music today, and that’s always been the case. You may have loads of talent and dedication. Yet, your ability to create meaningful music over a long period of time may depend on your ability to view disappointments as opportunities rather than roadblocks that thwart your career.
Transforming disappointments into opportunities
Most of us experience a great deal of discouragement in our music careers, especially if we’re new and unestablished. It could be in the form of everything from an album that was lovingly made that no one hears to getting turned down by a local venue for a show. Rejection hurts, but the first step toward turning discouragement into opportunity is empathy.
Put yourself in a listener or venue’s shoes for a second. What is it about you and your music that’s keeping you from succeeding? Most musicians don’t have the resources to release music and have it get listened to by wide audiences. When things don’t go our way, it’s often tempting to be angry or hurt in the moment. But you won’t be able to get a positive benefit out of a disappointing situation without digging deeper to understand why it happened. And while you shouldn’t make music just to please audiences, what you release has to be good enough to resonate with listeners in a meaningful, enduring way.
But what if your music is great, you work hard, and have loads of empathy for the people you’re trying to win over with your music? Surely then you won’t have to deal with disappointment in your music career, right? No, sadly. As long as you make music seriously, discouragement will be something you’ll have to deal with, even if you’re an amazing, hardworking music-maker. In the same way, we need to constantly grow creatively in order to succeed in our musical careers. Learning to leverage discouragement is something we’ll never be finished working 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.