Everyone hates uncertainty, but musicians have it especially rough. Situations like spending months or even years crafting an album with no idea whether it will be heard can leave a musician with a lot to worry about financially and personally. But the reality is that all creative pursuits and uncertainty are adaptable. The better you can learn to cope with it, the happier and more successful you’ll be as a musician.
Why uncertainty is so frustrating for musicians
In most areas of life, the more you work at something, the better results you’ll get. This idea applies to music, of course, but only to a certain point. When you set out to learn how to play an instrument or start your first band, there was a direct correlation between the time and energy you invested into your goals and the results that came from your work. But the frustrating truth about pursuing something like creating music professionally is that there’s no guarantee that your efforts will ever result in the outcomes you want.
If it’s critical acclaim you’re after, there’s a myriad of factors that can keep you from getting what you want. Among them is the insane competition that currently exists in the music industry. The truth is that no matter who we are and how much success we’ve had as musicians, every song is a clean slate. There’s no telling whether the world will find what we create meaningful or not. In fact, for most of us, there’s a good chance most listeners will never hear our work without us investing in promotion. Even then, there is no guarantee.
Creating a sustainable passion that leaves room for uncertainty
This all amounts to an awful lot of uncertainty to contend with for serious musicians. There’s no getting around the fact that pursuing music can be frustrating and even heartbreaking at times. But the difference between musicians weathering or withering through uncertainty depends on how they construct their careers, and how they view their art. The only certain thing you can lean on as a musician is how much you enjoy creating and performing music. If that joy is the bedrock of your music career, you’ll be making music for a long, long time. Secondly, if you can create a truly sustainable interest in music, you’ll be able to stomach uncertainty much better. If you’re just one canceled tour or bad review away from financial or personal devastation, then your music career is almost certainly not sustainable enough.
You can’t control what people think about your music, or whether anyone will listen to it in the first place. You can, however, control the way you run your music career and live your life in general. The healthier you can approach making and sharing music, the better you’ll be able to handle uncertain times. This applies to everything from your finances to your relationships to the way you value yourself as a person. Stream counts, money, and positive reviews don’t reflect your value as a human being, but many musicians don’t understand that. By building sustainability into your career, you’ll be able to keep creating through disappointments and hardships.
Planning, compromising, thinking about finances––I realize this advice sounds boring and not compatible with the advice musicians usually get, which is that they should stop at nothing to make their dreams a reality. But take it from me, someone who’s made plenty of the exact same mistakes we often warn against on this blog, if making music is important to you, take a look at the bigger picture. Focus on what you can control, and build a passion for making and sharing music that enriches your life, not one that takes away from it.
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.