Music is a creative pursuit where creators and performers can be talented, lucky, and ambitious and still somehow end up quitting a few years in. If you’ve been at it for a while, you know how grueling a music career can be. But have you ever nailed down exactly why?
Rather than floating aimlessly through the ups and downs of your musical pursuits, it’s healthy to check in and think about what inspires musicians to stop playing music. Doing so can help preserve your longevity as a creator. We should learn from each other’s mistakes to better understand why creating music as a career is so difficult. This can improve our chances of both writing and performing over a period of decades instead of a couple of years.
Money troubles can amount to massive, insurmountable issues for unestablished musicians. We’re told that in order to “make it” in music, we’ve got to give it everything we’ve got. This includes the cash in our bank accounts and the amount we’re allowed to borrow through credit cards. This is a career-killing attitude that’s thwarted the efforts of far more musicians than the number it’s actually helped. It might feel sexy and cinematic to quit your job and tour or fund your next album with a high-interest credit card. However, doing so creates conditions down the line that are extremely tricky to create music in. Debt has to be paid back eventually. Even if your music is conventionally successful, there’s no telling how much you’ll actually earn and whether it will be enough to put you back in the black. You can absolutely build a financially sustainable career through thought, planning, and without making smart financial choices that will haunt you for years.
Poor mental health
Mental health is a crucial part of being a productive musician that we’re not talking about and taking seriously enough in the music industry. It’s time to ditch our culture’s romanticized idea that musicians and other artists can’t create anything of value without suffering. We can lead healthy and sustainable inner lives and incredible music careers at the same time. Yet, failing to be mentally and physically healthy will put us and the music we create at risk. The truth is that many creatives suffer from mental health issues. This may ultimately cause less profound work. We hear plenty about brilliant musicians who suffer from poor mental health who manage to create remarkable work. Yet, we hear nothing about the countless music-makers who could’ve made incredible music over decades but didn’t because they gave up or suffered so severely from their conditions that they passed away. If you care about making music, you need to care about your mental health.
If you’re a committed, serious musician, this reason for quitting is one that can sneak up on you. Similar to how financial debt creates conditions that make it impossible for many musicians to create in, doing too much at the wrong time can cause you to step away from music and never come back.
Music might seem like the most important thing in your life. However, if you lead your career with an all-or-nothing attitude, you won’t be able to create and perform for long. The right way to build your career isn’t by going slow necessarily, but by focusing on what’s important. You might spend hours on end promoting your music when you really should be writing and rehearsing. For other musicians, building in time in their schedules to relax, focus on relationships, or even just making some reliable money for a couple of months can get them set up for sustainability and productivity in the future.
Lack of inspiration
What drives you to make music? Are you more concerned over stream counts and social media follows than creating something truly great? If so, you’re probably not going to last long in your career. Get in touch with what inspires you in music over and over again. This way, you can have the strength and interest to keep creating when times get tough. Just remember that hardship and rejection are unavoidable if you’re hellbent on being a serious musician.
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.