Every new song you release is a shot in the dark, even if you’re an established musician. The difference between how you feel about the music you put out into the world and what listeners think about it can create discouraging situations. If you’ve ever released music you were passionate about only to be met with bad reviews or no one listening, then you’ve experienced this firsthand. Music never achieves conventional success for lots of reasons––fierce competition, forgettable songs, bad recordings. No matter the reason, how you respond is what’s most important.
The importance of taking an unflinching look at your music
Pouring all the love and talent you can muster into your music only to see it fail is crushing. Since every new song is an opportunity for something big to happen with your music, it’s natural to feel a real sense of loss when things don’t go your way. All this emotional baggage makes figuring out what went wrong hard to do, but it’s necessary. Some music gets negative attention because it’s not genuine or simply because the songs aren’t good. Other songs never get the chance to be heard because they weren’t promoted in an effective way. Every situation is unique, which means that if you want to learn how to move forward, you’ll need to get to the bottom of yours.
Writing better songs
If a lack of promotion is to blame, the obvious fix is to spend more time and money figuring out how to get your work in front of the people who are most likely to listen to it. The same goes for good songs that are recorded poorly. But if you take an honest look at your music and know that it’s not exciting, memorable, or meaningful, then you have a lot of work to do. If you know your old songs could be better, the fix isn’t as simple as identifying specific shortcomings and addressing each one in your new songs. You’ll have the best chance at creating better music if you fully engage with the songwriting process in an uncompromising way.
When a release fails because the music isn’t strong, your only option is to put forth the time and energy to create something better. To do this, you’ll have to take every opportunity you can to transform inspiration into musical ideas. But it actually goes a lot further than that. Inspiration and talent are half of the equation of writing better music. The other half is discipline, practice, and tenacity. It’s easy to write when we feel like it. But what about when nothing seems to be working with your songwriting process? How you react when you feel painted into a corner or completely out of energy and hope in your process can make the difference of whether you’ll be able to make meaningful music or not.
If you used to cut corners, give up when you got bored, or release songs you weren’t 100% excited about, you have a chance to change the script with your new music. It’s not easy to always remember this, but every new song you create is a chance to do something incredibly meaningful and enduring, not only for your fans but also for yourself. Approaching your process with that sort of optimism and excitement can sustain you through rough patches that might’ve derailed your old music.
Defining what makes a release successful
For some musicians, success means rave reviews, millions of listeners, and creating music that makes lots of money. Others are happy knowing they have a modest following of fans who are truly passionate about their work. When your music doesn’t perform like you wished it would, a helpful part of moving forward is identifying exactly how it didn’t succeed like you’d hoped. If you do this in a healthy constructive way, you might end up changing your definition of success depending on what you discover, and that’s okay. What you learn can help your new music resonate better with listeners and perform better commercially.
Your willingness to keep creating through hardships and disappointments will determine if you’ll make music for a few years and quit or if you’re in it for life. Whether the world knows and loves your music or if you’re struggling to get heard, you can always write better songs. If you think about it, that’s an incredibly hopeful thought.
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.