If you’re serious about pursuing music, there’s no way to go about it without failing––spectacularly and publicly in many cases. As songwriters and performers, we open ourselves up to failure every time we get on stage, put out new music, or share work with blogs, playlists, and radio stations. There’s no denying that experiencing failure in music can leave you feeling frustrated, discouraged, and potentially even devastated. But how you respond when things don’t go your way could mean the difference of whether you’ll be able to keep pursuing music or not. Doing the work of viewing failures as valuable opportunities is one of the best ways to survive and thrive creatively and professionally as a musician.
Every failure can be transformed into an opportunity in music
If you’re currently facing a damaging failure in your music career, opportunity might seem like the least likely outcome right now. We typically think of opportunities in music as things like a local venue asking you to open for a national band or a popular playlist featuring one of your songs. Those are obviously valuable opportunities, but it’s important to ask how an artist goes from being completely unknown to finding true momentum for their music. Experimentation, failure, and trying over and over again is a process most artists have to go through before anything substantial starts to happen for their music. Overnight success stories make for engaging press releases, but they’re far from what most artists actually experience.
A willingness to try things out in music and learn from our failures is important not only for being able to make music over the long-term, but also for making meaningful work in the first place. When we talk about practicing as songwriters and performers, failure is an essential part of that. It’s about being willing to listen and learn when things go wrong in our careers in ways that bring us closer to our goals and authentic creative selves. Converting the failures you experience in music into opportunities is an active choice to learn, grow, and deepen your experiences as a musician. Depending on the sort of failure you’re experiencing, it can feel impossible to do this in some situations. Your willingness to try is what’s important.
To turn failures into opportunities, you have to embrace the same sort of curiosity that got you interested in music in the first place and apply it when things don’t go your way. When you started creating and sharing music seriously, you were curious about how music worked and how to connect with listeners. By harnessing that curious and open mindset and directing it to your failures, you’ll be able to learn, move on, and grow from them. It’s more than identifying what went wrong and trying to do the opposite in the future. Getting the most out of failure in music demands vulnerability and moving forward in a changed way. It’s about accepting hard truths not only about the music industry but about your own shortcomings. Your failures might show you that you need to focus less on performing and more on your songwriting practice. It could reveal that you’re in the wrong band or shouldn’t be in any band in the first place. But instead of inspiring big changes, it could show you that a lack of confidence and commitment in the work you’re already doing is what’s holding you back.
There’s plenty of opportunity to be found in your failures, but you’ll have to work hard to recognize them and put them to use. The better you’re able to do this, the more likely you’ll be to write good music and reach your goals. But here’s the kicker. As musicians, we never outgrow failure. No matter how accomplished and seasoned you become as a songwriter and performer, you’re still bound to fail, and that’s actually a beautiful thing if you think about it. Failing means we still have skin in the game and that we’re still working to create something meaningful. The only way to avoid failure in music is to quit completely. But if you’re hellbent on making great music and sharing it with the world, failure will always be a potential outcome. Accept this fact and learn to grow and thrive through your failures, and you’ll set yourself up for opportunities to be successful in 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.