If music is the biggest and most vivid passion in your life, then it’s probably something you’re used to sacrificing for. Whether you make music alone or play in a band, it’s natural to develop a “me” or “us” against the world mentality. There isn’t an artform more social and universally engaging than music, and yet making it is an isolating process for many artists. But when we cut ourselves off from the world or even just our local music communities, we end up hurting ourselves as well as our careers. No matter who you are, what sort of music you create, or what your goals are, relationships are important not just for your career, but also for your creativity and well-being.
Why it feels easy to work alone in music
Disappointment is an unavoidable part of pursuing music seriously for most musicians. Everything from bad reviews to money problems to creative frustration can cause musicians to become less likely to seek out new relationships and maintain the ones they already have in music. If music has left you feeling rejected in some way, then opening up to someone new or even staying close with someone you already know can feel difficult. And while the professional connections we form with venues, labels, and other bands aren’t usually as significant as ones with friends, family, and partners, cutting yourself off from these relationships could mean the difference of whether your music ultimately finds an audience or not.
Believe it or not, it’s possible for bands to socially isolate themselves, not just solo artists. When bands work hard and sacrifice for years, it can be easy for them to fall into a culture where no outside relationship is as important as whatever the band is doing. Lots of musicians chalk this attitude up as something that’s needed for success, but this ultimately hurts a band’s creativity and opportunities in music. Since music’s purpose is to connect with and relate to people, you’ll hurt your chances of letting the inspiration of human interaction inform your work if your band’s success is the only thing you care about. If your music isn’t rooted in humanity, you’ll have a hard time creating work that resonates with people.
Relationships take work, but they’re worth it
Prioritizing relationships above your music career might seem counter-productive, but it’s a conscious decision that will help ensure your longevity and productivity as a musician in the long-run. If you’re a couple of years into your career, you might think music is the only thing you need in your life. But if you consider just how many talented, ambitious musicians give up music forever when they were young, you’ll see that building sustainability into your career early on isn’t an option. Relationships––romantic partnerships, close friendships, collaborative creative relationships, and bonds with family members––are an essential part of that sustainability.
This might be hard to swallow, but we can give absolutely everything we have to music, but it can’t give us everything we need in return. Your happiness, mental health, and overall well-being are strengthened when you have people you can trust and share your life with. So many musicians end up quitting music because they fail to make room in their careers for relationships and ultimately choose kids, spouses, and family over their music over time. But by embracing and prioritizing relationships now, wherever you’re at in your career, you’ll be able to benefit from being close with people in a way that sustains your career and provides meaningful creative inspiration.
Relationships also come into play when developing artists work with other musicians, book shows, and pitch their music to blogs, playlists, and media outlets. If you’ve been holed up in your home studio for years perfecting your album, your ability to connect with your local music community will suffer compared to if human connection is a regular part of your life. That local band that seems to always get the best opportunities might be succeeding simply because they know how to talk to people. We have to remember that the pursuit of music can often be so immersive and intense that it ends up hurting us and our creativity. The bigger role that meaningful relationships play in your life, the better you and your music will be.
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.