From the outside looking in, most of the non-musical world probably thinks that serious musicians do nothing but make music all day. If only that were true.
From booking shows to arranging rehearsals to promoting music, there’s usually enough non-musical work involved with being a serious musician for a part or full-time job. This is why successful artists have teams of managers, entertainment lawyers, and PR agents behind them. But if you’re a developing artist, you’re more than likely doing all of this sort of work yourself. Like everything else in music, there’s a hard balance to strike here between needing to put in the hours it takes to answer emails, pitch music, and stay organized and prioritizing music creation. When artists place the administrative and promotional aspects of their work over making music, there’s a major problem that needs to be addressed.
Why music doesn’t come first for some artists
What is a serious musician without their music? If there’s not compelling music behind an artist’s image, social media following, and promotional efforts, there’s nothing for audiences to connect to. Music creation can slip as a priority for artists for multiple reasons. Instead of doing the hard emotional and creative work of writing new music, some musicians find it easier to dig deep into the endless efforts it takes to sustain their public identities as artists. Other musicians start their careers with an uncompromising desire to create music but get bogged down by the day to day duties of being a part of an active band or promoting their solo music.
If you’re set on sharing meaningful music with the world, nothing is more important than the act of creating, exploring, taking risks, asking questions, and shaping vague musical ideas into developed songs. But few things are harder, even if you’ve already managed to find success in music in the past. It’s easy to forget that creating music can be tedious, demanding, and difficult work––the sort of work that might not ever give us the results we want.
It’s natural to not want to take on the burden of making new music, but choosing not to over and over again is a dangerous spot to be in as a serious musician. It takes you further away from your goals, puts you out of practice as a songwriter, and keeps you distracted as an artist.
The importance of prioritizing music creation
Nothing is more important than music creation for artists who want to make an impact with their songs. However, while choosing to prioritize songwriting, producing, and recording is easy, maintaining that priority is another story. Whether it’s sticking to a strict weekly songwriting schedule, writing lists of ever-changing short-term goals, or making the conscious effort to stay inspired by constantly trying new things in music, prioritizing music creation isn’t a choice you make once as an artist, but over and over again. Similar to how romantic relationships take constant work to keep healthy and rewarding, making music creation the center of your identity and purpose as an artist requires constant effort and attention.
It’s not as simple as stepping back from promoting an album to free up time to write a new one, though time management is part of it. Instead, it’s about where your focus is as an artist. In your daily life are you more focused on racking up song plays than discovering what’s possible through music? Do you have an incredible idea for a song percolating but can’t get to it until you post on your artist’s social media accounts? These are a few examples of how the joy and spontaneity of music get put on the back burner for musicians.
In theory, we want to create the sort of music that truly resonates with listeners, but it’s often easier and more convenient not to try. When we force ourselves to show up to the creative process and engage over and over again, songwriting becomes a priority and a focus, not just something we’ll get around to doing when we feel like it. When we do this over and over again, there will be days when throwing everything we’ve got into the process simply won’t work, and that’s okay. But by prioritizing music creation above everything else as artists, we’ll have the time, freedom, and energy we need to create our best work.
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.