There are countless songs about loss and heartbreak, but something music fans probably don’t think much about is just how frustrating, disappointing, and painful the process of making music can be. The truth is that virtually no musician is immune from the inevitable hardships that are involved with seriously pursuing music. Alongside other character traits like bravery, curiosity, empathy, and awareness, tenacity is a priceless asset for serious musicians.
Why disappointment is inevitable in music for most musicians
For every overnight success story we read about in music, there are countless other musicians who spend years or even decades enduring hardship after hardship to discover and develop their musical voice and work towards their goals. And, in truth, many such stories are heavily edited in an effort to make the musicians they highlight appear like they’ve effortlessly achieved success when the reality couldn’t be any more different. To even reach a point where audiences begin taking an artist and their music seriously usually takes massive investments of time, money, and emotional energy on behalf of a musician.
The short answer as to why disappointment is so prevalent in music is because there simply aren’t enough opportunities for musicians to go around. You may love making music more than anything in the world and want to make it your life, but that doesn’t mean you’re necessarily good at it or are capable of creating work other people actually want to hear. Or maybe you actually do have a knack for songwriting and could find success if only the right opportunities could grace you.
Disappointment in music looks different for all of us as songwriters, but it’s always centered around wanting something and not getting it: a show, a record deal, the chance to do nothing but create and perform music for a living, to access inspiration and creative energy when they’re just not there. If you let it, disappointment will overwhelm you by stifling your ideas and crowding out your creative focus. This is where tenacity comes in.
How tenacity helps us weather music’s biggest challenges
The literal definition of tenacity is the ability to hold a grip on something, but it’s generally used to describe determination. However, I personally prefer the word’s most literal definition when it comes to thinking about my own music career. I love making music so much that I refuse to let it go no matter what disappointing, heartbreaking, frustrating situation I’ve been in as a result of pursuing it seriously over the years. The longer I make music and let it hold a firm place in my life, the easier coping with the inevitable frustrations of creating and sharing it has become. If you’re as serious about writing music as I am, tenacity will help you do the same.
From my perspective, a tenacious mindset in music is one that equally embraces personal sustainability with being realistic about who I am, what music means to me, and where I see myself in the world of music. To continue to hold a firm grip on music, I’ve learned that I have to be a healthy person with stable relationships, reliable sources of income, and a vibrant life outside of music. Believe it or not, the times I’ve temporarily stepped back from music and have focused on living a deep life have made my music better when I returned to it. This sustainability has allowed me to thrive in my musical pursuits, and I genuinely think I’m more creative and musically active now than I’ve ever been.
Tenacity has helped me nail down exactly what I want out of making music. I can now separate goals big and small from my biggest and most urgent concern when writing, which is to make something that truly excites me. If I’m not moved by something I’ve written, I know it’s not worth sharing. I’ll always have big goals for my music career, but coming back to this priority helps me weather disappointment when it comes. I am obsessed with creating meaningful music and deepening my own humanity through it. No bad review, ignored email, or canceled show can take that away from me. As long as I’m still making music and feeling something in the process, I’m winning.
The truth is that most of us won’t be able to develop the songwriting chops to create our best work until we’ve been working at it for years. This makes tenacity not only a crucial character trait to sustain us through the rough times we face during our music careers, but also something that allows us to make music long enough to be able to write something great. Developing and prioritizing tenacity if you live to create 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.