When it comes to creating music seriously, there’s what the world thinks and then what music-makers know to be true. Music is arguably the most impactful art form on the planet, but for how popular it is much of the non-musical world doesn’t know much about what goes into creating it. These are just five of the many popular misconceptions out there about making music.
The best songs are the product of sudden inspiration
Sometimes this is true, but certainly not always. Every artist creates music in completely different ways. Great songs have been the product of a single songwriter writing a hit in under an hour or by bands working diligently to perfect a piece of music for years. If we all knew the single formula for writing great music, we’d all be following it. Spoiler alert: it doesn’t exist, and that’s part of the reason why great music is so special. The ways people write music are diverse, unpredictable, and often inconsistent. Stories of deeply inspired songs being written quickly are great for selling albums and pitching music. The idea of an artist putting lots of careful time and effort into creating something great is much less story-worthy but far more common.
Suffering artists make the best music
Self-destructive artists have undeniably made lots of incredible music over the years. But this doesn’t mean that if you’re mentally and physically healthy that you can’t make great music. The world has resonated with the suffering artist story for a long time but also benefited from music that was inspired by lots of other emotions and situations. What non-musical people think far less about are the artists who try to make great music year after year for decades who are fortunate not to have substance abuse, mental health, and physical issues shape their lives and music. You and your music might not be defined by suffering, but it can still help those who suffer regardless.
Only young artists can make relevant music
This isn’t true, but there is a clear trend of musicians calling it quits as they age. You can absolutely make impactful music if you’re not in your teens or 20’s, but it might be a lot harder to do so. Life gets in the way of what we love if we let it––parenthood, spouses, non-musical careers, etc. Younger musicians might make the most impactful work not only because they are newer to music and can approach writing with a fresh perspective, but also because they have far more time on their hands compared to their older counterparts.
You’re only successful if your music makes money
Music costs money to create, and there’s no getting around that. Making money is a benchmark of success for many artists, but it’s not the only factor that shows whether an artist is “making it” or not. The truth is that many well-known artists you might listen to aren’t making much money in today’s brutal music industry. Streams aren’t paying musicians nearly as much as album sales used to. But something bigger to think about is what artists get out of creating music. If they love what they do and do it consistently, it’s not only one form of success, but a factor that will help them to sustain their careers over the long term. You might not make money now through your music, but if joy and fulfillment are at the center of your process, that will be critical for helping you to create long enough for that to potentially change.
Writing music isn’t actually “work”
Every serious musician is understandably frustrated by the idea of their work being misunderstood and devalued. It takes not only a huge financial investment to create music, but countless hours of emotional and intellectual labor. Some non-musical people fixate on the idea that creating music is fulfilling and often fun so therefore it can’t be work. If musicians could band together and loudly tell the world the truth about what they do, their hard work would be more appreciated and valued. Much of the work we do in music isn’t straightforward, like waiting at a venue to play or promoting an album, which is partially why this misconception is so popular.
Serious musicians from around the world will continue exploring and creating on their own terms no matter how wrong everyone else gets it. It’s often a lonely and frustrating position to be in, but luckily many artists use their isolation as inspiration for their own benefit.
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.