While there’s more music being made right now than at any other point in human history, there’s also no shortage of disappointments in music, whether it’s reading a scathing album review or getting news that an entire year’s worth of shows was canceled.
For countless developing musicians, the biggest forms of disappointment in music come in the form of silent rejections, like venues not returning emails or blogs passing on your music without telling you why or if they ever even listened to your submission. It’s rough out there, but you already knew that. But what you may not know is just how important resilience is for a musician.
Getting back up again
Whether you’re simply motivated by sharing your art or are hellbent on making a career out of your music, you’re destined to face huge challenges and crushing disappointments as a serious musician. There are countless reasons for this, like the mind-boggling amount of new music that’s currently being made each day and the fact that streams don’t start paying significant amounts of money to musicians until they number in the hundreds of thousands. It’s hard to create great music but it’s much harder to get it heard and taken seriously.
While some young musicians discover creative magic and find audiences for their music right off the bat, it takes years or even decades for many artists to hit their stride. Whether you’ll be able to withstand long periods of setbacks, false starts, rejections, hardships, and uncertainty completely has to do with how resilient you are as a person. True resilience in music isn’t as much about having a thick skin or tuning out feedback that isn’t helpful when it comes to your music. Instead, it’s about keeping the joy of what you do at the forefront of your work.
If you live to get up on stage and play, make performing the center of your work as a musician (hopefully, we’re on the path to getting back to normal when it comes to live shows soon). If music creation is what fuels you, build a life in music that revolves around writing, producing, and recording. The more exciting and fulfilling your inner life in music is, the better you’ll be able to withstand trouble when it inevitably comes your way. This isn’t the answer many musicians will be looking for, but it doesn’t make it any less true. When we peel back the layers of image, expectation, and ego in music, the only thing we have control of as music-makers is what we put into creating and the joy we get out of it.
If you stake your happiness and fulfillment completely on the conventional success you get out of music, the disappointments you’ll face will be so much worse than they need to be. But if you create and share your music authentically with whatever uniquely fulfills you at the center of your process, you’ll be able to show true and enduring resilience. And, believe it or not, working in this way will result in better music than if you write under the pressure of being successful. By making as much great music as you can and sharing it in fulfilling ways, resilience will be built into your life. This doesn’t mean that the path you take in music will be easy. Instead, resilience shows us why and how to move forward when things feel impossible or unbearable.
For those of use who plan on creating and sharing music indefinitely no matter what, resilience isn’t a choice but a path towards creative survival. By truly loving what you do in music, you’ll be able to keep going long after others would’ve thrown in the towel.
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.