A song is a song, but it becomes an entirely different thing once it’s shared with people. There’s nothing wrong with making music purely for your own enjoyment and never sharing it with another soul. In fact, without experiencing real passion and creative engagement during your songwriting process, you won’t be writing music for long. But taking the step of sharing your music with other people is a completely different game. Here are five big changes that happen when you decide to publicly share your music:
You open yourself up for criticism
When you keep your music to yourself, the only criticism you receive comes from yourself. Sharing your work means inviting other people to have opinions of it whether it’s in the form of a thoughtful review on a blog or a belligerent YouTube comment. This is something lots of musicians struggle with. As a music-maker, your focus is on creating the best music you can. Having a thick skin isn’t a natural skill that comes along with music creation. It’s an intentional decision that has to be made at some point, the choice to be okay with yourself and what you’ve made despite what anyone else thinks of it.
Finding an audience becomes a goal, and that rarely happens without promotion
The nice thing about never sharing your music is that you don’t have to worry about connecting with listeners. Today, releasing music online is fast and easy, but it’s going to be a huge challenge to find an audience even if your music is great and it’s promoted. The difficult reality is that there’s more great music being made right now than there are ears to listen to it. All this is to say that if you’re taking the step of sharing music with people, promoting it is pretty much essential if you want to succeed.
Money becomes a thing
Money is a one-way deal when you only make music for yourself. You pay for instruments and equipment, and then you make music. But when you share your work, you have the opportunity to actually make some money. This could help through streaming revenues, licensing placements, physical or digital music sales, live performances, and merch sales. Money is a big challenge for most musicians, but there’s absolutely money to be made in music. How important money ends up being in your efforts to share music with others is up to you, the music-maker, but it’s important to remember that countless terrific artists put their whole lives into the pursuit of music and never make much money. Making little or no money does not mean your music is bad or that people don’t want to hear it.
The world now has a right to interpret your art however they want
Sharing your music means giving other people permission to interpret your songs in whatever ways they want to. Depending on the situation, this could be hugely gratifying or endlessly annoying to you as a songwriter. Some listeners will find hidden meanings and deep connections in your songs that will surprise and delight you. Others will get things wrong, focus on things you wish they wouldn’t, and miss the parts of your songs you think are the most important. There’s no avoiding this once you make your music available online and/or play shows. Your songs will always be yours, but you can’t control what they mean to people.
Sharing music costs money and takes work
It’s infinitely easier to keep your music private than it is to share it. It’s not expensive to distribute your music online, but it takes a ton of work to plan your releases and promote them. The more work you put in, the larger your audience will inevitably be. If you’re an experienced musician this all probably sounds obvious, but it’s important to note if you’re considering sharing your work for the first time.
Making music for yourself and making music you share with others are two very different things, but each path starts with the creation process. If you love writing and recording songs, you’re already succeeding by the most important measure.
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.