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.
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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.
Erockalipse - April 20, 2021
THANK YOU FOR THIS! ⭐️⭐️⭐️⭐️⭐️
Arturo Nashion - April 20, 2021
Cool article eh? 🙂
Brian - April 20, 2021
Good perspectives, and so true.
Arturo Nashion - April 20, 2021
Yes great 👍
jay smurch - April 20, 2021
Good laying out of some of the major misconceptions. I can’t help but notice the irony: fans want to believe that their musical heroes have these traits, so the misconceptions are not bugs, but features of the music business. Imaging the (yes) young suffering artist types who have it all and spend their leisure communing with the muse is a big part of the allure of show business. Can one have fans (fanatics) without inspiring some fantasy?
Cosby Young - April 21, 2021
Truthful and well written!!!
C-LoW - April 21, 2021
Joerock - April 21, 2021
Matthew - April 21, 2021
The article means well. However, it overgeneralizes and is derivative. It lacks experience, authenticity. Interviews of artists for each topic could add depth and credibility.
Thysta - April 21, 2021
I agree with most, disagree with some, but overall great message. Have a great day and wish great music time for everyone!
Thysta - April 21, 2021
Oh, and I’d also add : “Working more on a song means the song would be better.” It is also not true at all, just like it is not true that it does not take work to write a great song.
Christine Joy - April 21, 2021
Good article – thank you 🙂
Facunga - April 21, 2021
Very insightful. You better love creating cause it can be a grind.
John Lee - April 21, 2021
It’s not even worth addressing how incorrect each of your assertions is. It would take a separate article. The biggest flaw in your analysis is the “struggling artist” condition. Practically every commercially successful musician, this includes not only songwriters but all the players in bands you don’t know the names of, the engineers, support people, crew, drivers, etc. etc. are burning the candle at both ends. What you need to have is a music historian/scientific/analytical education, then write about music. Have you ever studied Jazz musicians? Even Hal Blaine was a tortured artist.
John Lee - April 21, 2021
Further, audiences resonate with tortured artists for many psychological reasons. They like to adore their idols, they love to see their idols self-destruct. The public gets interested in your career after you are martyred, after the tragic car/plane or skydiving accident. The pressure of touring makes nice people become a substance abuser and a sociopath, then the law arrests you, you get attacked on your way to the airport, beaten by security, you get shot, attacked in your home by a fan, you have to work for criminals. Duke Ellington and Louis Armstrong worked for the mob. Entire professional bands are fronts for drug dealers. Give me a break.
Cosmo Key - April 21, 2021
Absolutely great!!! Couldn’t be said any better.
steev - April 22, 2021
This all validates my 35 year experience in music.
Tomas Wille - May 17, 2021
Do we realise that, the moment we acuse people of being shallow to musicians, we are just as shallow to those we acuse? With that, I mean the assumption that these are general misconceptions. Because they aren’t general. The misconceptions only happen by a select group of people, namely the young youth. They tend to look at things with naivity, and just like we did, learn to understand the world. I have never met an older person who thinks musicians aren’t doing a job. So, this article is completely focused on the very young and naive, yet it has been written for an older public. The bottom line, everyone here who is thankful for this article, should understand what group of people having misconceptions about what they do. And when they understand, they need to realise, this group shouldn’t be so important to them, as their naivity should be excused. Their opinions and perspectives are evolving and sooner or later, their opinions will be based on personal constructive knowledge. Social media is the main culprit why we believe these are general misconceptions. Because of its anomity we sometimes forget we are talking with 12 year olds, and social media is mainly used by young teenagers. If we had to face them in person, we never would’ve been surprised, or insulted, by their opinions. And to conclude, why do we care so much what random people think about things they do not understand? You shouldn’t need to worry about these kinds of misconceptions in the first place. You know the truth, and only you need to care for yourself. It will give you more self esteem, and that would definitely help if you want to market your music. Besides that, this article is a bit of a placebo for a musicians mindset, and sooner or later you’ll find out a lot of it makes no sense. So better have a more realistic view, and end up stronger. Just my 2000 cents.