5 Ways To Fail In Music

Because success means something different to each one of us as songwriters, we should also take time to think about what failure looks like to us. You might feel like you’ve failed in some way if the single you just released isn’t getting any attention or your band just split up, but there are almost always broader things going on behind the scenes that cause problems in music. Here are five common ways that failure happens in music:

Letting differences get in the way of collaborative relationships

It takes most bands years to develop their sound enough to create music that connects with audiences. Maybe it’s strange to say, but the secret formula to the success of many bands is that they found ways not to break up. The relationships in bands are completely unique and surprisingly complex. When arguments about money or petty differences begin to drown out everything else, bands are at risk of forgetting why they’re together and giving up. But we should also remember that not every breakup in music is a failure. Sometimes relationships run their course and need to end. However, when a talented band with lots of promise acrimoniously parts ways, it’s a sad situation that probably could’ve been prevented.

Criticizing your work so much that you can’t finish songs

Objectivity is essential for having an idea of what you create is good or not. But there comes a point when too much criticism can be paralyzing in music. If you love creating music but can’t manage to finish your songs, this could be the reason why. The “it’s never good enough” approach is a weird and somewhat self-indulgent way to fail when you stop and think about it. It allows the songwriter to protect themselves by believing what they want to about their work by never finishing and sharing it with people. This keeps them in a state of perpetual arrested development. It takes courage to finish songs and share them. This means that if you’re serious enough about music to do this, then you’re succeeding in at least one way. 

Focusing on conventional success more than creative fulfillment 

If you want streams, views, money, and critical acclaim more than the creative fulfillment of making music, then your priorities are backwards. There’s nothing wrong with wanting to earn money and affirmation from your music––music costs money to create, after all. But if conventional success drives you more than anything else, you’re going to have a tough time connecting to audiences in a human and lasting way. By loving music creation and being able to throw yourself into it again and again, you’ll be able to create music over the long term no matter how conventionally successful you are. 

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Letting negativity shape your work

Negativity can be a massive obstacle for developing artists to overcome in music. Your music might be amazing and perfectly promoted, but that doesn’t mean things are going to turn out like you hope they will. Since this is a pursuit when you can do everything right and still never find success, it’s common for musicians to get jaded and let negativity shape their music. The more jaded we become, the easier it is to lose focus on the joy of creating music. This is a complex issue to talk about because so many reading this have sacrificed so much for their careers. But by creating in a sustainable way, we’ll be able to keep rewarding music creation and performance at the forefront of our musical pursuits, which leads me to one of the most damaging ways to fail in music. 

Burning out by creating in an unsustainable way 

Burnout is not only one of the biggest reasons great musicians give up, but why so many musicians don’t continue making music in their 30’s, 40’s, and beyond. Creating sustainably means making music in a way that doesn’t strain relationships, put you into debt, or keep you from being a healthy and fulfilled person. Music is brutally hard to pursue seriously, and we often think we’re just one sacrifice away from landing that record deal or creating the perfect album. The all-or-nothing success stories we hear about in music are incredibly rare and often dramatized for branding purposes. For most of us to find our audiences, we need to diligently work for years and years. By creating sustainably, you’ll be able to make music for as long as you want to and not just one season of your life. 

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.

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Join the conversation
  • Jeff Bauer - April 7, 2021 reply

    Awesome points!!

  • Steven - April 8, 2021 reply

    Thanks Patrick. Your wise words can open closed doors.

  • Al Danino - April 8, 2021 reply

    Brilliant article which I have shared with my musician friends

  • Greg - April 8, 2021 reply

    Really great article.

  • Rob Rodell - April 8, 2021 reply

    Marvelous! Just what the music doctor ordered. Thank you for sharing.

  • Richie - April 8, 2021 reply

    Another inspiring column, Patrick. Thanks, man.

  • Robert Todd Aysta - April 8, 2021 reply

    Spot on! You are spoken as if you have spent three lifetimes in bands and living to tell about it! Great wisdom that would apply to anybody’s dream cycle! Thanks, AYSTA

  • Terrawend - April 8, 2021 reply

    I really enjoyed reading your column.
    Thank you for the inspiration and wise reminders 🙂

  • Hans Jultved - April 9, 2021 reply

    Er enig i at intet giver mening, hvis ikke det er noget du gør fordi du kan lide det. Men heller ikke dårligt at tænke på udbud og efterspørgsel, som en kunstart. Sådan har jeg det.

  • Milin - April 13, 2021 reply

    Excellent points!

  • vc harper - April 23, 2021 reply

    We no longer have patronage in the arts like long ago. It requires many, many skill sets to become successful now. If started in youth I can see it wouldn’t be as overwhelming learning to market online to have a career. I can’t think of many careers that require as much as what musicians now have to do to have any income. There will still be those who return to live performing without having to market online.

  • Abrown - May 5, 2023 reply

    Yeah thank you so much for these

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