The non-musical world often thinks that making and performing music is always fun, easy, and instantly gratifying. But serious musicians know that this is only one part of their story. Loading your equipment out of a venue you just played after a show that no one attended isn’t fulfilling. Pitching your new album to a long list of email contacts and never hearing back isn’t fun. And yet both these examples are things independent musicians have to do to find audiences for their music. You can think of it as “paying your dues,” but the kicker is that some artists never manage to move past the stage of trying to get the world to notice their music, even if their songs are great. That’s a hard truth about pursuing music.
One of the only sure things you’ll have in music is your ability to enjoy what you do as a musician, whether it’s getting on stage or writing music. But for as important as this connection is in music, we often neglect it by acting in certain ways that we think we need to to find success. Here are four huge benefits you’ll find by focusing on what you love most in music:
The ability to create naturally
If you’ve been working on new music for months and nothing seems to be clicking, it could be because your passion just isn’t where it should be. It sounds obvious, but writing in ways that match your unique preferences and interests builds a natural creative practice. But making music in ways that aren’t true to ourselves does just the opposite. The classic example is imitating popular music to chase success. When you drop expectations and try to make music that’s exciting and unique to you, you’ll be able to work freely and naturally.
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Creating and performing authentically in music comes from a place of being able to connect with joy and purpose. But when we’re too focused on creating work we think the world wants us to make or writing out of another artist’s creative playbook, we risk compromising and losing it. When you perform and create with the things you uniquely love about music at the center of your actions, you’re working authentically and with purpose. The hard part is that it’s easy to simply copy and paste another artist’s work into your own process without realizing it, especially if you’re just starting out in music. It’s not always easy to keep focusing on what uniquely drives you in music, but doing so is the only way to preserve your authenticity.
For musical artists dedicated to creating and performing music seriously, resilience is a crucial lifeline for creative survival. It allows you to bounce back from the countless disappointments the music industry can throw at you, from bad reviews to financial hardship to band breakups. I’d argue that the only way to bring resilience into your life as a musician is to ensure you’re doing exactly what you love in music. If music creation is an important part of your identity, you’ll be able to withstand disappointment better if you’re actively writing. The same goes for those who live to perform, record, or produce. Hardship is inevitable in music, but living a creative life built around your passions isn’t. It’s a choice you’ll have to make.
How musicians find and use inspiration completely depends on the individual. But it’s safe to say that neglecting your musical passions will make it far harder to come by. Life has a way of crowding out what we love about making music even when it appears like we’re working the way we want to on the surface. Situations like one creative voice getting lost in the shuffle of a band or an artist prioritizing promotion over music creation can lead to the loss of musical inspiration.
If your musical life isn’t where it should be, it’s time to make some changes. What we love can’t be at the center of our musical lives unless we design it to be. For some musicians, it’s as simple as remembering to focus on doing what inspires them the most from week to week. For others, the path is harder and often requires having tough conversations with bandmates or doing some soul searching. But regardless of your unique situation, you’ll thrive in music much more if you focus on doing what you love than if you don’t.
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.
Toneriche - May 26, 2021
Excellent article and quite helpful.
Chris O'Brien - May 26, 2021
Just what I needed today, thanks!
Jerry Gillespie - May 26, 2021
Great article and your wise words I know come from experiencing and growing through them. I agree that you have to be true to yourself and really listen to yourself and not ignore what your heart is telling you. I write my own material and it is authentic and joyful to me. I have been inspired by musicians and hear the joy they have put into their creations. Allan Holdsworth has inspired me not only with his compositions, but the fact that he always expressed that we all need to find our own voice, so with those words of wisdom I have strived to do that. Thanks for the advice, it is something a lot of people need to also realize within themselves.
Tim Meyer - May 28, 2021
Playing songs that I think are beautiful is the best way to convince other folks of this beauty. So I play many lesser known tunes by artists that inspire me. OTOH people do very much enjoy hearing songs that are familiar. I’ve been told part of being a performer is to be genuine and authentic. And another part is to give the people what they want. An age old conflict. Do I play the same tired old 4 chord songs as everybody else – and contrive my own interest when performing? Or do I play these relatively obscure songs that are indeed very beautiful, tell a cool story, are fun to play but might have a more complex structure than the “hits” — and I don’t have to fake loving the song? For example, I just can’t play John Denver or Jimmy Buffet songs…..people love these……but I just can’t. But I can do right by Steely Dan and Jason Isbel and Little Feat and…….
Brian - October 13, 2022
Tim – I know exactly what you mean. I’ve reached an age where I don’t really have to care that much anymore what “people” like or don’t like. I can play (and enjoy) an obscure song by an obscure artist and love every minute of it. I also apply that to my song writing. If I love playing and hearing it myself, then that’s reward enough for me. Will I ever be rich and famous doing it this way? Maybe not but then in the end in feels right.
Ja Black - May 30, 2021
Absolutely – It’s All About The Love !!!!
Mista Chatman - June 2, 2021