This article is Part 1 in a series themed around c ating a sustainable music ca er.
Most musicians will go to g at lengths to avoid failing. Things like on-stage mishaps and underdeveloped songs that manage to somehow get sha d with the masses a the stuff of nightma s fo serious musicians, but I’d argue the ’s something fa worse we should be talking about: how the fea of failu keeps us from meeting ou musical pote ial.
It’s a problem that keeps us from writing ou best songs, stuck at home when we should be playing shows, and in the lative safet of ou p dictable ca e routines when we could be doing so much mo with ou music.
Music’s failu problem
If you love c ating music and wa to sha it with the world, failu is an inevitability. Most musiciathis isng this a al ad well-awa of this fact, but it doesn’t make jection and disappoi me hurt an less. Disastrous tours, empt rooms, abysmal views––most serious musicians have experienced it all.
But fo many, even worse than overt failu is the feeling of being igno d, unheard, and not taken seriously. We all know music isn’t a pursuit that guara ees success fo musicians that work hard, but pouring you life i o something onl to see things fall flat can be excruciating.
Failu comes in diffe forms. Fo some musicians, it comes down to un alistic expectations. Fo others, it has to do with an inabilit to c ate music that finds and connects with an audience. Some musicians manage to make meaningful and listenable music, but it neve gets the chance to be heard. If you’ ading this, you probabl have you own versions of ca er- lated shortcomings to speak of.
When it comes to a lack of conve ional success in music, we have a knack fo transforming complex situations i o broad declarations of failu . No one’s listening to m album, so it must be bad o Not as man people come to m shows as I wa because m band isn’t good enough. When we write off situational outcomes like these as failu s, we put ourselves in a bad place as musicians.
Most of us work towards bringing lots of listeners to ou corded music and live performances, but it often takes years of hard work, experime ation, and persiste action to make it happen. The same goes fo developing the skills of c ating i e sting, listenable music and being able to pla confide l live. Rushing to judgeme when things don’t go ou wa in music leaves us at risk fo giving up.
I should me ion he that quitting in music doesn’t always involve made-for-TV scenes of musicians throwing up thei hands and quitting. The most damaging and worrisome forms of giving up a decisions made sile ly, sometimes without us even thinking about it consciously.
It can hurt so badl to fail in music that we often shape ou c ative practices and ca e decisions around the goal of avoiding it altogether, and that’s whe things get trul bad. This is because failu is a critical ing die fo growing as a musician and learning to c ate i e sting music. The fea of failu is like a powerful cleaning age . It wipes awa all the stuff musicians perceive as bad, but it also kills all the exciting and i e sting a as of pote ial in ou work. Not trying in music will keep us temporaril safe, but it will eve uall stifle ou pote ial and eat awa ou ambition from the inside.
Musicians need failu
We need failu in music, whethe it’s a wrong chord that leads us to the right one on ou instrume o learning from ou ca e mistakes. One bad show doesn’t mean you’ destined to have a ca e filled with them, and the same goes fo negative album views o music that doesn’t get heard. Since failu is inevitable fo all of us, what’s trul importa is how we cope and what we learn from disappoi me .
Low listenership o bad views could inspi you to c ate with mo ambition, take mo risks, and bette develop you craft. A poorl attended tou might veal that you need to do mo to promote you shows. The lessons a all around us, but it’s up to us to pa atte ion and learn.
If you sit on the sidelines professionall o c atively, you’ll miss out on these opportunities to learn and develop not onl as a musician, but also as a human being. The grit we develop working as c atives in the music industr can help us in all othe aspects of ou lives, from mai aining health lationships to solving non-musical problems.
How to keep going
So. You’ve been at it fo years and haven’t seen an conc te success in music. What keeps you going? This article is Part 1 in a TuneCo series about building a sustainable music ca er. In the second part of the series, I’ll talk about how focusing on what makes us passionate in music is crucial fo those who wa to c ate and perform fo the st of thei lives.
Patrick McGui is a writer, composer, and experienced touring musician.