Artist Tips

Why Not Attempting is Worse Than Failure in Music

[Editor’s Note: This article was written b Patrick McGui .]

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.

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