Giving Up On Music, Should You Quit Your Dream Music Career?
No matter how much you enjoy your creativity and passion, there will be times when you feel like giving up.
When you decide on a direction for your career or life, the universe will test you.
It will throw everything at you to see whether you’ll stay committed.
Many people give up when the challenges appear bigger than they are (the keyword here is “appear” because no challenge bigger than you are).
But that’s not you, right?
After all, you’re reading a guide on Music Industry How To and we know how committed you are to your music.
But sometimes you will feel like quitting.
That’s what I’m going to address here.
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Why Do You Feel Like Quitting?
In my experience, there are both rational and emotional reasons for wanting to quit – most fall under the latter.
Emotional reasons are rarely legitimate, at least in the sense that they are usually reflective of an interpretation you have about the event – not the event itself.
Your emotions are unreliable at the best of times, and you can take those words literally.
Kurt Cobain should have been happy about his success, right?
But he wasn’t.
Being happy about success is an assumption we have.
Show me someone who’s successful and I’ll show you someone that’s just as human as you or I.
And, if you look up the list of famous or notable people who have major depressive order, the names you see will surprise you.
This list includes the likes of:
- Buzz Aldrin, second man on the moon.
- Actor and director Woody Allen.
- Green Day vocalist Billie Joe Armstrong.
- Comedian Wayne Brady.
- Slowhand and “God” himself, Eric Clapton.
- Pro wrestler Hulk Hogan.
That list goes on and on, by the way – you would recognize plenty of names.
And, wouldn’t you agree all these people should be happy with where they are in life?
That’s not the way it works.
So, don’t expect your emotions to line up with circumstances.
With that in mind, it’s still important to explore why you feel like quitting.
Here are several possible reasons:
It’s possible to lose your interest in music – I’ve gone through this myself.
This was a temporary occurrence and I’m still not sure why it happened, but fortunately it didn’t last.
Sometimes, you will feel bored playing the same songs on the road.
You can get into a routine at the studio.
Getting together with the band to rehearse can be a drag.
It might be a good idea to take a break or shake things up a little to keep them fresh.
Stop doing the same things the same way every single time.
Change your environment.
Try your hand at a different genre.
Play a cover song.
Tour on a different continent.
Whatever it is, do something else.
You Don’t Get To Tap Into All Your Talents
I’ve played in plenty of situations where I couldn’t “unleash the dragon” as it were, and at times it was kind of frustrating.
But it’s more important to play to the music than to show off and rip it up, especially when it would be entirely inappropriate to do so.
I’ve played plenty of session gigs, and every songwriter or band leader wanted something a little different.
And, I’ve learned to adapt as necessary.
If I need an outlet for my expression, I can always work on a solo project.
If you don't feel like you get to utilize all your talents, maybe you should consider taking on additional projects.
You Don’t Like Your Band Mates
There’s a reason most bands don’t live on forever.
To be perfectly honest, I think it’s a rare band that survives for decades.
The average lifespan of most bands I’ve been a part of was 18 months.
The only band that I’ve been a part of longer is Long Jon Lev, and technically, it is mostly the brainchild of singer-songwriter Jonathan Ferguson.
The end of a band doesn’t need to be the end of your career.
And, the fact that you don’t like the people around you doesn’t mean you can’t work together.
There was considerable tension in bands like The Police and Cream, and while they may not have stood the test of time, they still made great music.
I know it isn’t fun to work with people you don’t even like, but it doesn’t mean it won’t work.
If it doesn’t work out, all good – you can always start a solo career or maybe another band, right?
You Don’t Like The “Culture” Of Your Band
The culture of the band often goes hand in hand with the people involved.
But it could be that you’re trying to get away from drugs and alcohol but because you’re in the band you always get sucked in.
It could even be gambling, fighting, self-destructive behavior or a myriad of other things.
Obviously, you have a choice in the matter, but it makes sense that you may want to get away from things that probably felt good to you at one point but no longer feel good.
I’ll talk more about being in harm’s way later and what you can do about it.
You Don’t Believe In Your Career/Band’s Financial Stability
Money isn’t everything and yet it has a way of running relationships.
Something important I’ve discovered is that we all have weirdness around money, and it says a lot about how we do life.
In any case, you might be seeing the writing on the wall – it could be that gigs are drying up, you’re not selling as much merch, email list signups are trending downward or whatever.
Basically, what once looked like an opportunity is starting to look like a dead end.
I’ll talk more about “hitting the wall” a little later and what you can do about it.
You’re Not Being Recognized
To be honest, this is probably one of the reasons one of my bands broke up.
Granted, there were a lot of other issues going on, whether it was attempts at usurping power, prioritizing marriage over music, a difference in priorities and goals or otherwise.
As the guitarist, backup singer and one of the lyricists in the band, I often felt underappreciated.
In retrospect, I don’t think this had any basis in reality but it was how I perceived matters.
This is exactly what I mean when I say your emotions and circumstances don’t often line up.
But a lack of recognition can hurt, especially if it’s legit.
And, I've certainly been in situations where everyone in the band was getting along like gangbusters and I felt like I was the odd one out.
Looking outwards won't necessarily solve the problem.
Perhaps begin by acknowledging yourself for what you're doing.
You Don’t Feel Like You Matter
Naturally, this goes hand in hand with my last point.
Sometimes, you just don’t feel like you’re contributing to the band, and it’s not a nice feeling.
It’s practically the same as feeling like you’re replaceable.
To make matters worse, you may even feel like you could be contributing more but haven’t been given the opportunity (you may want to speak up about that).
Preferably, this should be a conversation with your band about what could be done from a practical perspective to be more involved.
It would be best to avoid emotional discussion about feeling like you don't matter because that's mostly an open-ended conversation that doesn't lead to concrete solutions.
My Story: You Can Persevere Through Anything
I thought I would share a page from my own book, just to give you an idea of the kinds of things you can encounter on your journey.
Mine has been kind of a winding road but it has ultimately led me to the intersection of music and business and more than ever, I’ve come to embrace that.
But whether as a musician or entrepreneur, I’ve had plenty of obstacles to overcome.
Here are but a few things that have shown up in my space:
- In 2003, my band was given the opportunity to perform at a talent show at a summer camp, and because the lead singer overslept, we couldn’t perform. The band imploded before we ever performed in front of an audience.
- In 2005/2006, while recording Shipwrecked… My Sentiments, my first solo album, my cousin Mitch took his own life.
- In 2008/2009, while recording what was supposed to be my second solo album, Back on Solid Ground, my producer ended up calling it quits. Eventually, I got my stems from him, but everything was so mislabeled and scattered that I couldn’t complete the album.
- In 2008, I had a panic attack and ended up with Generalized Anxiety Disorder (GAD). I also had my heart broken by my first love.
- In 2011, I came under severe financial pressure. I ended up having to sell my home in 2012.
- In 2011, I invested tens of thousands of dollars into a music industry startup that went belly up in 2015.
- In 2014, I had to exit the business I thought was going to help me earn my financial freedom. I spent tens of thousands of dollars and only got expensive business lessons in return. I also lost the girl.
- This year, I’ve had my heart broken again, my family had to put down our mini poodle as he was suffering from a severe case of diabetes, and my fourth car (beater) broke down for good.
I’m sure I could go on about what I feel has gone wrong in my life.
The point is that I’m still alive and well.
I’m still involved in music and business.
I just released my second EP of the year, Nowhere Even Near, and I’m planning for another full-length album in 2020.
I have more books on the way – the next one is going to be called The Music Entrepreneur Code.
Sure, not everything has gone right to this point.
But there’s still plenty to be excited about.
If I can preserve through anything – and, I’m one of the most sensitive people I know – then I’m certain you can too.
At What Age Should You Give Up On Music?
Culture tends to fixate on youth and arbitrarily defined ages that are supposed to mean something.
You get your driver’s license at 16, buy your first car at 18, finish school and land your dream job by 21, buy a house and get married at 30, have two kids by the time you’re 35, or whatever.
There’s a part of you that feels this must be true, but unfortunately, life doesn’t work on a timeline.
I’m the perfect example of that.
When you think about it, age is but a number and the only thing it represents is the number of times you’ve circled the sun.
The earth was circling the sun before you were born, and likely, it will continue to circle long after you’re gone.
Beyond that, age should carry with it no meaning and shouldn’t be a burden either.
No matter what age you are, you can make and release the music you love independently.
It’s never too late.
No, maybe you won’t be the next Adam Levine or Selena Gomez, but so what?
You can still do what you love to do and nobody and nothing should be a hindrance to that.
When It’s Time To Move On
At times, your challenges will seem insurmountable.
You will encounter situations that appear too sad, too dire, too difficult, too unreasonable, or otherwise, to continue.
The question, of course, is whether what you perceive about the situation is true or if it’s all in your head.
You may need to take a break and give yourself some time to reflect.
You may need to separate yourself from the situation and gather your thoughts.
But if you can’t see any way forward, maybe it’s time to move on.
Here, I will define when it’s time to move on, but this still comes with the warning that basically there are no situations that are “too” anything – it’s only what you make the events mean.
When You’ve Accomplished Everything You’ve Set Out To Accomplish & More
Obviously, I can’t help you if you’ve done it all and there’s no more for you to do (which I’m guessing is none of you but correct me if I’m wrong).
You know as well as I do that there are some pop and rock stars that stay at the top of the charts for decades, and there must be a reason they keep going.
I can only imagine their passion extends far beyond any monetary or personal gain that came as result of “making it”.
But if there truly is nothing more for you to accomplish in music and you’d like to take a stab at something else, be my guest.
If you’ve achieved success in one vertical, I have no doubt you can do it in another.
Just remember – the uphill climb will be the same.
You will be tested, and you will run into obstacles.
It’s just how it works.
When You’ve Lost The Capacity To Sing, Write Or Play Your Instrument
In this section, just so you know, I’m not trying to make light of any situation or individual.
Unfortunately, musicians do have a history of overdosing, getting into car or plane accidents, contracting rare or fatal diseases and so on.
And, that can have unfortunate consequences.
But I can point to many people who never gave up, even if they had what we might consider impossible challenges.
Ray Charles, Stevie Wonder (still alive) and Jeff Healey performed and recorded blind.
Rick Allen from Def Leppard lost his arm but figured out how to play the drums with just one arm and two legs.
Guitarist Django Reinhardt lost mobility in a couple of fretting hand fingers but went onto become a legend as a guitarist.
Tony Melendez came out of the womb without arms yet plays the guitar competently with his feet.
There are some unfortunate exceptions to the rule, such as Jason Becker, who joined David Lee Roth’s band in 1989 but couldn’t continue due to ALS, a disease that took away his mobility.
He still had a good run with Marty Friedman in Cacophony though.
So, if you’re a virtual vegetable, I can’t tell you what to do.
Perhaps you could still write music, but you obviously wouldn’t be able to play an instrument.
If you're unable to move, I would be in no position to tell you what to do, and it would be entirely your call.
When You’ve Hit A Wall & There’s No Continuing On
I think everyone feels like this at one point or another.
I can’t tell you how many times I’ve put something out into the world – a blog post, a song, an album, a book, a course or something else that failed to resonate.
I’m still standing, though.
Isn’t that weird?
What that shows me is that no matter how many things show up in my space as “devastating”, if it hasn’t taken me out, it hasn’t left me worse off.
I’m still here and I can keep on keeping on.
Take a moment and think on that.
More than likely, you’ve experienced heartbreak.
Maybe you lost a pet or someone you love.
Maybe you went through a breakup.
It felt awful in the moment, didn’t it?
But you’re still here.
Did anything change?
That’s why I say most of what people call devastating is a matter of how they look at it.
The wall is invisible – it doesn’t exist.
No matter how many times you’ve been blacklisted or blackballed, if you can think outside the box and get creative, there is a way forward.
And, even if your fan base hasn’t grown beyond 300 people in 10 years, who cares?
It doesn’t mean anything.
Get on the road, go back to the studio, call up radio stations…
Do something, anything.
Don’t get caught in the myth of the invisible wall so many try to hide behind.
When Your Music Is Legitimately Harming You
Musicians sometimes receive death threats.
The East Coast and West Coast hip hop bouts live on in history.
The shootings of Notorious B.I.G. and 2Pac are infamous to say the least.
And, there are plenty of “hated” musicians, whether it’s Fred Durst, Courtney Love, Nickelback, Scott Stapp or otherwise.
This certainly hasn’t stopped some from keeping their careers alive.
But if your music career puts you in harm’s way, retreating might be the best idea.
Some musicians have found workarounds, whether it’s disappearing for a while, adopting a new persona, donning a costume or other.
This generally isn’t a challenge that can’t be overcome, but if your life’s at risk, you must do what’s right for you.
I suppose there could be other extraordinary circumstances I haven’t even considered.
But I think you know where I’m coming from.
You must ask yourself – are you facing a challenge that’s impossible to surmount, or is it all in your head?
Is there no way forward, or have you yet to explore possible creative solutions?
Have you missed your chance at success, or are you just crying about the missteps you’ve taken?
I’m not saying there aren’t legitimate reasons for quitting – but they are few and far between.
If you love music, you’ve got to keep going.
You may not be rich or famous, but that doesn’t mean you aren’t doing exactly what you’re meant to be doing.
Should You Stop Making Music? Final Thoughts
I’ve gone through my share of hardships in life.
Lately, every time I sign up for a personal development course, I have a breakdown as it’s progressing.
But I haven’t given up on my dream, and I never will.
Sure, there are times when it’s appropriate to pivot or change direction.
Sometimes you just can’t do what you used to be able to do or reinvent yourself in a way that allows you to continue to express yourself.
But barring all that, my advice to you is never give up.
In closing, I would like to share a quote via Sir Winston Churchill. I hope it inspires you:
Never give in – never, never, never, never, in nothing great or small, large or petty, never give in except in convictions of honor and good sense. Never yield to force; never yield to the apparently overwhelming might of the enemy.
Never give up.
P.S. Remember though, none of what you've learned will matter if you don't know how to get your music out there and earn from it. Want to learn how to do that? Then get our free ‘5 Steps To Profitable Youtube Music Career' ebook emailed directly to you!