If you came here looking for a quick fix, an easy out, or a slam-dunk social media tip, you came to the wrong place. For most of us, a career in music is a grind. It’s hard.
What I have (only recently) started to figure out is how to make that grind more rewarding.
My worst fear as an artist and a musician has always been becoming jaded about my career. I never want to put myself in a position where making music is a chore.
About six months ago, I found myself in the enviable position of having too much work. I was slammed. My home studio had people in and out almost seven days a week, I was playing with other artists, mixing other people’s music, and trying to pursue my own projects, which are supposed to be my priority.
Despite the fact that I was making money and keeping busy, I found myself hating several projects I had gotten myself into. Like, really hating it. There were several moments when I would have rather been working at a restaurant.
And that’s when it clicked. What was I doing? This is how people start hating music. So, I made some changes.
Since making these changes, everything about my music career has been more rewarding. Beyond that, I’ve been more productive, working towards things I care about.
And beyond that, the business/industry side of things improved as well.
Here’s what I changed, and how you can change as well.
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Put Your Music First, Always
Here’s the deal. Nobody cares about your music more than you.
And nobody will care about your music at all if you don’t make it.
If you are an artist, you need to create art, first and foremost.
If that means keeping a day job, so be it! Just get something that doesn’t drain your creative juices, and make it something you don’t mind quitting.
My band’s biggest problem was always that we couldn’t commit to making an album and releasing it.
We would make demos all the time. But nobody cares about your demos. Nobody in the industry even wants to hear them.
Your first priority should be making music you care about and releasing it.
Which brings me to my next point.
Say No To Projects You Don’t Want To Do
If you’re like me, this is hard. I’ve always wanted to be a full-time musician/artist. I don’t know why, but I just didn’t want a job.
This meant that I became accustomed to taking literally every gig that came across my plate, and then working my butt off to do a good job.
This attitude has served me well, but I also ended up knee-deep in projects that I didn’t want to be involved in.
Since I have begun saying no to projects I don’t want to do, I have become more heavily involved in projects I am passionate about.
Because of this, I am way more excited to get to work every day, and I’ve also attracted better clients in my studio.
Instead of taking on everything that comes into my inbox, I reach out to people I want to work with, and say “hey, I’d love to work with you.”
Now, the projects I'm working on are all: a) things I care about or b) projects that improve my resume. Which is awesome.
Saying no is hard. For whatever reason, artist types often have trouble saying no. Perhaps because we’ve been conditioned to believe that any opportunity that comes our way is a once in a lifetime thing.
Say no to work you don’t want to do. Say yes to your own projects, and make great art.
Releasing music is incredibly important.
I have come to believe that the creative process is not complete until the product is released.
It’s very hard for artists to release their art to the world, because as soon as you do, it’s out. It’s over. You must make something new. And you no longer have the power to make changes.
This is a good thing.
You need to keep moving forward with your art.
There is lots of merit to making great art and then sitting on it to pitch it to industry and see what kind of interest you’ll drum up.
But I think it’s wise to plan as though you will get no interest (because you might not) and then stick to your plan.
You are the artist. You are in control. If you decide that a project is finished and ready to release, that is your prerogative, and you should do it.
Releasing and sharing your music feels amazing and inspiring. It is an accomplishment and you should feel proud of creating and releasing your music.
I think that holding on to albums and songs too long is part of why artists get tired. It always feels like you’re building towards… something.
You will write more songs. You will make more music. Just put it out!
Think 10 To 15 Years In The Future, And Focus
One of the most powerful realizations I’ve had about my music career in recent years has come from thinking about my life in 15 years.
I am young, but I am quite involved in my local scene, so I have lots of older artists and musicians to look up to.
When I look at these figures in my life, it becomes clear to me what I want to do, and what I don't want to be doing when I am their age.
For example, I realized I wanted to move.
I thought about my life in 15 years, and asked myself, “do I want to be playing the same gigs as these guys in 15 years?”
The answer was no.
Now, I’m moving to a much bigger centre. It will be a challenge, but I’m moving towards the life that I want to live.
I realized that I do not want to be a sideman for my entire life.
Since this realization, I’ve recorded a full album, and built a team of industry around my solo project.
Thinking about the life you want to live in 15 years from now can completely shift your perspective.
It is never too late to start building that life.
Just Relax, Make Great Music, And Be Grateful
At the end of the day, we are all lucky to be able to make music.
Making music is an incredibly rewarding, beautiful outlet that not everyone has.
I wish that everyone could feel the way I feel when I finish a song, play a great show, or have an otherwise beautiful music making experience with people I love.
Approach your musical life with passion, focus, and intent. But remember: music is fun – that’s why people like it.
Music makes life worth living, so live the musical life you want for yourself.