[Editors Note: This article was written by Patrick McGuire.]

 

In and outside of the music industry, the idea of sacrificing money, time and relationships for the sake of achieving goals is seen as being an unavoidable part of working creatively. But extremes can be detrimental to your career in music. It can come in the form of your approach to songwriting, or in the amount of loss, frustration and sadness you’re willing to endure for the sake of your craft.

Rather than sustaining an unhealthy creative situation, whether it’s being in a band or working with collaborators in your music, changing things up in a drastic way or quitting altogether is sometimes essential for a musician to return to a state of creative health and sustainability.

Determining the health and sustainability of your project

While some situations make for an easy decision for a songwriter – change or get out of their current musical configuration – others are much more difficult to navigate.

Even the luckiest musicians are asked to make huge sacrifices for the sake of their music, from spending long stretches of time out on the road touring to enduring the financial uncertainty that comes with being a serious musician working in a tumultuous industry. As such, determining whether to quit or move forward with a project is often fraught with doubt and complications.

Here’s a few questions to ask yourself if you need help deciding.

Do you love your work?

Knowing whether you should quit a project or go all-in isn’t as simple as deciding whether you love what you’re doing or not.

Unless you’re extraordinarily lucky, money and relationships in and outside of your project are major factors you’ll have to consider. But passion is a major factor you’ll need to think about if you’re tempted to bail on a project and start over. Yes, every artist hits difficult rough patches from time to time, but if the thought of making music with your current project has made you feel a sense of uninspired dread for a long time, then you might want to consider making major changes in the way you make music.

Passion and an unbridled enthusiasm for making and performing music is an asset you’ll need to possess if you want any hope of getting through the massive challenges of tours, strained relationships and struggling in a world that doesn’t pay much for art. Real love for the music you’re making can get you through a lot, but if you’ve found it’s dried up, you might want to consider a major shakeup either in who you’re working with or in the way you choose to create.

Are the relationships in your project healthy?

Resentment, petty arguments and differing creative viewpoints between band members are issues that have sunk countless bands. There’s probably no better example of a band dealing with their interpersonal issues than when Metallica famously sought help from a therapist in the early 2000’s.

Between the emotional risks, financial burdens and uncertainty, and the nature of warring egos plaguing so many bands, keeping relationships healthy within a musical project can often be harder than the work it takes to make great music.

If there’s major issues between you the other members of your project, it’s time to either work towards getting to a better place or quitting and starting over. In particular, resentment is a potent acid that can eat away a musical project from the inside. When things get especially difficult in creative relationships, change is needed when resentment slows down your project’s efforts and makes work difficult.

Is the project adding or taking away happiness from your life?

If a musical project is making your life miserable, then it’s probably time to throw in the towel.

A tired and ever-so-prevalent pattern in music is the trope of young person throwing everything they have into a musical project for years only to give it up a few years later when the noise of careers and relationships crowds the priority of making music. Music is an incredible outlet for some people when they’re young, but things change as we get older.

If your work just isn’t worth it anymore, it’s time to take a fresh look at things, but this doesn’t mean you should totally give up making music. Rather than looking at your work in music with extremes, consider trying to ease into a situation where you’re able to get the most out of music without it taking away from your life.

The accommodations that go along with making major changes might not be something your bandmates and collaborators are willing to accept, but making music can’t be sustainable over time if the sacrifices outweigh the rewards.


Patrick McGuire is a writer, composer, and experienced touring musician based in Philadelphia.

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