[Editors Note: This article was written by Patrick McGuire.]
Making the decision to share your music with the world is essentially consenting to have your heart get broken again and again. Disappointment and frustration in music can come in many forms, but the worst of it is almost always centered around rejection for most musicians. Whether it’s the pain of being passed over for an opportunity or, even worse, the mind-numbing frustration of sharing your music with someone who won’t even take the time to respond and reject you directly, making music and trying to find an audience often means taking massive emotional and financial risks without ever getting much reward.
For the vast majority of musicians trying to make a name for themselves, it can be hell putting so much love and effort into work when the world doesn’t seem to notice or care.
Do you write songs you’d actually listen to?
When I started making music over a decade ago, a guy from a blog reviewed my first band’s EP that could be summed up as, “This music is fine, but I’m not especially compelled to listen to it.”
Sure, it stung (because it was true), but years later it’s something I still think about a lot when I make music. Like most bands, in the early days of my songwriting career I wasn’t making compelling music because I was young and hadn’t found my voice yet. Music’s always been a brutal business, but it’s never been harder to sustain a career in it. In 2018, even incredible music doesn’t always catch on and connect with audiences, so the chances of “fine” music succeeding are slim to none.
Your music might not be gaining traction yet because you’re probably not writing songs that you’d actually want to listen to.
It’s a simple idea––like actually wanting to eat the food at the restaurant you own––but lots of songwriters don’t think of their work this way. Making music can be brutal because it requires so much emotional vulnerability, but writing with emotion isn’t any guarantee that the outcome will be any good. Lots of musicians, especially inexperienced ones, conflate their emotional investment in writing a song with the music’s listenability and artistic merit. Unfortunately, that’s not how it works.
What do you love about music?
When you listen to your favorite albums and playlists, what exactly is it about the songs that resonate with you the most?
We often set the boundaries of songwriting only around things like scribbling down lyrics and experimenting with melodies and chord progressions, but it should also take the form of a willingness to ask questions and letting the answers inform your music.
If at first you don’t succeed, try again––and again and again and again.
For songwriters experienced and talented enough to make compelling music, the effort to gain traction and notoriety often takes years of slogging it out with tours and releases, often without any real success. Like previously mentioned, sometimes even great music often fails to catch on in 2018.
Because of things like the plummeting cost of home recording technology and the affordability of music distribution, more music is being written, recorded and released than at any other point in history. On Spotify alone, anywhere from 10,000 to 30,000 new songs come out each day. Whether those songs go on to find audiences depends factors like the ones you’d expect––sound quality, marketability and promotion––but pure, unpredictable luck does, too.
This means that it might take years of tedious, thankless work before your music finds an audience, and some songwriters don’t have what it takes to wait that long. The waiting game is usually what sets musicians apart because only those who’ve got pure, uninhibited love for making music are able to put up with how awful trying to be a serious songwriter can be.
If you have this sort of love, making music is less of a choice than it is a means for fulfillment and happiness. “Making it” in music becomes secondary to the joy of creating music for these sorts of musicians.
Experiment and see what sticks.
Whether it’s in terms of songwriting or the way you promote and release your music, experimentation is key.
The sort of returns you’ll see will depend on the work you put in, and it usually takes a long period seeing what works and what doesn’t for most artists begin to find momentum. If you don’t have an audience for your music yet, you might need to incorporate a more experimental philosophy into what you do. Try different methods for writing and promoting your music and pay attention to what’s working.
And remember, small wins can build to major successes in music over time, so don’t discount the small victories. If you’re able to do this, you might find that people really do care about your music, even if it’s not in the ways you’d expect.
Patrick McGuire is a writer, composer, and experienced touring musician based in Philadelphia.Tags: