As the recording and distribution of music becomes more and more democratized, and the already highly saturated music space continues to clutter up, one question undoubtedly remains: “Is now the best time, or the worst time to be a musician?” Everyone reading this is already well aware that there exist far easier (and simpler) ways to earn a living other than pursuing a career as a musician. It is an unstable, uncertain, and high-risk endeavor that takes a serious amount of time, effort and discipline to gain any traction in. And rare is it that one can ever say, with absolute certainty, that they are “making a living” from their music alone.
So why do it in the first place?
The question is simply:
“Why am I doing this?”
Why are you putting yourself through what is, quite possibly, among the most challenging ways to earn a living today? Have you factored in your plans and goals for a potential family life? Have you thought about your long-term financial stability or even your retirement? How about your lifestyle preferences?
Almost every professional or semi-professional musician out there has a unique story to tell and a different reason for why they do what they do, but most musicians I’ve encountered seem to be willing to sacrifice what they can have today for what they will experience tomorrow. It is rarely about they money, and besides, if “money” was among the top reasons for why you’re doing this, then you will sink in this current landscape (and quickly).
Although profits are hugely important to providing the sustainability of the craft, most musicians would agree with the fact that there is truly nothing like being able to share your art with others in order to attempt to influence them in the same manner that your art influenced you. It's a special gift to possess, and an even more special life choice to choose such a path.
“Work” vs. “Effort”
I’ve spoken at a number of seminars, lectures, workshops, and panels all across North America to audiences consisting largely of independent artists and their team members, and it continues to amaze me the number of people who are overwhelmed (and even discouraged) by the amount of “work” that goes into into launching and sustaining an independent music career. My response to them is always the same – “work” and “effort” are two very different things.
To me, “work” is expanding time and energy towards something that keeps you busy and leaves you ultimately unfulfilled. “Effort” is expanding time and energy towards a genuine interest that leads to the betterment of yourself and the venture you are pursuing to push forward. Or as the late poet Bliss Carman more eloquently once said,
“Set me a task in which I can put something of my very self, and it is a task no longer; it is joy; it is art.”
This is more than just your career – this is your life. The key to being outstanding in anything is to demand more from yourself than you allow others to.
The Golden Circle – Start With Why
Simon Sinek, author of “Start With Why”, sought out to discover how leaders and successful businesses inspire and retain loyalty from their audience and their customers. He found that they all think, act and communicate in the exact same way. He coins the idea as “The Golden Circle”, and it looks like this:
Every person or organization knows what they do, and some know how they do it. But very few know why they do what they do (again, we are not talking about making a profit, which is merely a result).
Many artists communicate from the outside in (i.e. What -> How -> Why), but they need to start thinking from the inside out. People don’t buy what you do; they buy why you do it. The goal is not to connect with every potential fan that might enjoy what you create; the goal is to connect with fans that believe what you believe.
As Sinek says in the popluar TED video below, "What you do simply proves what you believe," which means that you as a music artist need to provide the world with music that is an extension of what you believe as an individual - an extention of why you exist as an artist in the first place. The more you hold yourself to this notion, the more people will choose to associate with you and your beliefs, and the larger (and more connected) your tribe will become.