How to leave a legacy with your music
We all want to leave our marks on the world, but it’s just a matter of figuring out how…
When you’re on your deathbed, what will you say about the music you’ve made? Did it give you life? Did it resonate with people? Are you still proud of it?
Let’s talk about how and why you need to focus on your legacy as a musician first and foremost, and why money comes second – always.
What it means to leave a legacy
A legacy, as defined by Merriam-Webster, is “a gift by will, especially of money or other personal property” or “something transmitted by or received from an ancestor or predecessor or from the past.”
And you don’t need offspring to leave a legacy. Your music is your gift to anyone who listens to it. I’ve heard songwriters talk about writing songs “for” other people. Meaning they write a song with someone else in mind, whether or not they tell the person it’s specifically about them.
Start viewing your music as a gift to the world and you’ll approach the creative process differently. It’s a much more rewarding experience.
But in order to make music as a gift, you have to really put your heart into it. If you want to leave a legacy with your music, you have to make authentic music (more on that later).
What it means to sell out
Simply put, selling out is doing something for reasons that go against your values in an attempt to find fame, money, and/or power.
So for musicians, this usually means making inauthentic music in order to get money or fame. And no one will really know if you’re selling out except for you. We may see artists making a whole new kind of music and insist they’re selling out, but maybe they really want to make that kind of music.
Figure out your values – the ways of going through life, then don’t go against them.
And if you find yourself making music you’re not excited about, ask yourself why you’re making it. You may be selling out.
Why it’s all about authentic music
Authentic music is the way you leave a legacy. It’s how you create music that gives you life and is also a gift to others.
Because think about this…
If you make inauthentic music for attention but it doesn’t get the attention you expected, you’ve not only failed to get the money and fame you wanted, but you also feel like a sellout.
However, when you make authentic music and it doesn’t get the attention you think it deserves, you still come out on top because you’re proud of what you made. No one can take that from you.
Authentic music → more personal satisfaction
When I’m dancing in my living room as I listen to the song I just made, that’s when I’m most alive as an artist. That’s why I make music, not because of the positive feedback people give me.
Don’t get me wrong, it feels great to be praised for my music. But I do it for the personal satisfaction of making music that excites me.
Authentic music → deeper fan connection
Maybe you make music that isn’t loved by the masses. That’s okay. Authentic music, regardless of genre, can lead to a deeper connection with your fans.
If you’ve made something real, something authentic, it will resonate with people. Even if you don’t have the biggest fanbase, your music can still be important to those fans if it came from an honest place.
Authentic music → career longevity
Look at the music that has lasted throughout modern music history, music that has lasted decades and has been loved by multiple generations. That music was made by artists who were loving what they were doing, making music that excited them. Yes, their music was often very popular during their time, but that’s a sign that their music was authentic and resonated with people.
Think about it this way…
Imagine your music is like real estate. It’s an investment that has value now (shelter) and later (sell for a profit). If you put the time and money into a house to make it the highest quality possible, it will be better for both the current value and the long-term value.
Honest music has a much better chance of giving you a long-term music career that you’re proud of.
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How to make authentic music
It’s easy to say “make authentic music,” but what does that actually mean? I’ve found that for my music to be where I want it to be, it has to pass the Feel Test, the Wait Test, and the Human Test.
The Feel Test
As you’re writing and/or producing a song, does it cause an emotional reaction in you?
It has to make you smile, get you choked up, dance in your seat, any type of emotion. It just has to cause a reaction in you. If it doesn’t, it needs more work.
The Wait Test
Write a song and produce it. Then sit on it. Don’t share it with anyone, especially not the internet. Give it some time – a week, a month, a year, however long feels right to you. Then revisit it and see if it still passes the Feel Test. If so, you’re on the right track.
The point of this test is to make sure you’ll be proud of this song for the long haul.
The Human Test
Great art resonates with the human experience because the human experience is often difficult to put into words.
So to ensure your music taps into the human experience, play your song (which has already passed the Feel Test and the Wait Test) for someone. Your friend, your significant other, your mom.
If possible, sit with them in the same room. Then hit play and watch how they naturally react. Their honest reaction will tell you if the song is truly ready to be shared with people.
So, that’s how and why you need to make authentic music no matter how much money you could potentially rake in. Think of your legacy first, money second.