Why do you do this music thing, anyway?
Is music just your version of stamp collecting or trout fishing—something you do in your spare time to get a break from the daily grind?
Or is it a little bit more of an intense thing than that?
Does music stem from your soul and burn inside your mind?
I want to help you pinpoint your orientation as a musician, which will go a long way in you finding a sense of success as an artist, something I feel is very important.
Music is Your Hobby
When music is your hobby, there are very few emotional or pragmatic strings attached.
Maybe you own a guitar, a piano, or a set of turntables, and when the mood strikes you, you like to go into your space and immerse yourself in the sound.
You may occasionally record something that seems pretty neat, and you might even have uploaded a few tracks to Soundcloud, just for shits.
But you have a firm line between music being fun and music becoming a chore. When it stops being 100% enjoyment, you call it a day and move on—and you’re totally happy with this relationship.
You’re what I would call a hobbyist (and in some ways I envy you).
Nothin’ wrong with that—not everyone with an interest in playing music has been infected by the “dream” or feels propelled by a stronger force to create.
The hobbyist just enjoys the act of playing an instrument simply for what it is.
For many others, musicianship is painfully integrated at a much deeper level.
Music is Your Passion
While the most common definition of “passion” is “a strong liking or desire for or devotion to some activity, object, or concept” (Merriam Webster), an archaic meaning of passion is suffering.
This comes from the Latin root word pati which means “suffer”.
When music is your passion, you willingly suffer for it.
You suffer physically by loss of sleep to stay up late into the night recording or mixing, or possibly even carpal tunnel syndrome as you strive to become a guitar virtuoso.
You suffer socially by staying in on a Saturday night to realize your art, or perhaps you tour for months on end with your band.
You suffer financially to afford new instruments or gear, or to self-fund your new album.
You suffer mentally as you fight against your own worst criticisms and confidence deficiencies.
You suffer disappointment by being completely ignored or ill-received as you attempt to expose the world to your art.
What makes you a passionate musician is the fact that you will happily continue to take on the suffering because you love being a musician, and have no other choice.
It’s ok if you’re helplessly in love with music, no one chooses who (or what) they fall in love with.
Even if society, family, or friends tell you music is trivial, that you’ll never “make it”, that it’s a “waste of time” or “nobody gets paid to do that anymore”, you’ll continue writing, recording, and sharing—because you have to. You must make music.
Identifying what music and musicianship really means to you can help you to set realistic goals and expectations for yourself.
If you’re simply a hobbyist, maybe you don’t need to spend $3000 USD on a guitar you’ll only be playing here-or-there (unless you’re kind of just into showing off your belongings). You also won’t feel too disappointed with yourself if, in five years from now, you’re still playing the same old riffs on your guitar while having a beer in the garage.
If you’re passionate about music, you may find that you never feel satisfied unless you make room in your life to really gratify that inner force that calls you to the studio or stage. You’ll need to serve that creative energy that wants to be released and made known to the world.
This is because music is your bliss, and as the late mythologist and scholar Joseph Campbell said—follow your bliss.
Even if you’re never able to make a living as a musician, make time for it in your life. I know it can be a struggle to get enough time in with your music; I have a full time job in materials science, I have two children and a wife I want to spend every moment I can with, and a myriad other things going on any given day.
If you’re passionate about music, you need a sense of fulfillment.
Simply noodling away or tracking a few songs may not be enough. I would recommend you work on your singles, albums, cover art, etc. with the same focus and sincerity as anyone who is a professional or well-known act.
Create goals and a production schedule for yourself (see 5 Tips for Finishing Your Music Projects), put aside a little money to promote your project through Facebook ads or a YouTube channel, collaborate with other musicians, establish a network, and build yourself a fan base.
Although your impact on the world of music may not give you the means to tell your boss to kiss your ass as you walk out on your day-job, you can have a sense of success by carving your own place out in the larger musical sphere.
So, are you wildly passionate about your music or are you a humble hobbyist?
Let me know your thoughts!