Advice for musicians demoralized by trying to establish themselves as an artist
'What is the point?' you say to yourself....perhaps you are wasting your time, perhaps you're simply not good enough or the competition is just too great.
These thoughts can be very depressing!
That goal of being a professional artist can be very elusive, and there is so much advice out there on what you need to do get achieve this goal.
Perhaps you need to know more about online marketing or change direction, write something more commercial? You feel desperate and powerless.
But the word 'professional' is interesting and I think offers a clue of how to get out of this rut.
All professional means is that you are getting paid for a service you have provided. The meaning of the word comes from the latin 'professus' which literally means 'having professed one's vows'. So a professional is someone who promises, or enters into a contract to do something for another person.
The word 'amateur' comes from the latin 'amatore' which means someone who does something out of love.
Now ask yourself why you make music, for love? Or because you have entered into a promise with someone to deliver some musical product?
When you get asked to create a musical product (a gig or a recording) you are working within the remit you have been asked to deliver. The professional musician makes a promise to deliver this product in return for getting paid. It's simple, and when you are doing this you are being a professional musician.
What most artists are asking is to be able to create their own music (out of love) and then for there to be an audience for this music that they can then enter into a contract with. ie. that there is a market for their music.
Of course there is no market for your music and so the disinterest and apathy described above is the only response your music will be rewarded with. You are going to have to create a market for your music, and this is not easy! (more of this later)
But if we return to the amateur/professional discussion I hope you are beginning to realise that there is nothing wrong with being an amateur and perhaps (when you really think about it) that is what you really are!
Perhaps you make music out of love! (the best reason to make music)
I think for many musicians the goal of becoming a professional is something that gets put upon them when they start making music by a capitalist society where the only worth is monetary worth.
The goal of the amateur is simply to be able to do what they love.
This is a good goal. Make it your goal.
What you should be aiming at is the opportunity to be able create your musical vision and long term, to be able to keep doing this. Having an audience does not matter. Your goal should be able to create an environment in which you can do this.
Sustainability is really important; you want to be able to keep doing this. Creativity works in a cycle. It is interesting to look at Kolb's Learning Cycle and think about how this applies to creating music or art:
This what a creative musician does; experiences stuff, comes up with the idea for an 'album' of music. Composes that music and then goes out and performs that music. Their goal should be to repeat this cycle for the rest of their lives.
There is no pay off. There is no point when you achieve this and can say 'I'm done'.
The creative musician is cursed with the compulsion to create. And creativity runs in a cycle. If you are doing this then everything is fine. If you are not you need to work out how to change your environment so that you can.
There is no reason to add in the idea that there should be an audience that in some way pays you to be able to do what you love. There are other ways of supporting your creativity.
I think the first thing a creative musician needs to accept is that they are a success if they are creating music. And to sustain this creativity they just need to keep moving around this cycle:
EXPERIENCE LIFE > REFLECT ON THAT EXPERIENCE > FORM THOSE IDEAS INTO MUSIC > RECORD AND PERFORM THIS MUSIC and repeat until you drop dead.
And don't be someone who professes to be a musician. Be someone that makes music because of your love for making music.
'But I want people to hear my music, I want to reach people with my art!' (is this what your now thinking?)
CREATING YOUR MUSIC AND CARGO CULTS
If you have no audience for your music you cannot expect people to pay for it. Until you have created a market for your music you may have to give it away. And you may need to learn how to make music that people like it too. But don't worry, all you have to do is keep going and creative cycle will look after this.
I think a mistake creative musicians make is not taking enough time creating their music, then expecting there to be an audience and then thinking they can create an audience by focusing on the marketing of their music rather than the quality.
Marketing requires large amounts of money to fund and specialist knowledge. You probably haven't got either!
It's all getting depressing again isn't it!
Stop focusing on this bit. I know it's hard, and everything from music college curriculums to internet advertising will tell you your inability to do this is your downfall.
Let's look at the phenomenon of the Cargo Cult...
A cargo cult is a belief system among members of a relatively undeveloped society in which adherents practice superstitious rituals hoping to bring modern goods supplied by a more technologically advanced society.
The people on some remote island had never met anyone from the west. One day a plane lands and out gets a pilot that gives them chocolate, shows them photographs and their watch or mobile phone, amazing the inhabitants. They dish out some gifts to the inhabitants and then they leave.
The islanders long for them to return so they create a bamboo model of a plane and create a ritual where they pretend to land the plane on their island in the hope that this will make the real plane come back.
Of course the plane doesn't return (and if it did it, wouldn't be because of this ritual.)
And yes, this really has happened.
Humans have the superstitious tendency to think by behaving like this they will get their hearts desire.
Musicians also do this.
They think by acting like famous and successful artists they will also magically become successful. And I think the 'marketing' that most musicians do is really a ritualistic playing out of what 'real' musicians do.
Getting your band photo done, or publishing your music, or getting it on Spotify will achieve nothing because you don't have an audience. Having all that stuff there will not magically make you famous.
There is only one way to create an audience and that is to keep moving around that cycle.
Experience life and think what you want to make your music about. If it is about something it will connect with people (95% is music is about one thing and one thing only, and that is trying to become famous)
Once you know what your music is about go ahead and make it. And remember this:
If something is worth doing, it's worth doing badly!
(Think about it)
Once you have made your music go out and perform it. Don't expect to gain a hundred fans but if you have done the job right you will get a few fans. If you have done this then pat yourself on the back and start again, repeat the cycle and gain more fans. Keep doing this, it's all you can actually do.
In my experience this is the only true way of gaining an audience.
So to put it simply....stop focusing on having a career, focus on sustaining your creativity and stop stalling and get moving around that cycle.