There’s a paradox that many young musicians must come to grips with, especially those who want to make a living at it:
If you want to be successful as a musician, you can’t be doing it for the money. That’s right. The best way to make money doing music is not to care whether you’re making money or not. No matter how broke or hungry you might be at the moment.
Now, there are folks who might get the wrong idea from this, thinking that the reason for this paradox is that you probably won’t make money at doing music, so you shouldn’t get your hopes up. But that’s not what this is about at all. For one thing, I personally don’t believe you have to take a vow of poverty as a musician. Even in today’s transitional music market, there are many creative ways to make a living at this. You can make money as a musician, and it’s okay to want to make money at it.
But to be successful, it can’t be why you do it. I was reminded of this paradox this week during a conversation with a musician in my local area. He’s had a wide range of experiences as a musician, including having a record deal with a former band. He plays guitar now in several acts, plus is working up a solo act–but he still works full-time as a barista. His take on it? “It’s great if you can make money at music, but I have to do music no matter what. I can’t imagine doing anything else.” Now, maybe he’ll make it big sometime, maybe he won’t. But he’s got the right idea.
So why is this so important? Why should you NOT do music for the money? I suppose there are multiple dynamics involved, but mainly I think it boils down to attitude. If you are into music strictly as a money-making venture, then you’ll base most (if not all) your decisions on whether money is involved. You’ll likely turn down low-paying or free gigs that might give you some good exposure to fans, for example. And if the money gets tight, or if some wise-ass venue screws you over (which happens from time to time), or something else starts affecting the money, it’s much easier to get a bad attitude–and that will affect your creativity and inspiration, the very things that make your music worth listening to. You’re also more apt to start trying to power-sell your music to your fans, trying to pressure them to support you financially–and that’s a huge turn-off. The more the money is an issue, the worse this cycle can become. It’s kind of like trying to run an engine without motor oil–it gets hotter and hotter until it burns out.
On the other hand, it’s very easy to see when someone is doing music because they love the music–and it’s contagious. These are the folks who will do what they can to play their music in front of people, whether or not they get paid for it. When this is the case, it’s much more easy to be creative, to actually enjoy what you’re doing. And when it’s obvious that you enjoy it, chances are the audience will, too. It seems this paradox works in a lot of professions, not just music. One day, years ago, I found myself in the office of the owner of a very successful auto dealership–a wealthy businessman with friends all over the world. He told me the story of how he got where he was.
I paraphrase here, but this was the gist: “I didn’t actually get into automobile sales to try and make money. I started selling cars because I loved cars, and because I enjoyed helping people. So I started selling cars. And one day I looked, and I saw that all this money was following me.” After 20 years in business, while other car dealerships normally experienced alternating months of profit and loss, this guy had never had a month where his business was not in the black. He was hugely successful at what he did–mainly because he did not care whether he made money or not. It was a spontaneous, life-altering lesson about doing what you love to do. I’ve never forgotten it.
I think this story really illustrates well what I’m trying to say about not doing music for the money. There is something about loving what you do that makes it attractive to others, which in turn makes it more likely that money will follow what you do. There are no guarantees in this business, but let’s just say you’re far more likely to succeed as a professional musician if your main reason for doing music is just because you love it–in other words, as my musician friend said this week, doing it because you can’t imagine doing anything else.
So if you’re an indie musician trying to make a living at this, and you’ve found yourself getting bitter or angry, I can certainly empathize; I have been there. (For many people, being “broke” means having N2000 only in savings; for me, being “broke” means I just sold my CD player to feed my family, and I’m looking around for what I can sell off tomorrow.) But that doesn’t change the fact that becoming bitter will not help your cause as a musician. It’s time to remember why you started doing this in the first place.
If you need to find an alternate source of income for awhile to reclaim a good attitude, it’s better than trying to run your engine with no oil. If you want to succeed in music, you should do music because you love it–not for the money. Not only are you more likely to make money that way, but even if you don’t–at the very least, it will make you a much happier person, because your sense of fulfillment won’t be based on your wallet
I see myself as a masterclass music producer. Even though i am yet to make it in the industry, i still keep my faith up and work hard. Despite the fact i have been signed to a record label, i still do other jobs in other to maintain a reasonable standard of living.