We work in an industry where we spend an enormous amount of energy and time creating and promoting a product without knowing if there is an audience for it, and this can be a tough realization. As you know, making a living in the music industry is very difficult to do! You can increase the odds of success by making sure your mindset is a healthy and productive one. After all, if all you’re interested in is money, there are easier ways of going about it. Why not make working in the music industry as enjoyable as possible?
When you don’t enjoy your work, that work becomes much more difficult. I’ve encountered so many musicians who are really unhappy. So, I think dissatisfaction is probably not that uncommon for musicians. In fact, according to a study by the University of Westminster commissioned by Help Musicians UK, musicians are three times more likely to experience depression than non-musicians. In this light, checking in on your thoughts and beliefs is that much more important.
There are a few widely-ingrained thought patterns in the music community that can have a disastrous impact on any career. But in my experience, the most prevalent destructive thought pattern is jealousy. It is not uncommon to hear the following question from a frustrated musician: “My music is better than (X’s) so why are they more successful than I am?”
It is absolutely helpful to look at other artists – especially at how they market themselves – to see what they are doing and how successful that is for them. That said, when observation of other artists is no longer fueled by genuine curiosity and a desire to learn, it can often lead to bitterness, which doesn’t help anyone. It is important to remember that when looking at the success of others, the lens through which comparisons are made is often very skewed.
Most of the artists that musicians tend to compare themselves to are already established and in the public eye, and the stories told about these people often gloss over the years of hard work that usually go into a successful career. Articles that people write about “overnight success” seem to be more popular with the public. And that makes sense: Everyone wants to believe that they can be thrust into the limelight and skip the hard work. A story about someone who toiled in obscurity every day for a decade making things happen just isn’t as interesting.
You can’t avoid asking, “Why is this person successful?” as you’re looking at others’ careers and building your own. When you find yourself wondering, ask yourself some of these questions: “Do I have the backstory on every life event that happened/is my comparison fully informed? Do I know how long they’ve been at it, if they had access to start-up funds, or if they were just in the right place at the right time? In this light, is any comparison justified?”
Even if you find that the playing field is level with you and this other artist, it is important to remember that music is very subjective; quality and commercial viability aren’t always the same thing. Personally, I can’t wrap my head around the fact that Migos’ “Bad and Boujee” has more Spotify Streams than “Bohemian Rhapsody” by Queen. (But I’m aware that’s just my own personal bias!)
If you’re frustrated about your place in the music business, use that frustration to motivate you rather than dwelling on the unanswerable “why?” questions. Keeping your head down and grinding is the most reliable method I’ve seen for success. If you’re not careful, jealousy can be a distraction from the real work that will lead to happiness, fulfillment and success.