Mark de Jong
We had a bunch of musicians at our home the other night. After dinner we sat enjoying the ambience, a few sips of red and the company. A young muso started talking about his concern that no matter what music he produced, someone, somewhere was probably already doing it better. He was worried that he might never come up with music unique enough to give him a successful career. It led to an interesting conversation about motivations for making music. My perspective is that making music to become rich, successful or famous will most likely lead to frustration and failure. Real success in life comes when you discover your primary motivation and talent. When you find that thing that you excel at, the thing that motivates you, you should spend as much time and energy on it as you can – it will fulfill you, you’ll be doing what you were designed to do.
If that thing is music, then do it because you love it. Do it because you can. Do it because it brings happiness to others. If you aren’t making money from it, make money somewhere else so that you can enjoy making your music. Maybe, just maybe, if your music touches enough people, they might start paying you to do it. That would be a great result, but it’s not the primary purpose.
I sometimes worry that the prevailing attitude of emerging artists is to see music as a way of getting rich and famous. I reckon that you are far less likely to get rich and famous if that is your primary motivation. It also presents a shallow, false-economy of a goal. Say you are one of the few artists who makes a million bucks, what then? Mission accomplished? Hang up the guitar? Don’t get me wrong; a hard-working, talented artist deserves to be rewarded with wealth for their art - but it shouldn’t be their main motivation.
Music is not primarily a business; it’s a means of self-expression for the artist. It should be about people not dollars. It should seek to tap into emotion not provide elevation.
If you are feeling dissatisfied with your progress or success, you are probably focusing on the wrong things. Music is about now. It’s about how you feel, what you are experiencing and how you can wrangle that into a song that may help other humans who are experiencing similar things.
I read an interesting interview with Barry Gibb recently. He was reflecting on the career of the Bee Gees. They were one of the most successful musical acts of all time, selling more than 200 million albums over their career. They are the only group in history to have written, recorded and produced six consecutive #1 hits in the US.
In the interview Barry says ‘The best time in our lives was the time right before fame.” This iconic, multi-millionaire musician was pining for the days when he struggled to make ends meet! Perhaps he was looking back to a time when his motivations were their purest, when his talent most raw? That’s a pretty interesting quote and it is a sentiment I have heard often repeated. Let’s learn from the experiences of others. Enjoy the now, write songs in the now about what is happening now. If that music happens to make you money or take you further, well that’s great. However, you may just look back in the future at today and say ‘that was the best time of my life!'