I’ve seen a lot of musicians, good musicians, creative musicians, become worn out with trying to “make it” and give up. It saddens me because I believe in most cases they’ve been aiming for the wrong target, one that was never within their grasp.
The concept of “making it” that so many musicians have bought into is fundamentally flawed and is a poison legacy of the mainstream commercial record industry of the last fifty years. It says that your music (and ,sadly, you also) only have value if you reach a huge audience and sell a great number of “units”. However, even in that industry’s pre-internet heyday, the vast majority of signed, recorded artists never attained that and there was always a far greater community of unsigned musicians who didn’t even have access to a mechanism to achieve it.
The problem is that we want to be a supermarket, churning out whatever sells, to the widest, most undiscerning audience. Quality means nothing and decisions are made based on potential profit margins.
I have a different idea of success.
If I can record the music I want to record, without pressure from anyone to conform to the latest pointless fad, and release it so that it is accessible to a broad audience and some people buy/acquire it and like it, and the whole process doesn’t bankrupt me, then as far as I’m concerned I have been successful. I am doing what I’ve always wanted to do and my creative drive is satisfied.
To continue the shopping analogy, the digital post-record-industry music world lends itself more to a boutique model than a supermarket model. A boutique can provide a high quality, beautiful product to a select, discerning audience. No-one can tell it what it can or cannot make available. It needs to make enough to survive but doesn’t need to shift vast amounts just to cover its overheads.
So, if you’re a musician who is tempted to feel that what you do is pointless because you haven’t become a household name after years of hard work, perhaps the answer is to realise that you don’t work in a supermarket, you own a boutique. Seek a smaller, more appreciative audience. Paradoxically, perhaps, it’s not a smaller vision, it’s a bigger one.