5 Reasons DIY Musicians Quit and 5 Inspiring Solutions
The life of a musician is fraught with as much difficulty and disappointment as it is filled with delight and discovery. At times it can feel like you’ve taken two steps forward but get knocked back six; at others, it can seem as though you and your buddies can take on the world and win. Sometimes, it all gets a bit much, and you want to throw in your treble clef-patterned towel for good. It may well be the best thing for you, it may just be a particularly tough time — every case is unique. Let’s explore some of the reasons why musicians quit and see if they could apply to you.
Problem #1: No Money
Musicians joke all the time about having no money for food after spending their earnings on filling up the van, buying a new set of strings or hitting the bar — but that’s not NO money. If you’ve got NO money, and can’t even afford these luxuries because of debts or lack of earnings, it’s going to be incredibly difficult to justify continuing. The phrase “don’t quit your day job” is often thrown around as an insult — granted, it would be amazing if you could give up the nine to five completely and sustain yourself purely with your passion — but in the increasingly cutthroat and competitive music industry, you need a backup plan. If you place all your eggs in your band’s basket, they’ll all be thrown to the floor and smashed if you suddenly can’t get a gig or sell any more merch. These things can happen, and if they happen to you, you’re either going to fall back on your job and go back to playing on weekends or withdraw entirely from the harsh flames of failure. You simply can’t function on no money. Sooner or later the handouts from the parents are going to dry up, and you’re going to have to take a long look in the mirror and ask yourself if you can actually make this work.
Solution: Don’t quit your day job immediately after your first paid gig. It seems crazy, but most bands spend a good few years working by day and gigging by night, sacrificing much of their private time and social life in the process. Squirrel away every penny so you can fund the things you want to do, like a tour or a press package.
Consider a sideline of private tuition or start a function band as a way of funding your passion. There are thousands of musicians who escape the nine to five and make a perfectly good living from performing.
This may seem a bit mean, but despite the amount of successful artists out there claiming they only do it for themselves and make the art they want to make, the very fact that you’ve heard them say this means they’ve sold out, to whatever degree.
Problem #2: No Progress
We’re talking progress in a musical sense here — if you’re playing the same set a year or two down the line, any self-respecting musician would be bored brainless. Day in, day out, playing the same mind-numbing tunes with your eyes unfocused is not what the teenaged you dreamt of. This tedium can easily create arguments — some of you will be in the “if it ain’t broke don’t fix it” camp, whereas some of you will fear your fans will become as bored as you are. If the air’s getting stale, you’ll feel suffocated and will start to wilt like a parched houseplant. And if any of your band members are intimidated by learning some more challenging songs after playing for heck knows how many years, then they’re not the musicians you should be playing with.
Solution: It’s good to have favorites, as these are what some fans will come to your shows for — but change the rest of it up. Always be on the lookout for a new cover you could put your stamp on, or write together more frequently.
Problem #3: No Fans
This may seem a bit mean, but despite the amount of successful artists out there claiming they only do it for themselves and make the art they want to make, the very fact that you’ve heard them say this means they’ve sold out, to whatever degree. If nobody liked them, nobody would be celebrating them, so they wouldn’t be celebrities. Likewise, if nobody likes your band, it’s not going to go anywhere. You need a few die-hard fans to begin with to make the whole thing seem real — fans who know your songs and mention your band name are the murmurs that become the buzz. If you don’t even get this, and you come to be seen as just another local band who has been allowed a go, that’s who you’ll forever be. You need to make your music palatable for your audience, and if you can’t win over a few stony faces, the whole thing’s going to feel like a huge, embarrassing mistake.
Solution: “Compromise” is a scary word for some — the same “some” who take artistic integrity too literally. Start out by playing some covers, and develop your own sound over time. If you jump the gun, you’ll probably just get shot in the foot.
Problem #4: No Fun
Bands are supposed to be fun. Look at the A Hard Day’s Night film or Blink 182’s tour diaries (pre-2005). You’re supposed to be a group of pals who make each other laugh and pick each other up when you’re down. Sure, being in close quarters for too long brings out ugliness in all of us, but if you’re good enough friends to begin with, and treat each other with the respect you’d expect yourself, a few arguments won’t matter in the long run. That being said, if the bickering levels are near constant, you’re in trouble town.
Solution: If you start to resent having to spend every waking hour with the same sweaty, argumentative people, you won’t last long. Equally, if you just treat being in a band as a job, it’ll quickly become a chore.
Have one of those boring conversations about numbers and tickets once in a while, and you may be surprised how far you can take it.
Problem #5: No Future
Although most won’t want to admit it, nearly everyone who picks up a guitar has a Rock Star fantasy. It’s nothing to be ashamed of — we’re basically conditioned to think it’s the best life possible, what with all the stories, photographs and films we see all the time. So imagine how crushing it would be to one day have to face that the extent of your rock stardom was playing in the same few venues in the same nearby towns for the rest of your career (for want of a better word). Amazingly few bands get lucky when you compare them to the thousands that don’t. Sure, all you’ve got to do is play a few decent shows, gather a dedicated following, then sell out bigger and bigger venues until some studio exec notices you and recognizes you as the potential cash cow you’ve become — but this is really hard to pull off, and most bands fall short of the finish line. Way short, in fact — if you can’t get beyond your hometown, chances are you’re not going to make it any further than you are already. You might be fine with this, you might not be; the fact of the matter is, if you’re stuck in an infinite loop of the same couple of bars, you’re never going to get a private jet and a mansion. That realization can be hard to face
Solution: Either aim your sights a little lower and embrace being a local or diy music band (which is a perfectly respectable thing to be), or start being more serious about getting the punters in. Have one of those boring conversations about numbers and tickets once in a while, and you may be surprised how far you can take it.
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