For the Love, Not the Money…

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I spend my life as a songwriter with my head and my heart immersed in music. For the past 17 years, it’s been not only my 5-days-a-week, go-to-the-office career…it’s also been my 24/7/365 obsession. I love it.

And it’s a good thing I love it.

Because if I were doing this for the money, if I were doing it for the fame, if I were doing it for the adrenaline rush of hearing my songs on the radio, I would have quit. I would have left long ago, like 90% of the incredibly talented musicians I have seen come and go from this heartbreak town.

The music business – like any business – is geared towards a public perception of “success”. Of massive, sing-along radio hits. Of stretch limos, #1 parties and overflowing bank accounts. And for a very few songwriters, that’s how life goes. The stars line up, and they experience that kind of success. But here’s the thing: you can aim for that…you can work tirelessly for it…you can have enough talent to deserve it…but that doesn’t mean it will happen. And even if it does happen, it won’t be enough to sustain your creativity if that’s the only thing that’s driving you.

There is, however, one thing you CAN count on in this business. It’s disappointment. For every success, there will be 100 disappointments – probably more.  You’ll spend years collaborating with artists who end up getting dropped from their record labels without ever releasing anything. You’ll think your years of struggle are over when you get a song recorded on a massive artist’s CD, then you’ll go to buy it in Walmart and find it missing from the track list. You’ll daydream about paying off your credit cards when your song is sent to radio as a single for a chart-topping artist, and then you’ll turn on the radio to find the artist has released a different song. You will experience so many “almosts” that you will start to feel like the universe is laughing at you. And you will begin to wonder if maybe the blind faith that’s driving you to do this for a living is really just misguided stubbornness.

A music career is almost certainly NOT an overnight, lightning-strike success. Many of us won’t experience “success” at all…at least not the kind of success the outside world recognizes. But as musicians, we need to be able to keep picking our guitars back up, even when we’ve been told “no” for the 1000th time. Even when our hearts have been crushed by the 100th “almost”. Because being a musician is not about money…or fame…or success. It’s about doing what you love. It’s about opening your heart and pouring it into something.

Once you’ve done something with passion and given it as much life as you can, all you can do is release it into the world, hope for the best, and let go of it. If you can do that – if the process is what drives you – you will go to bed at night and sleep the sweet sleep of someone whose heart’s desire is truly satisfied, even if you’re sleeping on a Goodwill mattress. And if the fates allow, you will wake up tomorrow and get to do it again for one more day.

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