As a 32-year-old singer-songwriter/artist/producer, this post hits close to home. I’ve been doing music since 2009, and boy, this pursuit of a career in music can feel discouraging sometimes. So honestly, I’m writing this post for me. And if you’re feeling like you’re too old for the music industry, this post is for you too.
What Does “Made It” Mean?
For the sake of this article, “making it” means finding national and/or global recognition. So the below artists were often signed to labels, won Grammys, and reached Billboard success.
But listen, you don’t need to “make it” like these artists did to have a successful music career.
It depends on what type of career you want, but if you can make a living making music, you are successful. That’s really why we pursue a career in music – so we can wake up every day and just do music.
But the message of this post stands: you are not too old for the music industry. Many of these artists found nationwide or worldwide success in their 30s, some in their 50s or 60s.
Keep doing what you love. Keep making music. Keep putting yourself out there. Enjoy the ride. Be persistent and patient.
Behind every breakout story below, the artist put in hours, days, and years of work to develop their skill, talent, and connections. And you can do the same.
Okay, here are 10 musicians who made it after 30 years old…
Bill Withers – 32
After serving 9 years in the Navy, Withers moved to Los Angeles in 1967 to pursue music. His first release was a song called “Three Nights and a Morning,” but it didn’t get much attention. He later reworked this song and called it “Harlem,” which ended up being the first track of his debut album, Just As I Am. This album was his breakout album, and he was 32 years old at the time.
Before this, he had worked as an assembler for IBM and Ford. In fact, after “Ain’t No Sunshine” started to become a hit, he stayed at his day job because he believed the music industry to be too volatile.
Amanda Palmer – 36
Amanda Palmer started out in a band called The Dresden Dolls, releasing her first album with the band in 2003, when she was 27 years old. Her breakout project was raising nearly $1.2 million on Kickstarter in 2012. At the time, it held the record of most funds raised for a musical project on Kickstarter.
Chris Stapleton – 37
Chris Stapleton started as a songwriter for other artists, like George Strait, Kenny Chesney, Ed Sheeran, and Sheryl Crow (another artist on this list). So, obviously, he had a successful songwriting career. But he released his debut album at age 37, and it won several awards.
Sheryl Crow – 32
Fun fact, Sheryl Crow was a school teacher before she made it big. In her 20s, she did alright as a singer, backing up Michael Jackson and Stevie Wonder. Her debut album dropped when she was 31 years old, and the song “All I Wanna Do” was a smash hit.
Leonard Cohen – 50
Leonard Cohen originally pursued a career as a writer, but was unhappy with his progress. So in the 60s, he moved from Canada to the United States to become a folk singer-songwriter. From the beginning, he did alright, joining fellow songwriter Judy Collins at a fundraising event that Jimi Hendrix was performing at. But he didn’t write his biggest song, “Hallelujah,” until he was 50.
Matt Nathanson – 35
Matt Nathanson’s breakout song “Come On Get Higher” was on his eighth release at age 35. He performed it live on TV and it was also used in TV shows.
Rachel Platten – 34
Rachel Platten started pursuing music in the early aughts and had some decent success, reaching the Billboard charts. But it wasn’t until 2014, when she was 33, that she released her huge hit “Fight Song.”
John Ondrasik – 35
John Ondrasik is the lead man and songwriter of Five for Fighting, who had the huge hit “Superman (It’s Not Easy).” Before that, he earned a mathematics degree and worked in the family business. “Superman” came out when he was 35 years old.
Dan Wilson – 37
The song “Closing Time” by Dan Wilson’s band Semisonic was a huge hit. It earned a Grammy nomination, was on the Billboard charts, and has become ingrained in American culture. That song came out when he was 37 years old.
Charles Bradley – 63
Charles Bradley is the ultimate example in the idea that age doesn’t matter. He didn’t start performing music until he was in his 40s as a James Brown impersonator. Through that, someone from Daptone Records discovered and signed him.