You write the song. You produce and mix (and maybe master) the track. You make the cover art. You distribute the song. You promote the song. And no one listens.
If this sounds like you, it can be hard to keep going as an indie musician. It can be very discouraging. So below I’d like to present five things that will help you continue on in this pursuit of music, whatever that looks like for you.
It’s Either “Hell Yeah” or No
This rule has changed the way I operate as a musician. In fact, it’s changed how I look at pretty much every part of my life.
You can apply this mentality to everything – staying in or leaving a relationship, where to eat dinner tonight, deciding on an apartment, choosing what to wear today. If you’re not all-in, then maybe you should be all-out.
If you’re working on a song and you feel anything less than, “Hell yeah! I love this song”…then the song needs more work. Or you need to shelve it.
If you’re offered a gig or shown a contract or asked to do a collaboration and you’re not ecstatic about it, then pass.
“When you say no to most things,” writes Derek Sivers, founder of CD Baby, “you leave room in your life to really throw yourself completely into that rare thing that makes you say ‘HELL YEAH!’”
In his book Essentialism, Greg McKeown talks about the power of saying no to most things so you can prioritize what matters. In other words, making a choice.
“The ability to choose cannot be taken away or even given away,” he writes. “It can only be forgotten.”
Choose to pursue music in this way. Either “hell yeah” or “no.”
You Never Know Who’s Watching
@hiphopcircles Real words from Tyler 🙏 #tylerthecreatoredits #motivationspeech #rapinterview #tylerbaudelaire #cmiygl #callmeifyougetlosttheestatesale ♬ Sad Emotional Piano – DS Productions
Did you know celebrities are real people too? I know, crazy. They also creep on people’s social media profiles like the rest of us.
An artist you admire could end up checking out your page. As Tyler, The Creator says, you never know who’s watching.
“Y’all don’t know how many people’s pages I be on,” he says.
When you’re wondering what the payoff is when no one is listening to the music you put so much effort into, “…You never know what that payoff might mean to someone else,” he says.
Continue to create the best music you know how to. Keep putting it out there. Don’t quit. You really don’t know who may stumble upon your music.
The Water Will Run Brown for a Bit
When you learn a new hobby or skill, you’re going to be bad at it, or you’re at least not good at it. That’s true for everyone. But the more you do it, the better you get at doing it. This is common sense.
So why, as songwriters, do we think we’re going to write a hit song on our first, third, or even 10th time?
“When you flip a dirty tap on, it’s going to flow sh*t water out for a substantial amount of time,” says Ed Sheeran. “And then clean water’s going to start flowing.”
You’re going to write bad songs. You don’t have to show them to anyone, but it’s best to just get them out of your system. You have to make room for the good ones to flow.
Distinguishing Between Hobbies, Jobs, Careers, and a Vocation
Author Elizabeth Gilbert makes a clear distinction between your hobbies, a job, a career, and a vocation.
It’s important to realize these are different things.
Is music your hobby? It’s fine if it is.
Do you want music to be your career? That’s fine too.
Is music maybe your vocation, the thing you must do? That’s great.
Hate having a job? That’s normal.
“Guess who else has had a job?” Gilbert says. “Almost every artist who has ever lived!”
Trust me, this video is very encouraging.
Austin Kleon On How To Keep Going
Austin Kleon is a writer who draws, and he’s written a trilogy of books I highly recommend: Steal Like an Artist, Share Your Work, and Keep Going.
In this talk, he summarizes Keep Going, with tips like “forget the noun, do the verb” and “you are allowed to change your mind.”
“I really think the best way to thrive in your creative life is to pretend like you’re in Groundhog Day,” he says.
In case you don’t know, Groundhog Day is a movie where the main character lives the same day over and over.
And Kleon’s point is simple but powerful: stay consistent. Make a routine of making.
Embed music into the folds of your days and you’ll end up living a musician’s life.
Need Some Regular Encouragement?
This post is an expanded version of an email I send twice a month called 5 Things To Help You Keep Going. If you need some regular, ongoing encouragement as an indie musician (like me), hop on the email list. Aren’t email lists outdated? I don’t know, but 1,800+ other musicians don’t think so.