The Creative Life vs. Building a Music Career

the creative life
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the creative life
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Photo credit: Aziz Acharki

There are two general camps in the musician world. There’s the “I just want to make music I like” group and then there’s the “I want to make music my living” group. But what if both of those groups of people are right? What if we could find a way to make music we like but also turn it into money? I think we can. You can live the creative life while also building a music career.

What Is the Creative Life?


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One of the best descriptions of living the creative life comes from top-tier music producer Rick Rubin. In his book, The Creative Act, he says we’re all creators.

“What you make doesn’t have to be witnessed, recorded, sold, or encased in glass for it to be a work of art,” he writes. “Through the ordinary state of being, we’re already creators in the most profound way, creating our experience of reality and composing the world we perceive.”

A creative life involves living to create, not creating to live. You can do both, but it’s all about making the nucleus the art, or the process of making the art. Not what you could get from the art.

It’s a habit. It’s a way of being and existing.

People who are more creative are driven by “intrinsic motivation – a love of creating for the sake of creating, and not for external rewards,” according to Scientific American.

If you have this internal drive to create, you’ll need to know a few hard truths. You may have already experienced them. There are three big truths I’ve come across that are not fun.

1. You must do

As much as I wish songs would just fall into my lap, that doesn’t happen unless I’m first doing something to invite the song in. I have to set aside time to write. In order to live a creative life, you have to actually live it. You must create if you want to be a creator.

2. You will be frustrated

I started writing songs in 2005. And I’m still just as frustrated as I was back then. It’s because your taste outpaces the stuff you’re creating today. And that’s good because it drives you to get better.

3. Perfect doesn’t exist

Because your taste always stays ahead of your creations, you will probably never make something you think is “perfect.” In fact, “perfect” is totally subjective. So it’s best to accept that perfect doesn’t exist. Just do your best.

What Does Building a Music Career Look Like?

Building a music career is an entirely different animal than simply living the creative life. It’s marked by three main areas…

Making money

Having a music career, obviously, requires that you make money from the music you make. Some people don’t like the idea of monetizing their creations, and that’s fine for them. But if you want to build a music career, there’s no way around it.

Setting external goals

While living the creative involves having an internal drive, building a music career involves using external goals to move you forward. In the same way a company sets goals to grow their business, an indie musician needs to see how they can increase their reach.


Listen, I wish indie artists didn’t have to be marketing people, but succeeding today involves great music, hard work, and good marketing. Without marketing, no one will find the music you worked so hard to create. So you’ll need to learn the basics and put them into practice.

How To Live the Creative Life and Have a Music Career

You can definitely live a creative life while also building a music career. You’ll need to compartmentalize, but you can do it. Tons of artists are doing it.

Here’s how I try to do it: I separate my “creative self” and my “business self.” First, I try my best to live the creative life – I create for the joy of creating, even if no one hears what I make. I try to enjoy the process and find reward in finishing a song.

Then, once I have a song that I think people could resonate with, I decide to release it, do marketing the best I know how, and track my numbers. Then I compare my measurable success (streaming stats, number of positive comments/messages, money made) to previous songs I’ve released to see if my marketing is working or if it could be improved upon.

I just make sure that my business self doesn’t come to the table when I’m trying to create. And I keep my creative self from getting obsessed with the marketing and stats side of my career.

It’s a balancing act, but you can do it. It just takes practice.