I was asked recently about self worth as a musician and how to maintain it. I’m probably the worst person to ask as in many cases I’ve utterly failed to find it on many occasions. But like losing your car keys for hours and then suddenly finding them, I can at least offer some insight into what I’ve done to restore the equilibrium. I think the present landscape presents a fairly bleak outlook for any musician, but that’s not to say it’s hopeless. The problem is we are approaching the end of a unique and golden time in the history of the music industry, the era of the recording artist. It’s nearly done, over, and many of us are struggling to see the transition into something else.
A key tenet of maintaining any sort of self worth is to feel valued in what you do. So how do you remain valued when the world largely is increasingly indifferent to your art…. Music is now free right? I’ll aways remember an old work colleague saying to me once, when I told him that I was leaving the corporate world and was going to spent more time on my music career, he asked me to ‘send a copy of the album because I never pay for music…’ There was no joke or laugh at the end of his sentence, he was deadly serious and had no reason to suspect I would refuse such a generous offer of his interest in my labours. This was a nice guy who I’d worked with for many years who had just told me straight that he thought what I would be doing was utterly worthless to him in financial terms even though he was a music fan. If I’d offered to clear his gutters or change a tap washer for him he’d have got his wallet out and paid much more than the cost of a CD with no issue.
And there you have it. Self worth for musicians in one nugget. If the world doesn’t value you, you have no option but to do that for yourself.
Self-worth is one of the most elusive currencies in the music industry though. We are judged by how many streams we make, how many records we sell, how many people we played to… how many awards we have won.. In commercial terms, it’s a numbers game. When we do find a tiny fleck of success, it’s often fragile and fleeting. Even if you are successful, the world will judge the success of your next output by the metric of the previous one.
We are judged, scrutinised..We’re often bombarded with messages online that tell us we’re not good enough. We’re told that we need to sound like this artist, or that we need to play this genre, or that we need to do this to be successful. Then we are wrapped up in the game. We’re constantly comparing ourselves to other musicians and measuring our worth against external standards that have nothing to do with our own unique musical voice. He plays better than me, she’s got a better voice than me. He’s more confident on stage than me…We can also be defeated by our own expectations.
Seeking self-worth can be the foundation of a fulfilling musical journey. It’s the belief that we are valuable and deserving of respect, appreciation, and recognition simply because we have the courage to share our music with the world. It’s the understanding that our worth as musicians is not determined by external measures of success, such as the number of likes on our social media pages, the amount of money we make, or the size of our fanbase. Our worth is determined by our passion for music, our dedication to our craft, and our ability to connect with others through our art.
I’ve been doing this a while now, 9 Cosmograf albums and 10,000 hours of work. I still have the same enthusiasm to make and share music but the urgency of seeing my work in print and press has diminished somewhat…
In the early days I’d be seeking that external validation from reviews and comments, but now it’s more about what the music means to me. I’m also now slowing down on the output. An album release nearly every year was too demanding and to be honest I’ve no desire at all to repeat myself just to keep people happy.
Self worth means for me deciding that I want to do other things too, fulfilling personal projects and maybe things that will actually pay the bills. I’m also enjoying producing other bands, and musicians. Helping them out on their own musical journey is incredibly rewarding.
Some of us may decide that being a full time musician just isn’t realistic anymore and there’s no shame in that, none at all. Things have changed out of our control and you have to adapt. Being realistic and realising that you need to do other things to make money is definitely one of the best things you can do to protect your self worth.
Music will always be there for me, but I’ve consciously chosen to separate the art of making music from the expectation of being paid a living wage from it. There are easier ways to do that…and I’m working hard on those too. Touring isn’t featuring in this plan I’m afraid. There will be a few shows for sure, but I have no appetite for walking that perilous financial tightrope.
In some ways I’ve achieved the best solution. I am free to express myself as an artist without the pressure of making that output pay. This might mean I may move in unexpected creative directions as a result. I hope you’ll carry on listening…