The reason musicians fail

As an indie artist, you’ve got plenty of hurdles to clear before you achieve success with your music career – a positive mindset is where it all starts

The reason the indie artist fails

There are a variety of reasons musicians and indie artists fail. Some lack real talent or work ethic. Some suffer from bad timing – like starting up a hair metal band just as grunge began to take over in the early 90s. Other artists lack motivation or let their fears win. This is definitely an abbreviated list, but you can see a common thread here if you look closely.

We know there are a million and one reasons artists fail. But the #1 top reason they fail is simple: it all boils down to not having the right MINDSET. Almost all the other issues that arise are simply offshoots of this one fundamental flaw.

The right mindset starts with understanding that what you think and the way you think is what determines your course and your music career – and it’s often the under-the-surface thoughts that lurk in the unconscious that run the show. You see, you will only achieve what you believe is possible. It doesn’t mean necessarily that you have to be confident, but it does mean that you stay determined and committed in the face of all odds, and that you get back up on the horse no matter how many times life throws you off.

And I would add that you even have a greater sense of responsibility – almost a sense of duty – to bring your talent to the world and make a contribution as an indie artist (that it’s bigger than just you). When you have a strong mindset, you plan ahead and are mentally ready for each challenge (and figure out a way to adjust even if you’re not ready).

When your mindset is fraught with anxiety and doubt, you can’t come close to living your dream. It’s just the way it works. Because if you don’t believe it to be true, it won’t be. So, I’m sharing with you the top five warning signs your mindset may be a little off. If you watch for these red flags and eliminate them, you’ll know you’re on the right track to a better mindset and more success in your music career as an indie artist.

Red Flag #1

You blame everyone else for your lot in life. But when it comes right down to it – you can’t control others, you can only control you.

Red Flag #2

The reason you dole out for not “making it” is “money.” Even though it seems like money is holding you back – it’s not. You are on an Evolutionary Path and you can’t skip steps. Money is energy – get out there and give – and you will attract what you need.

Red Flag #3

You are afraid to be different. Great artists stand out, not fit in. This takes courage and the willingness to stick your neck out. It also takes support. Find a community that strengthens what is unique in you (this sounds self serving, but it’s not – it’s for YOU: check out my Mind Over Music Membership Circle).

Red Flag #4

You don’t trust anyone, let alone yourself. You’re going to have to put your trust in people (that are worthy), because you can’t do this alone – but put the most trust in YOU – because you are the Captain.

Red Flag #5

You don’t believe in yourself and don’t work on improving. It’s natural for artists to be insecure (an essential part of your nature), but that means you have to work double hard on strengthening your mindset, inner conviction, and faith. Are you?

7 Myths for success as an indie artist

Want to know more? I’m hosting a free teleclass November 13th at 8pm EST called 7 Myths of the DIY Musician. We’ll go over the downsides and challenges of DIY and how to fix them using the power of your mindset. Get ready to change your thinking about what it takes to build a successful music career. Learn more and REGISTER here.

Want help with your mindset and career? Check out our two popular programs: Mind Over Music Monthly Circle and the Fast Forward Program + Blueprint: For Smart + Resourceful Musicians Who Want to Build Their Brand and Live the Dream!

Image of guitar via ShutterStock.com.

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30 thoughts on “The reason musicians fail

  1. Good article. One more point and one I’ve told my customers when they ask about the “business” is just that. First and foremost, music is a “business”. It’s no different than any other business. In this case, your music and you are the product. The quality of the “product” must be a given. Then it comes down to how you run your business. Marketing, sales, follow up, etc. Sometimes you hear a group or artists and say “I’m every bit as good as they are. Why aren’t I getting anywhere?”. Take a look at how you’re running your “business”. The artists you’re comparing yourself to may just be running their “business” better.

  2. I too struggle with getting things off the ground. I write and record lots of albums, have been blessed with an immense amount of talent (not tooting my horn here, it’s just true), AND…….. I don’t do a damn thing with it. Each record release it’s the same song-and-dance – post the album on iTunes, CD Baby, Amazon.com… play at my church and maybe 1 or 2 others, maybe play a couple club shows, sell 10-15 records, and then it dies. Have never gotten the courage to send off the albums to record companies, but have sent them to radio stations to no avail. I’m probably doing everything wrong, I feel as if I get into the right “groove” things will fall into place, but yet I know it’s gotta be sweat and tears to do it. I got married, have a beautiful wife, a great job, we make $50k+ a year, I have all the musical gear I could dream of, plus I’m getting into lots of other hobbies…but I feel unsatisfied as this dream has not come true and I have a hole in my purpose. I am a Christian and know that God has plans and wherever we are He is writing our story…but I feel as if I should be doing more with my talent than just burying it and sitting on it. Yet I deal with anxiety and depression, it’s a hard struggle, it’s easy to cope with comfort-ability….sigh… gotta just keep trying, or try a different strategy.

  3. I started out singing in a rock and roll band. Bad management, quick exit. Joined another, was naive and helped some wiccan band develop their vocal arrangements. Joined other bands as vocalist. Nothing worked because of the dependence on other players and the devil wouldn’t teach me music theory. I committed a pluethra of sins never sold my soul, but retained my sanity. Got saved and the connections for education opened up and learned theory. Started bass lessons. Joined a church after getting saved. Became house bassist in a southern gospel style church. Was fun and I was blessed. A southern gospel band showed up without a bassist. I joined them and then played two or three times a week on tour. Learned the road in a coach. Unequally yolked with a wife who hated the bus and selling records. (She liked first class everything) The wife splits but the dream lives on. Returned to Univ. music school for a couple years. Then I wound up with a CDL all endorce ments and drove 18 wheelers and coaches. So whatever God is doing it might be significant. I’m comfortable singing. I’m comfortable playing bass. But I get the jitters playing guitar and singing new songs I learned. I want to go public and play, but as I feel ready to do it the financial and legal obstacles are a hindrance. Getting the right combination of people seems to be tough as well. So, it’s just me and I don’t trust strangers or anyone as I’ve been robbed before. I quit singing for free because people told me I was “giving it away”. Although I was told I had the best voice in my area, (by a member of the opposite sex so maybe it’s not legit.) and it is up north. Down south they love it. So, I’m kind of in a rut and need a breakthrough. I know there are so many others who feel the same way. I feel I could tour right now . However, The guy who had my masters of an orig. record I wrote gave them to me. I’m afraid to listen to them to hear how bad they suck. The engineer split from him and I have to track (no pun) him down to expedite the mix. process. But now I’ve improved as a guitar player and I don’t feel like I am one anyway. So before I get too old, I need to get focused, with direction because it is time when that prep meets opp. John Your posts made me respond. Sorry. No real answers here. Just praisin’ the Lord. Hey I think I’ll plant a church. Yeah that’s the answer. I’ll be the worship leader this time and choose the songs. It is time. You can do it too.

    1. Hi John, interesting… it seems to me that when you were having fun, things worked out. Do whatever is fun now, don’t dwell on anything else (i.e. what you think you ‘should’ be doing, or what other people say you ‘shouldn’t be doing). Just do what is fun now. And something will come along.

  4. Good points. Mindset is crucial in success in any effort, and even more fundamentally, for one’s experience of life in general. Discipline the mind and all else falls away.

    However, mindset is not enough to change external circumstances, which may or may not be conducive to external success. Factors such as time, health, a musically supportive culture and environment matter.

    For example, our culture hypocritically values music more than ever (who can imagine happily living without recorded music?) and yet economically devalues it through theft and the corruption of the music industry. So real external action and reform is required also.

    My point is: Determine and discipline your mindset, or course, and also act to reform external circumstances.

  5. How can you start an article about having a positive “MINDSET” with a negative statement relating musician to failure? It seems that assuming failure is a negative “MINDSET” in the first place.
    My other thought is – some people actually have no ability to do what they are trying to be positive about.

    One of the most amazing videos I ever saw on you tube hit a million views and was off in just days.
    The video had a guy giving a speech on believing in yourself – if you believe enough in yourself you can do anything. The entire time he was attempting to demonstrate this fact with a large piece of plywood and his head.
    He positively believed he could break this plywood over his head. He half near beat himself to unconsciousness restating he just needed to believe it more and he would be able to.
    In reality – plywood is called that because it is made to bend and not break.
    This poor guy still assumed he just didn’t believe enough yet.

    2 points must be made about MINDSET. You can not really accomplish anything if you believe you can not do it it. BUT – you can’t make impossible things happen just because you believe it harder. Gravity always wins and some people have no talent in music. 2 truths that MINDSET must dance with….

  6. Don’t let a mad world tell you ( because they don’t know) that you have to “become” successful”, you can only ” Be Successful”. When “doing” becomes infused with “Being” in the present moment, You are successful.
    Nobody can tell you who you are. It would just be another concept, so it would not change you. Who you are requires no belief. In fact, every belief is an obstacle. It does not even require your realization, since you already are who you are. But without realization, who you are does not shine forth into this world. It remains in the unmanifested, which is, of course, your true home. You are then like an apparently poor person who does not know he has a bank account with $100 million in it and so his wealth remains an unexpressed potential.
    If the thought of “lack”- whether it be money, recognition, or love–has become part of who you think you are, you will always experience ” lack”. Rather than acknowledge the good that is already in your life , all you see is “lack”. Acknowledging the good that is already in your life is the foundation for all abundance.
    A vital question to ask yourself frequently is, ” What is my relationship with the present moment”. Then become alert to find out the answer.
    If you are content with being nobody in particular, content not to stand out, you align yourself with the power of the universe. What looks like weakness to the ego is in fact the only true strength. This spiritual truth is diametrically opposed to the values of our contemporary culture and the way it conditions people to behave.
    Instead of trying to be a mountain, be the valley of the universe. In this way, you are restored to wholeness and so ” all things will come to you.
    The ” Great” arises out of small things that are honored and cared for. Everybody’s life really consists of small things. Greatness is a mental abstraction and a favorite fantasy of the ego. The paradox is that the foundation for greatness is honoring the small things of the present moment instead of pursuing the idea of greatness. The present moment is always small in the sense that it is always simple, but concealed within it lies the greatest power. Like the atom, it is one of the smallest things yet contains enormous power. Only when you align yourself with the present moment so you have access to that power. Or it may be more true to say that it then has access to you and through you to this world.
    The world will tell you that success is achieving what you set out to do. It will tell you that success is winning, that finding recognition and/or prosperity are essential ingredients in any success. These are by-products of success, but they are not success. The conventional notion of success is concerned with the outcome of what you do. Some say that success is the result of a combination of hard work and luck, or determination and talent, or being in the right place at the right time. While any of these may be determinants of success, they are not it’s essence. What the world doesn’t tell you is that you cannot BECOME SUCCESSFUL, you can only BE SUCCESSFUL. Don’t let a mad world tell you that success is anything more that a successful present moment. And what is that? There is a quality in what you do, even the most simple action. Quality implies care and attention, which comes with awareness, Quality requires your presence.
    When doing becomes infused with the timeless quality of Being, that is success. Unless Being flows into doing, unless you are present, you lose yourself in whatever you do. You lose yourself in thinking, as well as in your reactions to what happens externally.

  7. I agree wholeheartedly with this article. Wish I would have read it the first year I started. Oh well, I have learned by making some mistakes, accepting consequences and moving on!

  8. Great article! Also be aware of the ‘saboteur’ within. I’ve seen it sooooo many times when somethin big is about to happen musicians can find all sorts of reasons (eg accidents, equipment breakage, sickness, leavin town, money, their partner) why it shouldn’t. Life is a psychological journey; an evolutionary process and for somethin big to happen you need ‘light energy’. This will be made available to you when an ‘event’ is to occur ………. and it’s yours for the taking. BUT naturally, any dark energy within (the saboteur) will do all it can to stymie this from happenin. Sooooooo be on the look out for it …….. and pass it straight by! 🙂 Don’t be seduced!

    keep on rockin j. b.

  9. To Tristan — There are plenty of similar “why do they fail?” articles out there for all types of professions – including med school and law school (and plenty do fail along the way) — and if you were involved in one of those fields, you would certainly see those all the time as well.

    A good mindset is an important part of success in all professions – and this article does a good job in outlining some of the common ways that independent artists get off-track. Sure, it would be just as easy to flip the title to “Why Musicians Succeed” and just flip the “Red-Flags” to bullet-points — Personally, I think that type of positive angle would be better too – but this is certainly not just an issue with articles featuring tips for musicians – you’ll find it for all types of professions.

  10. I am SO sick of seeing articles like this show up in my inbox. Because you know what’s the first thing you see, before you even read anything else? “The reason musicians fail.” Seriously? Why not, “The reason musicians succeed.”? It’s this kind of pessimistic “journalism” that creates such a ridiculous atmosphere in the music world, as well as for those looking in from the outside. And I know that the article has some uplifting advice (which is vague, no doubt because you need to pay for something more specific), but it’s the subtle (or not so subtle) inclination that writers have to start off with the issue of failure, and why it happens to so many “musicians.”

    First of all, what are you defining as a musician? Any person that can proficiently play an instrument could technically (and rightly so) be considered a musician. But the majority of these people might not even want to pursue it as a professional career. And that’s the problem- when you say “The reason musicians fail,” you are encapsulating everyone from a Conservatory educated 1st Violinist, all they way down to a guy playing acoustic guitar in his bedroom, or a little girl doing recitals for her middle school. The entire concept of a respectable, hard working, and professional musician goes out the window. Being a professional musician is a lifelong pursuit. You need to learn the craft, learn the business, and work hard at it, just like in ANY OTHER INDUSTRY. So why is it in Music there is always the “quick and easy secrets to success,” or the “top reasons musicians fail.” There seems to be this gigantic misnomer that if you are the slightest bit talented and play a musical instrument, then you automatically are pursuing a career in music, and you should. The life of a professional musician is not for everyone, and I would say that it’s really not for the majority of “musicians.” I would also say that for the small portion of musicians who truly and seriously consider the pro and cons and decide that they ARE going to be a professional in the field, the numbers are probably surprisingly low when it comes to failure as compared to success. That is, a person that is completely dedicated to being a professional musician and understands what it entails is successful much more often (and I would even go as far as to say most of the time) than music journalists and bloggers give them credit for.

    So where does all this talk about failure, and secrets to success, and quick tricks come into play? Why don’t we see this in every industry? Why is it just in music? I think that it comes from a completely separate industry that has been built up around ambitious and naive “musicians.” An “alter industry” that takes advantage of and exploits these young musicians naivety to make a profit. But what it really does is muddies up the waters with a lot of speculation, pessimism, and ridiculous expectations and rules that don’t actually exist. If you want to be a real PROFESSIONAL MUSICIAN, you do what you do in every other PROFESSION. You practice, study, learn, and work towards perfecting your craft, and then you work hard, persevere, and work your way up the ladder of success. It’s the same in all industries, and in life.

    There are many reasons that people fail, but why focus on them? What’s the point? Are med students constantly being subjected to articles about the “Top 10 reasons Med Students Fail”? Of course not, that would be absurd. It’s assumed (because it’s a RESPECTABLE PROFESSION) that if they work hard and graduate med school, and then continue to work hard in their field, they will be successful. So why is it soooo different in the music industry? Because you mix up people who are halfheartedly pursuing a career, replete with delusions of grandeur and dreams of rock stardom (amateurs), with musicians who spend eight hours a day for decades perfecting their craft, and then eight hours a day for decades more working their way into the industry (professionals). That’s the mistake that music journalists are making, and I would love to see the climate change to a more simultaneously positive and realistic one in the future.

    All that “musicians” need to understand is that being a professional musician is a completely realistic and respectable profession, but that they need to really consider if it’s the right profession for them, they need to be completely committed to success in that profession, and that they need to work just as hard as doctors and lawyers do to be successful in the music industry. That’s it. If every aspiring musician had that and only that drilled into their head, I think we’d be a lot better off.

  11. Red Flag #6 (if I may): you don’t think of yourself as a musician, or artist. I don’t know how many mechanics, CSR’s, IT guys, masons, plumbers, teachers, screen printers, dock workers etc. etc. I have played with over the years that when asked what they did for a living, they answered as above. I’m a musician before anything. Yes, I hold other jobs to MAKE MONEY, but I am a musician and artist first. Try to sell that to your other band members next practice. Ask them and see what they say. Some real Feng shui shit there. “Be the guitar” or “be the drum sticks”. Even better, “be a musician”…

  12. To all musicians: don’t ever, ever, ever play for free when your efforts are producing money for someome who is not receiving the donation of your efforts for a cause you deem worthy. In other words, play for free at a legitimate audition, in your home for your family and friends, and on the street in front of your opened instrument case.

  13. I love reading posts like this, because it always gives me a real spike in energy by the time I am done. Recently, I have been working on developing my own personal principles for success, and I have come to some realizations. First of which is staying committed and being willing to put in the work. I think a lot of people simply fall back on this feeling that there is some great difference between truly successful people and themselves. For me, the real difference is that successful people have a passionate commitment to what they do. They have put in the work so that when the big chances came their way, they were truly ready to take advantage of them.

  14. i find that the mind plays a part.. being in the business for 25 years.. it took me all of it to find my way. I am a indie artist and trying to get my music out.. Im more of a studio musician but also played music live with a band in my eariler years.. i find you have to practice alot and learn alot.. dont go by others that may steer you the wrong way. Making money is not as easy as it seems.. You have to be a sales man and a all do it your self for many years.. then comes all the rest..

  15. I’ll potentially save everyone some time and tell you the single reason why musicians fail.

    Reason 1: They don’t define success clearly enough and/or they let others tell them what success is.

    That’d either make the rest of this article irrelevant or spot on.

    Irrelevant if “making it” means making money you can live comfortably on or with which you can be considered wealthy. Skip this, read art of war, learn how to be a better liar and consider surrendering your principles at least for a little while.

    Spot on if “making it” means sharing your heart, see the article and follow the great advice.

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