Nobody said being an independent musician would be easy. And if someone did, they totally lied. The DIY route is as arduous as its name implies. All of your endeavors are your own responsibility, and while some things are subject to chance and luck, your success is also primarily of your own making.
Naturally, all that weight can sometimes bog you down enough to that you feel absolutely unmotivated about moving forward.
There are ways to combat that tendency, though. Below is a list of red flags to look out for – behaviors and habits that make the burden of a DIY musician's life feel impossibly heavy.
Avoid them if you can, and if you're already experiencing them, address the issues promptly. Motivation is everything in independent music-making, so keeping your drive running smoothly is crucial.
1. Dwelling on the negatives
Is it getting more difficult to find good gigs? Are you running low on money? Did your singer just quit two weeks before a gig you've already been promoting? Those are all serious bummers, but not uncommon ones. Whenever you hit a hurdle, remind yourself that it's happened to a ton of other people – and loads of those people found a way to get through it.
The worst thing you can do when something goes wrong is to dwell on it so intensely that you forgo finding a remedy. Working toward a solution – practicing harder for a better set next go 'round, organizing a big merch sale to raise funds, or replacing that lost band-mate – is the only way to avoid the narrow, stifling path of negativity and move into a more positive and productive place.
2. Not determining a future musical direction
If you're just practicing twice a week and playing a show once a month, you might find yourself feeling aimless relatively quickly. Failing to set direction for you or your band is a potential route to losing motivation. Without milestones to reach for, what's the point? Some might argue that simply playing for the sake of it is enough, but it's easy to feel stagnant after a while if you can't count any achievements.
3. Setting lofty /unrealistic goals
Goals are definitely important, but it's paramount that the markers you've set for yourself are realistic. If your goal is incredibly lofty – like to play an arena or win a Grammy within a few years of forming – you're being, well, kind of ridiculous.
Try instead to set achievable goals, like to perform before a crowd of 100 or release a debut EP in your first year. Then set up mini-goals that'll help you get there – grow your fan-base on Facebook, work the local venue circuit, write plenty of material, find someone you trust within your budget to record your band, and so forth.
4. Not being adaptable to conditions
No one likes relentless, pronounced complaining. And among musicians when a single person (or small group within a larger group) goes on and on about the same unfavorable conditions, most of us get really tired of that - really fast. Being a musician can really suck sometimes. But, we have to deal with all of it.
Sure, everybody can get a little miserable from day to day. Problems come up, and we all have bad days weeks and sometimes even months! But, whining about it to everyone and getting really worked up is not helping anything. It makes everybody, yourself included, feel worse.And, if you really let it get to you, things will eat you up inside.
Musicians need to compromise when it's necessary. Being a life-long musician definitely requires some strong psychological control, (this business is totally nuts), and if you can't work through those bad times, you might end up as the culprit in causing your own demise.
5. Comparing yourself to others and expecting perfection
Your situation is unlike any other musician's, so it's unfair to compare yourself to another player's situation. Just because they started after you and have hit some highs you haven't doesn't mean you're doing something wrong. It's just that they're doing something right – for them, and for them alone.
We're all unique like snowflakes, right? That sounds silly, but it's really true that we all have qualities that set us apart from other people. That said, nobody's path, whether successful or unsuccessful, can be compared to someone else's.
Basically, you are going to make mistakes. Again: you will make mistakes. Accept them, learn from them, and try again with renewed courage and ambition – or risk a dive in self-confidence or necessary, parasitic self-loathing that can lead to the demise of all of that necessary creativity that is so required to be a successful player.