If I could be a fuckin’ fisherman I would. If I had the capabilities of being something other than I am, I would. It’s no fun being an artist.John Lennon, interview with Rolling Stone magazine, December 8th 1970
A disclaimer: to a casual onlooker, calling myself an “artist” might sound pretentious.
To address this impression, I’m not suggesting that any of the music I create is good or great. Only my audience can ascertain this, so by all means, check out my music on my home page and let me know!
What Is A Musical Artist?
What I mean by being an “artist” is to be someone whose brain is genetically hard-wired to continually and obsessively create something – be it music, visual art, film, etc. – that will move (or attempt to move) people on some emotional level.
And as you can see from the Lennon quote above, it appears I”m not the only one that hates being an artist.
Reasons Why It’s Hard Being A Musical Artist
In my own case, I’ve been long obsessed with creating music to the point that it’s all that I think about. This has been detrimental to any semblance of a “normal” life. For example:
- Waking up in the middle of the night when a melody enters my head and then trying to recreate what I heard by humming the melody and figuring out the attendant chord progression on the guitar is obviously detrimental to a good night’s sleep. This is problematic when I have to wake up early in the morning and go to my day job.
- Realizing that I’ll never have children because I’m self-aware enough to know that having kids will require shifting focus away from my creative productivity in order to raise my offspring properly. Because of this, I may end up resenting my (hypothetical) children, which of course, would be grossly unfair to them as I may very well end up emotionally damaging them into adulthood. It’s no wonder that parenthood has been cited as the enemy of creative work.
- Knowing that it’s highly unlikely that my music will ever have a chance to be heard and evaluated by a large audience with any semblance of good musical taste because said large audience has been brainwashed into enjoying crappy simplistic pop music.
- If I want to create music that will have a chance of being heard on today’s online streaming platforms, I’ll be so rewarded if I have the “ability to replicate proven, predetermined formulas. Studies show that pop music and lyrics have grown increasingly repetitive and homogenous over the past few decades, and there is a whole graveyard of startups mining streaming and social data to predict the next big hit.” That is, I’d have to compromise any semblance of artistic individualism and integrity that I have in order to be heard by an audience.
- Aside from the seeming absence of a mass audience which recognizes and appreciates good, quality music (which hasn’t existed since the end of the 1990s) and the stranglehold that Spotify’s algorithm has on what songs actually get heard on that platform, whenever I upload a music video to YouTube or Instagram, knowledge its very existence to my intended audience (i.e., rock music fans, who have become an increasingly extinct species of listener) is subject to the vagaries of the opaque algorithms that control who sees what and when on those online platforms. It seems that in order to make any headway as a musician in 2020, I have to be more knowledgeable about search engine marketing than actually creating music.
- Because of Points 3 through 5, I understand that it’s quite unlikely that there will ever be a reasonable financial return (i.e., a living wage) on all the time spent in writing, rehearsing and recording my songs because: (1) nobody buys albums anymore; (2) assuming my songs are ever widely heard on those platforms, the duopolies of Spotify and Apple Music pay a pittance to musical artists from streaming; and (3) playing a sufficient number of live shows to eke out a living as a musician may have become a thing of the past due to Covid and its aftereffects.
Why Do I Continue With Music If It’s So Hard?
So why do I continue to do music? Because, I had previously said – that’s what I’ve been hard-wired to do from the beginning: to create music despite the irrationality of continuing to do so in light of all the reasons cited above.
So yes, John, I hear you: if I could be a fucking fisherman, I’d be one too. It really is no fun being an artist.