Why My Music Career Failed

Here I am, 28 years old, sitting in front of my refurbished laptop, in my stinky and decrepit shared accommodation, writing an article for UG...

Ultimate Guitar

Here I am, 28 years old, sitting in front of my refurbished laptop, in my stinky and decrepit shared accommodation, writing an article for UG (the first one ever). Who am I and does it matter?

To make the story short, I have been playing in bands since I was 16, up until now. I tried to "make it" like many others. The goal was to become a virtuoso (or expert) musician, play on many albums, travel to exciting cities and entertain people in amazing venues, build a loyal fanbase, inspire people and increase my self-esteem in the process... Fine. Living the dream.

Basically, 13 years later, I still could not make it. I played in 10 metal bands as a bassplayer, recorded 6 demos, 2 EPs, 3 underground albums, and went on stage 15 times. Nothing I have recorded ever hit the shelves. I'll explain later.

There are many reasons why it did not work as expected and an unbelievable amount of factors can be involved. If you are trying to ''make it'' like other amazing bands out there, the basic advices you get are mostly the following:

1. The lifestyle of your musicians could be a liability, the musicians you met might just not fit for the musical project you have, personalities might clash, or, it might be the lack or talent, wrong location, bad technology, or lack of inspiration.

All of those answers are 100% valid, as I recall those experiences personally. You will probably encounter those as well.

During the last years, I managed to identify one of the biggest problems ever in the musical path and I believe other people can relate to that. I sacrificed my quality of life and education path in order to invest more time with bandmates, drink more beer, sleep with more chicks, practice more and spend countless hours in sweaty and yucky rehearsal spaces... All with the idea that one of my many projects could make it one day. Big mistake... Biggest mistake ever.

2. Why is it the biggest mistake? Simply because now, at 28, I have no further education than a High School Diploma, no car, no funds to go back to College/University, no money to buy advanced musical equipment. I'm stuck working as a line cook as a full time job, and teaching guitar to some random beginner students in my free time to pay the bills. I have the same bass since 2007, and a sh-tty beginner's guitar not worth more than $170. And I live in a disgusting sh-thole with messy and lazy international students.

To make it clear, a serious career choice could have enabled me to:

  • Find a more fulfilling job than line cook, cashier or janitor.
  • Be clear of the stress of being fired in entry level job openings.
  • Obtain substantial savings more rapidly.
  • Pay professional studio engineers when needed.
  • Buy better musical equipment, for myself or for bandmates.
  • Build a website for myself and promote my music.
  • Literally finance the recordings when no bandmate is able to do so.
  • Take extra lessons on home studio recording and such.
  • Invest my time in what I love (music) instead of "surviving."
  • And everything else you may want to add here.
So, to get back to the main point, whatever your goals may be, never ditch or discard education, because it will open countless doors and the ability to support your music, your band, your projects... Everything! You can't do much by yourself or with the entire band if you earn $1500 per month...

As for the reason of my "failure" as a musician, I will tell you that 75% or all the bandmates I had in the past had poor education/personal problems and could not support themselves in rough circumstances or pursue the musical adventures thereafter (requiring money and stability).

Some of my former bandmates from the past have hit their late 30s, subscribed to social support, live in shared accommodation, cannot invest any more money into music or band/projects and have a precarious situation.

So... To conclude, follow my advice and choose any relevant training before it is too late. Thanks for reading.

70 comments sorted by best / new / date

    Wait, you are saying you have only played 15 gigs? I think we may have found the crux of the problem. Lucky for you, you are only 28. Get off your couch, move to LA or London or wherever the closest music scene is to you. Join a band or three and play some shows. Go on tour, live in a van, eat ramen, play for gas money. That is how you will find success. Not by getting a 9 to 5 that you hate and takes all your time away from playing. Now stop feeling sorry for yourself and get out there!
    Leather Sleeves
    Yeah, really. This article's ridiculous. Gigging and touring is how most metal bands gain recognition, not putting out a bunch of recordings no one cares about. Oh, to be 28 again (I'm 29), and to be single with no kids. I'd be gigging or going to shows every week-end and, albeit slowly, making it!
    I had done 15 gigs by the time I was 16 lol... Sounds more like a bedroom guitarist that never got off his ass to me.
    Not everyone learned music at an early age you know. Of course the main problem in this article is the little amount of gigs he did. However, that's no reason to look down on him as a "bedroom guitarist", you should have respect for him opening about his dream failure, not slam him. What you think of him is another point, though.
    Point of mentioning age was just to put perspective on how many gigs can be had in a short time.
    I picked the instrument up at the age of 14. My band booked all the shows ourselves and got to most of them by public transport, carrying all our gear on our backs. The OP is a bedroom guitarist because all he did was enjoy the idea of being in a band, but never put in the hard graft to actually accomplish anything. That is why he failed.
    The fact that he listed 15 gigs along with his other accomplishments is curious. It would make more sense if he said only 15 gigs in the sentence after. Because I think that could be as much a symptom as a cause. The short list of logistics though is very valid. I've been playing for 15 years now and while I've played in front of people countless times, school bands, open mic type stuff, thrown together bands of friends for stuff, still, I've never been in a serious band and played real gigs of original music. And that's because of that short list. Not one project has really taken off. There's no time, no money, no good musicians, nobody's even stable emotionally, there's always creative difference.. The chance of something really good taking off gets ridiculously small when you're in a small town in the Midwest and everyone is poor and there aren't many people in the first place. There are hardly any gigs to be had around here. There really are a shitton of reasons why things hardly ever work out. I haven't even had a decent working guitar in a long time. He mentioned he doesn't have a car. Neither do I. Ya gotta get a car before you can go to gigs. Then again, I'd disagree about education necessarily. Being financially stable and bring able to move and having free time are specifically what is most necessary. I wasted a lot of years on 'education' only to end up even more fucked. Time flies too. The point is pretty obvious but still important to hear. You gotta focus on everything that will put you in the position to succeed, as much as you have to focus on actually succeeding (writing good music and bring a good musician)
    Definitely gonna have to agree with that. I've been down on myself for years about how none of my musical projects have performed very often, but I've still played like 4 times as many shows as this guy, and I'm 25.
    Clearly you are a terrible bassist and I mean that in the nicest way possible. 10 bands and only 15 gigs! You are either not trying at all or you suck...
    You're only 28 and you're calling it a failed career? I'm 44. I only have a high school diploma also. No college or technical school. Music completely aside, I quit a job I hated when I was 34 and essentially started over from scratch. I interviewed for crappy jobs and took what I could get until I found something better. I ended up finding a job I really liked, and then 4 years ago started my own business based off of that job. 28 is way too young to think the way you're thinking. You're still a kid. Get out there and start building your future! No one's going to hand it to you.
    friday.the.13th.jasonx · Aug 31, 2015 04:49 PM
    KennyM79 · Sep 01, 2015 11:38 AM
    1 show a year is also not helping. Tough to build a fanbase that way but you probably already know this. I do like the whole "stay in school kids" message.
    While the education message is a good one, if you've only been on stage 15 times, you haven't failed, you haven't even started... If you're not playing out almost every night you have off, you don't want it bad enough.
    Yeah, I thought 15 was a low number. As a matter of fact, I thought it was odd that he even kept count. I don't know that many musicians, but the ones I know have no idea how many shows they've played--but it's definitely a lot more than just 15. That's not even six months worth of Saturday spot shows.
    I know how any I've played with one of my bands, but that's because we've kept track through our bank account and stuff, but I have no clue how many I would have done in my whole career so far.
    so the essence of the story is that music (outside of pop and old succesful bands) likely wont make you a decent living? who wouldve known?
    A few thoughts on this matter. I think a strange thing happens when you graduate to your upper 20s - you a) realize that time moves A LOT faster than it did in your teens, and b) you start to see people who are younger than you become more successful than you are. This brews into a narrative we tell ourselves that if it hasn't happened by 30, it's never going to happen. I used to believe that but it turns out to be complete fiction. I'd be lying if I said I didn't ever feel similar feelings as OP. It's normal to feel that way. But I came to realize that the only factor you can control in terms of your success is yourself. Your shitty bandmates don't control it. The hours in a day don't control it. Your gear doesn't control it - you do. Bad bandmates with lots of baggage? - Seek other ones and keep better company Bad gear? - Befriend someone who has better gear and borrow it occasionally Lack of local resources? - Share you music online and see what opportunities it might bring in. Sure, you might get dealt bad hands along the way and have to suffer the consequences of things out of your control. It might take you a while to make significant achievements, but what you can control is what you put into your goals and aspirations. Nobody can take that away from you, and the more you fight to improve your skills, the more empowered you feel and you start to see changes over time. I'm about to turn 28 myself. I used to feel jealous when people younger than me were getting better gigs and seemed to be more advanced in their careers. I felt inadequate even though I practiced what I thought was a lot. Did they have advantages I didn't have? Probably. Did they work hard to get to where they were? Probably, but that doesn't even matter. The source of that jealousy was rooted in knowing deep down that I didn't pull my weight. I hadn't put in the hard work to get myself to where I wanted to go. I realized just being a guitar player wasn't enough because I wasn't the best guitar player out there. If I wanted to make myself indispensable and stand out, I had to get better at many other skills - songwriting, self-promotion, audio and video production, other instruments, etc. Once I started opening up more possibilities for myself, more opportunities started flowing in. I felt more in control and gained confidence as a musician. And although I haven't accomplished "the dream" by its conventional definition, I'm content knowing that I'm making a living doing what I love to do, which is playing music. I still have a lot I want to achieve, but the process of getting there has become much more enjoyable. OP, 28 is NOT the end of the road for your music career. Many creative people have found massive success later in life (Louis C.K. and Bryan Cranston spring to mind), but what they have in common is they consistently put in the hard work and constantly challenged themselves to become better at their craft. If you want to improve your life situation by getting a better job and going back to school, that's fantastic and wise, but it doesn't have to come with a complete abandonment of your musical dreams.
    Some serious life advice here, also for myself who's currently 27. Thank you for sharing your side
    I'm a year behind you and OP, but I have to say this: Bad bandmates with lots of baggage? - Seek other ones and keep better company Bad gear? - Befriend someone who has better gear and borrow it occasionally Lack of local resources? - Share you music online and see what opportunities it might bring in. Sure, you might get dealt bad hands along the way and have to suffer the consequences of things out of your control. It might take you a while to make significant achievements, but what you can control is what you put into your goals and aspirations. Nobody can take that away from you, and the more you fight to improve your skills, the more empowered you feel and you start to see changes over time. Is the best music/career/life advice in the 21st century. Great comment.
    "My music career failed because I didn't try very hard, didn't diversify my skillset beyond 'metal bass player', hung out with shitty people for band-mates and party a bit too much. I've decided to throw in the towel at 28 and cry on UG about it instead of getting back on the horse and avoiding my past mistakes." I will not apologize for my condescending tone since I just can't respect anyone who half-asses achieving their dream and then refuses to accept their "failure" is their own fault.
    Dude i live in a shitty music scene state, i am working my ass off more then you i am sorry. I have been doing pen mics, only 1 half ass solo show, recording my first debut album, released 2 singles and doing all this with a legit full time job. I am balancing:: Family, friends, love life, job, music career and basic life issues haha. You can do it man seriously i have faith in you. You cant expect a miracle on day 1. You have to work for it and earn it.
    friday.the.13th.jasonx · Aug 31, 2015 03:17 PM
    Lelvolution · Aug 31, 2015 04:17 PM
    Baby Joel
    Baby Joel [cc] · Sep 02, 2015 08:20 PM
    Just a quick tip: Your a bass player, remember that most Guitarist who are pretty damn good, can work there way around a bass.Making a career being a bass player requires all the RIGHT pieces in the band. It's a lot easier to get gigs when you can sing and play guitar.I hate to be a douche, but the same bass since 2007 and some $180 squier? Your probably not a very good player. You have played 15 gigs? and realeased some EP'S? Come on dude, I know bass players who have done hundreds of gigs by the time they are 30 and are in a MetalCore band on a label, and still did not 'make it'
    I'm going to be 28 in October. I have a few musical irons in the fire, but the one that pays the bills is "teaching guitar to some random beginner students." It allows me to file my taxes as a professional musician, and deduct gear purchases. That I'm not on the radio or playing out every night doesn't render my music career a failure. In fact, The less-fortunate musicians I encounter aspire to achieve my level of relative success - I pay the bills with music, and my biggest worry is what my next gear purchase will be. It sounds like this guy's ideals of success were so unrealistic, that his status as a self-sufficient, functioning adult somehow qualifies him as a failure. I guess the grass is always greener. Just look at the 50 year-old, balding metalheads who still live with their parents and play the same empty hometown bars every saturday night to live out their rockstar fantasies if you want to see how far from the bottom you are.
    A couple of thoughts: * There are millions of aspiring musicians in the world. At least 90% of them will not be successful. All that to say, the odds are not in your favor. So yes, a fallback plan is critical. * Being successful in any form of entertainment is mostly about timing; right place/right time. Being good doesn't guarantee you much of anything. Luck plays a much bigger role in success than pure talent. Which brings me to my last thought: * I'd rather be lucky than good.
    I disagree. It may take a bit of "luck and timing" to be [b]"world famous ", but it doesn't take luck to have success. Yes, it takes more than talent and just being "good". It is a combination of well calculated things. Including skill, professionalism, wisdom, hard work and business. The music industry IS A BUSINESS. It takes a good business model, and a hard working team doing their jobs right to expand yourself.Its not just some random luck thing.... sure having a great business model doesn't guarantee you will be the next Beatles (that's where the luck/timing might come in), but it is definitely a step in the right direction if you want to be more than an amateur local act... Successful bands have had to work their ASS off to get to where they are. You don't get it handed to you, and you don't get it after 16 gigs a decade...
    That's exactly what I'm talking about - situations out of our control. Kudos The Judist. The only thing you can do is create and write music if you have the inspiration and creativity, and put it out there by yourself if the band is on hiatus. I know some bands who had a wonderful career, and split after 13-14 years of musical adventures. Shit happens, shit is real. You could be the most promising band in any area...the musical adventures will stop one day after 10-15-20 years...who knows. Music is an adventure with lots of chapters. Martyr disbanded, so did Despised Icon, Neuraxis, Faith no More, and a bunch of others. Kudos to Angel City Outlaw, indeed- you make a point, i do NEED to diversify my skill set. You are right.
    Those "situations" are ALWAYS out of your control. The only thing that is in your control, ever, is you. Everything external to you is, at BEST, influenced by you, but it's never controlled. Fantasies of External control are illusions you need to shed, and quick. Do you have a gig tonight? Tomorrow? This week? Month? I don't care where it is or if it pays a dime, are you playing? If not with a group then solo, on a streetcorner, at a coffee house, a college common area, anywhere that you might draw a crowd. If not, you aren't trying hard enough. End. Of. Story.
    I also go by the idea that I will go at my pace, if others can't keep up, then I find someone who will. It's meant my bands have always kept moving, progressing, and in turn the members I have are encouraged and progress with it. None of those stagnant moments where nothing is happening because nobody is doing anything, they're all just waiting for everyone else to do something.
    link no1
    You seem to be passing off your 'failure' on a lack of education. To a degree, that may hold some truth. On the other hand, you haven't really put much effort into doing much more. 15 gigs across 10 bands? Dude, what the actual f*ck? No car? Don't use that excuse. Even your 'bad' equipment isn't much of an excuse. If it plays music, shut up and go play music with it. At 16 I was hauling my equipment on public transport to get to gigs. Carrying a nasty £40 guitar in a bag filled with as much stuff as I could fit into it, a heavy amp I could barely carry for a few minutes at a time, usually a rucksack filled with the rest of my stuff. 5 of us did this because non of us could drive and our parents wouldn't cart us around, but we didn't let that stop us. We just piled the stuff on ourselves, got on the bus/train and played some gigs. Maybe stop looking for excuses to your failure and actually get off your butt and put in some effort.
    I've been playing 12 gigs in 12 months before leaving my band, and trust me, I am not in an area (Switzerland) where there are 1'000 places and opportunities to play gigs... But this guy is right when it comes to education. It is not a loss of time, it is an investment.
    Well I did stay in school...but I'm an Audio Engineering major so it kinda defeats the financial purpose of staying in school since theres no jobs out there
    sad but true i guess, but this is why you should never make music with the intention of "making it". just do it for fun as a side thing, not a jbo, and if it gets big then awesome. i push hard for my band, and i'd love to play shows and shit, but to treat it like my job would just be dumb.
    Not always the case but I understand your point: Roger Waters characteristically says that Dark Side was made at a time when the band “still had a common goal—that is to become rich and famous.”
    that was the 70s though, it's unrealistic that one can make a living just playing music today. which, if you do noise like i do, is ok anyway
    Correction. Its unrealistic to make a living off ORIGINAL music. I know plenty of people making good money on playing covers/weddings, or teaching music etc
    well duh, but playing covers for a living is definitely not the way i would personally want to spend my energy musically. i should've said making music, not just playing
    The problem is, in order to ''play outside'' and advertise your music, you need serious bandmates who don't have addiction problems or inflated ego problems, and whose personal life is under control. When the main composer/writer of your band is able to write 32 songs in 5 years, but has lots of personal problems affecting the rest of the band and cannot even pay rent for himself or a new set of strings - it truly doesn't enable you to play your music ''out there''. Bandmates who prioritize music over family and other commitments are key. As I said, lots of factors are involved. Also the fact that other bandmates can have a precarious situation from the start doesn't help in buying equipment/scheduling gigs or renting musical schtuff. Also, having a strong band, with stable bandmates truly helps in playing gigs on a regular basis. That being said, if your drummer or guitarist is stuck with a girlfriend who will leave him even if the band goes for a 10-day mini tour....then that's a problem. The common goal (just read that comment).... band members sometimes have a different VISION of success... For some, success is playing 300 shows a year and eating ramen. For others, is writing 3-4 albums, and playing 150 gigs in a minimum time of 7-8 years. If you follow bands like Cryptopsy, Aborted, The Faceless, even Suffocation or All Shall Perish, I can tell you off the bat that those guys come back to their day job and girlfriends as soon as a Tour is complete. - They do whatever is possible...as long as it is possible, to upgrade and progress. All of it without ruining themselves or ending up in their mom's basement.
    When I was a kid, I made a band with anyone I could find. Now I'm an adult, I make bands with people I find reliable, sociable, and share common interest. It just sounds to me that you never really cracked the organisational side of being in a band. It's not about party party party, sex, drugs and rock n roll. You can do that shit, but if you want to actually progress your band, you need to have a stronger work ethic. Those are just rewards, not the actual job. My current band took around half a year to form because we would switch members until we found the right group. - We kicked out a guitarist who had very expensive gear, but absolutely no skill. He could barely play a powerchord (despite having played for many years). - We kicked out a guitarist who never showed up on time and never practised songs beyond the rehearsal room. - We kicked out an arrogant guy who would have a hissy fit if people didn't agree with exactly what he wanted. Now we have a band full of incredibly talented players, each with their own strengths and weaknesses that flow together. Like our drummer, who parties like an animal and infects people into liking the band, also a skilled player with a comical attitude. Our lead guitarist who has a troup of fan girls who barrage him with messages on facebook (we sell his as a sex object in marketing). Our bass player, Italian, very skilled, absolutely hilarious guy but very driven. Finally our rhythm guitarist, little bit cocky (in a workable way), very driven and great contacts. That is how you create a band that does something other than make EP's/Albums that nobody listens to.
    \\\$1500\\\ holy shit, it's a huge salary. it's three-four times bigger, than average salary in russia
    I don't see how someone can live in the US on 1500 a month.
    I lived on less than $1000 per month for like 3 years. In California. In a city with a big music scene. I could still afford to buy weed, on top of living expenses.
    I told myself I wasn't going to comment on this, but here I go... To me it sounds like you lack motivation AND a solid plan. Very few people who've "made it" did so by sitting back and waiting for opportunity to drop in their lap. They developed a plan of action and busted their hump making it happen. So, here's what I want you to do: 1) Make a list of your 6 month, 1, 2 and 5 year goals 2) Come up with a plan to accomplish those goals. 3) Work your ass off to make those goals a reality. NOTE: You're going to fail, that's not a signal to quit. It's a sign you need to dig deep and work harder. P.S. Your goals don't have to even be music related. And at $1500 earnings per month you damn sure qualify for college grants and loans. Ping me if you need help finding information on college funding.
    Guns N' Chains
    Agreed. People on here hate him and rip him constantly, but look at Axl Rose's story. He is a good example of someone that "went for it" and "made it". There are countless others that did similar, but since I'm a big GNR fan, his story always resonated with me I guess.
    15 gigs in 13 years? No offense but 15 gigs is a small amount for ONE YEAR. I think your unwillingness to hit the stage might have been more of a factor than your other factors
    I know guys who play every weekend in bars 4 to 6 sessions 3 to 4 nights a week, they don't do it for the money. They play music for fun, its the joy of it. If your only reason for creating music is to be successful, you have failed. If you have a passion for music then you have not failed.
    Your story is very touchily. I use the word as it touches my heart really. I am fond of music. Your story is discouraging. But I like to think in a positive way . Try again. You may find your goal very near. Now new technology offers a great scope for the music professional. People add latest device to impress the audience or hit their albums. Melody, lyrics, rhythm work in a wonderful way. best-reverb-pedal , I think, one single example that many celebrate band use to make great tone and reverb effects. My philosophy is to fight the struggle. http://musicaladvisors.com/best-reverb-p...
    First comes the passion towards music, or whatever else you are pursuing. After that MAYBE the success, but it shouldn't be the main goal to become "successful" in your craft, if you know what I mean.
    The Judist
    To make it you need to work on your popularity rather than selling stuff. It's difficult if you've not got huge backing. My main band of a while went on hiatus (divorce between members, eek) so I made an album by myself which is out in most digital outlets and streaming sites and has got good reviews like http://www.reviewyou.com/zen-juddhism-ze... So that's a success for me but I'd like more of course
    This is why you focus on yourself first and then the dream. I worked and built a career and after work I chased music. I make $90,000 a year and still play my music when I'm not working.
    To be an artist does not necessarily equal a "succesful life" by common standards.I might dream about being on a huge international band playing Rio, London, Tokio and Zimbawe... but meanwhile I go to my dayjob, rehearse as often as WE ALL find the time to, and play once a week or once a month if we can. Why? Because we get paid enough or even get paid at all? Nay, but because playing is what I love to do and money for it is not an issue. If my playing can't pay the bills then I pay for my playing. Fuck the police, I'm a man and I like big bottles and cannot lie. Dude...
    Wow, don't give up that soon... I'm from Spain, that's a real handicap, trust me. leo4fs is absolutely right.
    I have a diploma in guitar performance, a diploma in music technology and a degree in sound engineering/theater studies. I found that the school and college education system is fascist and teaches a low level of music theory and does not teach any aptitude for song writing what so ever. Students are expected to have private lessons at best. It's the same with math. It's impossible for me to write a song or even mix audio. I can just about make a YouTube cover.
    People who want to learn, learn. They don't make excuses. People who don't want to learn (work) don't. They make excuses. You have a computer and an internet connection. If there's something you want to know that you don't, it's your own damn fault!
    That may be true but education in general sucks. What can you really expect when everything is so systematic and 'teaching' is a guy standing in front of 30-100 people and then giving them a 'test' at the end of the week. It's a very autopilot-ish way of learning. It discourages the slow learners, and people who don't know what they don't know, as well as the fast learners who are forced to wait for the rest of the class to understand things that seem simple. What you say is true but it's still a damn shame that you can finish school thinking that's it? I don't feel like I've learned anything. Schools in general aren't always very legit. They know you don't know what you need to know. They don't need to teach something if you don't even know it exists. The internet isn't a one on one private tutor. It's not always easy to know what you need to study. School isn't one on one either but it should be better than independent study. It's not unfortunately
    Recognize that exactly what you merely found out is a substantial inside suggestion into how the songs sector REALLY works that can make all the difference between your success and also failure. As opposed to being afraid that the business in the music company are bent on fraud or swindle musicians, recognize that you have a massive chance to get miles ahead of the competitors in the music industry. What you need to do is: 1. Find out EXACTLY what music market business want from you (this goes FAR beyond your musical abilities). 2. Obtain the items of value you need to have to make on your own the # 1 choice for the very best music career opportunities. 3. Connect your worth to the firms you want to work with by developing a rock-solid track record on your own as the musician who includes worth with minimum danger. From: http://musicalstudy.com/