Fear and Doubt in The Music Business
I quit the music business 20 years ago…
I told myself I was quitting because I was tired of the nonsense, the backstabbing and the people that I had surrounded myself with who did not seem to understand what it was that I wanted to get out of my music career.
But I’ve recently come to realize that this is only partially true. The reality is, I’ve done a lot of hanging around behind the scenes, peeking in on the music business, keeping track of trends, learning about digital business techniques in the music industry and talking with other musicians. The truth of the matter is I still love music and I actually still love the music business despite all of the headaches that come with it.
After a recent discussion with my wife, which was very intense and emotionally revealing; I have discovered, 20 years later… that the real reason Iquit the music business was simply that I was afraid that I couldn’t succeed by myself..
At the time that I made this decision I had just seen the break up of two promising bands. I spent three years founding and building a band that was beginning to see signs of success. We called ourselves “7th Generation” after a line from a prophecy By the great Lakota spiritual leader and holy man, Black Elk. We had been offered recording contracts with three different labels but the band members themselves were not ready. There was far too much internal strife and I could see we were on the verge of a break up due to conflicts amongst the band members themselves. So I initiated the breakup because I could only see disaster ahead if we kept going the way we were. But I wanted so bad for lighting to strike twice So… I went out and formed a new band and brought my bass player and drummer along. We also brought in a new singer. Once again,things didn’t work out and the band quickly dissolved. There was no cohesion, no chemistry with in this new group and I was lied to by either the new singer, or the guys who had been with me in my old band and who I had called brothers. So I told myself that I had no one in my life that could understand what I wanted out of my career and that there was no one to help me achieve what I wanted in my career. Faced with the reality of having to move forward on my own, I let myself give in to the fear and gave up.
Over the 20 years since I made that decision there have been numerous times when I have kicked myself for giving up, for completely changing the course of my life, and whenever I would pick up my guitar It would feel like an old forgotten friend calling out to me, asking me, “why did you give up on me?” I didn’t have a good answer at the time…
Now at the tender age of 50 I finally have come to terms with what was at the root of my decision; to put it simply it was fear and doubt. I had already shown that a person can find successful in the music business regardless of where they live as long as they believe in what they do and they have good music to back up that belief and to share with the world. But I thought I needed to surround myself with people, any people, in order to make me comfortable and there was always that little voice in the back of my mind that told me that I wasn’t good enough even though I knew how to write, record and play the music that I believed in all along.
There was always some part of me however that knew what was really behind my decision to walk away all those years ago, but it took this one revealing conversation with my wife to really crystallize it, to create Clarity in my own mind as to why I chose the path that I chose on that night almost 20 years ago. A decision that took me out of the game and placed me firmly on the sidelines to become an observer for nearly half of my life.
The greatest lesson I got from all of this was that sometimes you simply have to move forward toward despite the fear and doubt.
Conquering the fear
One of the lessons my wife taught me was that you simply have to let the possibility of failure exist. You can’t dwell on it, you can’t let it overpower the vision you are working towards. Simply recognize it and move on or better yet, use it as a motivational fuel. The possibility of failure exists in almost everything that we do in life but in so many of our endeavors we refuse to let it stop us from progressing in our lives because the reward is greater than the risk. But for some of us when we try to follow our passion, the dream may feel impossible to reach and so we let fear and doubt grind us to a halt. We might make excuses like, we’re not good enough, or I don’t have the money to do this,or I don’t have the time, I don’t have the talent, my bass player quit the band and so the band has to break up or any number of excuses. but in the end it’s only each one of us that are responsible for our own success or failure.
In order to defeat fear you must first identify it understand what it is that is the root cause of that fear. Call it out by name and take a good long look at it. Once you do this you may recognize that the fear that has been holding you back may not have any basis in your current reality. For me my fear manifested as a twisted sense of perfectionism where I hold myself to such high standards that I could never possibly achieve and the end result. This paradox creates a very visceral feeling in me that I am somehow in mortal danger because I could not accomplish the things that I wanted so badly in my heart. This fear, this… Gut feeling.. of mortal danger is rooted in my abusive childhood. My mother would demand things of me and then Physically or verbally punish me for not doing them correctly. There is one memory That has stuck with me throughout my entire life, that is the memory of her chasing me through the house with a butcher knife because I had made a simple mistake at the age of six years old. She had told me to order a pizza for the family dinner at the local drive inn and I ended up ordered the wrong one. This memory has stuck with me throughout my entire life. And it is manifested as a very visceral feeling of dread and Mortal danger whatever face with a decision or task in my life.
Taking your power back
Despite having a background in personal development and things like metaphysics, psychology and spirituality; learning to face my own fear is a relatively new process for me. But I will say this, I believe that the answer lies in the conversation that I had with my wife when she told me that I have to take the knife out of my mother’s hand and to stand up to that image of the crazed woman standing over me and then Simply walk away from it.
You are probably wondering, “How the hell does any of this Psych-crap have anything to do with walking away from my music career?”
I would have asked myself the exact same question just a few short weeks ago, and then I had one of those amazing moments of clarity, the kind that make you feel that your eyes are open for the first time. I realized that all of my life decisions for a very long time had been based on fear and doubt. I was weighing everything against, “well, What if I fail?” and under those terms it seemed better to just avoid taking the chance. Hence… quitting on a career path before even giving it a chance to have a life. I came to realize The only way I am going to be able to make any significant decision in my life without it being twisted by the specter of a crazed mother chasing me through the house with that knife is to recognize it, take ownership of it and disarm it.
So how does this all relate to you? Most of you reading this blog are saying to yourself, “I don’t have that problem, I am not afraid to succeed in my career.” But consider this… If you are not reaching your goals, your career goals including: Building your fan base, increasing your revenue, and really reaching your potential as an artist… what is holding you back?
We all know by now that The Music Industry version 2.0 depends on new artists working as DIY artist/entrepreneurs and building up a base of success before any decent size label will take a look at you. And especially if you live in the middle of the boondocks like I do you have to get your business hat on. So why aren’t you taking courses in marketing, creating sales funnels, and defining your Niche market? and why aren’t you connecting with your audience on a deeper level creating fanatical followers and not just “fans”? In the end its’ all about letting go of the fear that we might fail, that we might not be good enough, and just really connect with other human beings.