Why Most Artists, Musicians, and Writers Fail

by Brandon

Succeeding in the arts is difficult. I don’t think I’m understating when I say it’s a bitch.

I’ve been doing this writing thing for a while now, and I’m still not where I want to be. I’m getting there, and I’m very happy with where I am, but I’m the first to admit I have a long way to go. Making a living as a fiction author is a long, hard road where the peaks are incredibly high but the valleys dip very low. Fact is, failure is the most common outcome of trying to make a living through art. Knowing this can make it very hard to stay motivated when you’re in one of those valleys.

But here’s the thing…

There’s a reason most artists fail. A very simple reason.

I guess if you want to get technical about it, there are thousands of reasons, but I think it really boils down to one:

Most artists don’t really believe success is possible.

They think, “Well, I’ll give it a shot, but I know the odds are stacked against me.”

Well, guess what? When you go into it with that attitude, you’ve already decided to fail.

At the very least, you’ve opened the door and invited failure in.

You cannot succeed in this if your mentality from the outset is, “I’ll give it a shot.”

Yoda agrees with me.

So why do we (artists) have such a debbie-downer attitude when it comes to success?

It’s because we’ve been trained our entire lives to believe it’s a fool’s errand.

Sure, as kids we’re told, “You can do anything if you put your mind to it.”

But really, is that supported by most of the people you know? If you say you’re going to succeed as a musician or as a writer or as a comic book artist, how do most people react?

They might say, “That’s great! Good luck!” but they say it in an “Aww, that’s cute,” kind of way. Or they say it with a tone of, “Well, even if you fail, it’s the journey that matters, right?”

And then you have the “realists.” Those folks tell you point blank, “You’re probably going to fail at this” then follow it up with a shrug and a, “Hey, I’m just telling it like it is. Most artists fail.”

Well, here’s a shocking bit of realism for you: The “realists” are not telling it like it is. They’re giving you one statistic while ignoring everything that went into making that statistic.

They’re not bothering to see why most artists fail. They’re just looking at the final statistic and making a sweeping assumption that the mountain is too big to climb. They assume the “most artists fail” statistic is about the mountain, but it’s not. The statistic is about the mountain climbers.  It’s not about the difficulty of making it in the arts… it’s about the determination of those who try. The difference is subtle, but important.

You want proof that they’re making an assumption about the mountain? The next time someone says that, ask them, “Is it that you don’t believe in me?”

They’ll immediately say something like, “Oh, no, it’s not you. It’s just a fact that succeeding in the arts is pretty much impossible.”

You see? They think it’s the mountain.

They’re wrong.

That said, they’re right about one thing: statistically, you probably will fail.

I know it sounds like I’m contradicting myself, but I’m not. Because I know why that statistic exists. It exists because most artists don’t know the big secret.

What’s the big secret?

It’s this:

Success in the arts is possible.

It’s not the mountain. It’s the mountain climber.

That’s what most people forget.

That’s what the “realists” don’t really understand.

That’s why most artists fail.

Most artists see failure as an inevitability instead of a choice. And when they fail, they see themselves as a victim instead of one of the causes of their own failure.

And let me tell you right now… in this age of technology and electronic media, failure is absolutely a choice.

Sometimes it’s a hard choice. Hell, sometimes giving up the dream of succeeding in the arts is the right choice (depending on what you have going on in your life).

But it’s always a choice.

If you fail with your art, it’s because you didn’t put the required work into success. It’s because you chose to skip some important marketing steps. It’s because you chose to spend your time doing something else instead of rehearsing or recording or writing or drawing.

I’m not saying success is easy. I’m just saying it’s not impossible. Maybe 20 years ago, it was close to impossible, but not today. Today, success in the arts really depends on how much time and effort you choose to devote to it.

Like I said earlier, sometimes you shouldn’t choose your art. Sometimes, other aspects of your life is more important. Succeeding in the arts takes up an enormous amount of time. It’s not just the art. If you want to make a living with your art, you have to create a brand. You have to market like crazy. You have to sign up for social media sites you normally wouldn’t look twice at. You have to study the various communities and determine which ones have value. You have to stay on people’s minds without being a spammer. You have to build a genuine relationship with your audience.

And all this is in addition to the enormous amount of time it takes to actually produce your art.

So yeah, it’s not an easy game to play. You most definitely should not go into work tomorrow and tell your boss, “Hey, I quit. I’m gonna’ make it as a writer.”

You have to be responsible. You have to lay the groundwork, which can (and usually does) take years.

But once everything is in place and your art is finally supporting you…

It is awesome.

Truly.

It’s deeply fulfilling. Knowing that you’re providing some measure of happiness (no matter how small) to other people with your art is an incredible high. More importantly, knowing that you actually paid a bill with your art is one of the best feelings in the world.

And it’s possible.

Hell, I’ll go against the grain here and say it’s probable, if you’re willing to put the appropriate amount of effort into it.

You see, that’s why we have a statistic saying most artists fail. It’s not because the mountain is too big. It’s because most artists see the mountain and decide it’s not worth climbing.

I guess that’s the long and short of it. The question that you – as an artist – have to ask yourself.

Is the mountain worth climbing?

And it’s not an easy question to answer.

Getting rich from your art really is near impossible. If that’s your definition of success, I think you probably should listen to the “realists.”

But if your definition of success is simply to make a living – however modest – from your art… well, that is something you can accomplish. That’s the mountain I’m talking about.

You’ll have to work your ass off, and you’ll probably never make enough money to build a guest house that’s an exact replica of the Millennium Falcon.

But you can make enough to pay the electric bill. You can make enough to feed your family. You can make enough to live a modest but happy life.

So that’s the mountain.

The price is that you’ll probably have to put twice the amount of time into your art than you currently put into your day job. You’ll have to learn how to sell your art. You’ll have to learn to promote yourself. You’ll have to completely devote yourself to the cause.

And the payoff is simply a modest life where your art supports you.

If that mountain is worth climbing, then it’s time to ignore the realists and the statistics, because your success isn’t determined by whether or not other people failed. It’s determined by you. It’s determined by your drive, your work ethic, and your determination.

Okay, I’m done being all preachy. Next blog, I’ll go back to the goofy stuff.

–Brandon

p.s. After talking about how often you have to promote your work, it’s really only appropriate that I take this moment to remind you that the first Day Soldiers ebook is free at most major online retailers (Amazon, Barnes & Noble, iTunes, etc). Book IV is coming soon, so now’s a good time to get caught up.

 


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{ 1 comment… read it below or add one }

Cecil Leslie September 16, 2014 at 3:17 PM

Brilliant advice.
Loved it.

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