Musicians: What Keeps You Going?

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We’ve all heard Edison’s famous words: “Success is 10% inspiration and 90% perspiration.”

For every success we experience, we’ve been given a thousand opportunities to give up on our dreams. In Andrew WK’s recent advice column, he was asked this question:

I’m dating a guy who refuses to give up on his dreams of rock stardom. While it’s admirable in a way, I need a little bit more stability if we’re going to make this work. How can I gently break this to him?”

Andrew WK’s response?

“Don’t you dare say anything to him about giving up his dream. You’re not the right person for him. Never ask someone to give up on their dream just so you can feel more stable. It’s his choice and his choice alone, no matter how ridiculous his dream may seem to you, or to society, or even to himself. Dreams make humans into self-realized individuals. Your only responsibility is to love everything about him, including his dreams. The idea of ‘making this work’ sounds more like a way to make his life more boring and predictable. At worst, it’s a genuine sadistic desire to control someone else because your own life feels out of control — or a cruel need to dominate and break someone’s spirit for the sake of your own peace of mind. Look for stability and peace of mind inside yourself, and not in your relationships or the dreams of others.”

[Thanks to for pointing this lovely story out to us.]

Usually hidden behind an overnight success you’ll find years of hard work, endurance, and perseverance– a musical Energizer Bunny fueled by dreams; and quitting wasn’t an option. So how do you keep going when you get discouraged or set back? What fuels your fire? What music, faith, friendship, or internal hope helps you get back on your feet and continue on?

-Chris R. at CD Baby

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  • Liberty-street

    I don’t know why I do what I do because it has been paved with heartaches, dead ends and never having the money for projects. But for some reason I keep writing and trying to get better at this songwriting thing. I am lucky that because of my music people want to finance a lot of my projects.
    But what keeps me going? Friends and people that have the faith in my music in buying my CD’s or investing in my music, if they are willing to do that I will somehow, someway keep doing what I do.
    Still Pickin’
    Bill Hudson

  • Disgust and hatred, among other things.

  • Dan Hylton

    My 20 years as an aspiring musician has been a non-stop roller coaster of deflating experiences followed my valuable, rewarding little experiences. The "what keeps you going" is an interesting topic, as the thought has crossed the intellectual (non-artist) part of my brain a few times "Boy, you could have a lot more time to pursue all your other dreams if you just up & quit." But I think the primary two things that keep me going is: 1) Yes, the "dream." The dream that somehow the music I create & believe in finds its way in front of a wide enough audience to sustain me, financially and 2) My increasing ability, over the years, to not just SAY that the only thing that truly matters is how I feel about my own work.

  • Mike from Parisian L

    After a while, you get over the feeling of "oh no, another song to learn" and become motivated by learning another song. Songs are all there is; if your song don't cut it, neither will you. And you'll know if it cuts it. Our live appearances have dwindled but the lyrics are still coming though loud and clear, and the demo recordings sound great straight out of the crate. Until they prise my bass from my cold dead hand, I will strive to do this, and to do it better, and I will never give up!

  • Jess Escobar

    Cause I was made to do it. I can’t and won’t ever give up. I thoroughly believe it is impossible for me to stop – it runs through my veins. Music is on my mind & in my life 24/7. But I wouldn’t have it any other way. The negativity of some people just makes me want to prove them wrong, inevitably it makes me work harder. That’s just me.
    – Jess Escobar

  • I think that music is my passion, my dream, and my escape from the foundations of my life. It’s stress-relieving and it stokes my fires so I can keep going. It’s taxing just living life, let alone pursuing various goals, but music is not the only direction my life runs in. As with everything, there are ups and downs with both the songwriting experience and the live performance.. all you can do is learn and live and hope that what you’re doing is common-ground for a few others to stand on.

  • The High Cell

    Regardless of setbacks or discouragement, music is still the foundation that I feel my soul was built on. Like the truest friend or the most unconditional love, music will always be there for me. No matter what tomorrow brings, I'll listen to music, I'll love music, and I'll make music. Because music makes me feel alive.

  • Drew

    This is an absolutely beautiful comment. No blame, just dreams.

  • NoMinorChords

    There are two dreams here. One is to be a musician and the other a "rock star". Music will never screw you over and, if it is your calling, you must always pursue it. But being a rock star? That is about business if you're smart, and ego if you're not. It is very reasonable for a gf or wife not to want to get on that crazy train.

    • gal

      this comment says so much more to answer the question posed than the agony uncle!

  • skellyx

    some people are adrenaline junkies because it makes them feel more alive…Dexter explains this well in season 1…when you think about it, most of us are constantly looking for ways to feel more alive…nothing makes me feel more alive than listening to and playing music. It's a love that to this point in my life is absolutely unmatched

  • Bob

    I do it because it's who I am. I am not doing this to get rich and/or famous. I couldn't quit if I wanted to. Whether I am plyaing for 1 or 100,000, I'm still going to be playing. If I'm playing to 1 or 1 million, I'm still going to be playing. If I write a song and it is heard by 1 or 1 million, I still want to get that tune written. I am a singer-songwriter.

    • A S Page

      I think the comment was a bit harsh, but sounds like it came from being in that situation!
      I've been in a few bands that almost made it! like so many others, If you look at most famous people that succeeded they never gave up! I have wondered from time to time if finance or some other good paying job would be better, SO I tried it and found that I was miserable! If I can't or dont play I become a major dick! and depressed. Music is my soul, my life my being!

    • exactly. i always got the feeling that the ‘real’ players who have ‘made it’, like keith richards, clapton, page, etc, would still be playing even if they were just giggin bars. you don’t choose music. it chooses you. if you have to ‘decide’ whether or not to be a musician, forget it. there’s easier ways to make money. bill gates, larry ellison, etc, have more money than mccartney, jagger, sting, etc. but do you think mccartney would want to trade careers with bill gates for the extra cash?

  • Bob

    Anyone who can NOT do this needs to quit.

  • Juliamassey


  • Gene DeAmicis

    I'm not getting any younger…and (at age 66) music has, and always will, motivate my soul. I too have dreams of one day being one of the best blues guitar players around. When I play music, everything else becomes insignificant and I escape the reality around me through the sounds of music. I like your response Andrew.. I couldn't have expressed it any better..

  • Interesting perspective. Sometimes we can live with false hopes and/or expectations. How would you expect to make it if you can’t write a decent song or have a good voice, etc… Sometimes people are just fixated on their own delusions of grandeur. I suggest serving a higher purpose and calling than just your own fame. Serve people with your music.

  • Ozarathustra

    Touching reply by Andrew WK- the dude needs to read that to his manager.

  • i played guitar before i ever knew what money was (started lessons at 5), and would play if i didn’t make money doing it.

    i’m a full time guitar teacher, do gigs, have books and cds, etc. i tell my students,: “don’t confuse being a professional musician with being a ‘rodk star’. if you make it big, great, buy me a nice vintage axe and mention me in your interviews. if you don’t ‘meke it’, and still want to play for a living, you’d better be able to do it all – teach, read, play any style, etc. the gig you turn down is the gig someone else gets. i’ve done every type of gig imaginable; theater shows, bars, studio work, wedding bands, blues gigs, solo chord melody, you name it. being able to do that took a lot of lessons, practice, dedication and some talent. yes, as a kid i wanted to be a rock star. by 25, when that didn’t pan out, i realized i still wanted to be a professional musician, and i better make some adjustments to my plan. it’s been great, i’ve played with great players, had fun teaching and still managed to fulfill my creativity.

    the bottom line…..the cub scout mottol “Be Prepared”

  • Create or die! That's why. Sully

  • TLM

    I have to admit I have given up in the past, mostly because I was young and afraid. But I am on track now and have never been happier or felt more fulfilled in actually having a purpose. Yes i get discouraged that I work so hard and for every step forward there are steps back as well but and manage to stay true to myself and my dream by remember how alive I feel in those moments when take that step forward. The steps back are merely a part of life, and to quit because we get knocked down, is to choose not to LIVE. I choose to LIVE!! KEEP DREAMING PEOPLE!! life is so joyous when you do!

  • Honestly, Because it gives me peace of mind.

  • Shadez Rhapsody

    Your music IS all consuming and you cant expect anyone else to understand it, be upfront with your priorities and let your partner know this before things get too far… It works most of the time:) Any hint of jelousy over a song will only destroy your creativity, If they cant deal with it you have to move on…