Learning how to fail is an essential part of succeeding in the music business

music biz, failure, learning to fail

“I have not failed. I’ve just found 10,000 ways that won’t work.” – Thomas Edison

As much as you may like to believe your career in music is infallible, or that you have a gift for songwriting no one will be able to deny, I can guarantee you there will always be days when your best efforts come up short. Failure is an unavoidable byproduct of any creative endeavor, and regardless of what level of fame you reach in this business there will always bad days. The point of continuing to create is not to work towards perfection, but to take into consideration everything that has happened, both good and evil, and apply it to whatever comes next. Art, like life, is a constant progression, and the best you can do is learn how to frame each failure as something other that is ultimately beneficial to your career.

The number of ways you can screw up in music is numerous, and they range from writing a bad single, to performing in such a way that disappoints your fans. We cannot begin to break down every single instance of failure and how it can be viewed as a positive, but we can offer tips to help you deal with any situation where things do not go as planned. The advice that follows may seem fairly obvious to some, but if applied to your next misstep we guarantee growth will occur. It might not be easy, but it will be beneficial to your creativity in the long run, and at the end of the day that is what matters most.

Start with the truth. Accept the situation for what it is, and be prepared to face it head-on.

Everyone has heard that line about how the best-laid plans of mice and men often go awry, and the reason we’ve all heard it is that it’s entirely accurate. You might have written the best song you believe yourself possible of creating, but for one reason or another, it might not connect with listeners. Likewise, you may give what you feel is the performance of a lifetime, only to look at Twitter after the gig and read tweet after tweet complaining about the sound. In times like this it’s incredibly easy to take a defensive stance, but to do so would be an error. Accept that not everyone will experience things the way you do and try to see things from the outsider’s perspective. Be humbled by the fact you received any response at all, as most never do, and ask yourself how you could improve or change what you’re doing in the future.

The key to this step is honesty. It’s okay to say you love something that your fans do no, but do not blame them for not feeling the same. Art is subjective, but if you listen to your audience, you should be able to find a way to do what you want while still playing to their demands. You don’t have to, of course, but most great artists find a way to compromise that satisfies everyone.

Look for the positive, no matter how small it may be.

Let’s say your new album was expected to sell ten thousand copies its first week and only sold fifteen-hundred. That disappointment would be quite a sting, especially from a financial standpoint, but considering the fact that less than 1% of all the albums released in any given year sell more than a thousand copies then you’re still among the most famous musicians in the world. You may not have ten thousand people clamoring to purchase your new album, but fifteen-hundred consumers are indeed nothing to scoff at. There are towns and villages all over the world that have populations far below fifteen-hundred people, and even fewer people outside those communities know they exist. You may not be where you want to be, but you are farther along than most, and that is something you should never take for granted.

The point is, there is also an upside. Your new demo may have gone over worse than Jar Jar Binks, but at least by sharing it with fans, you learned something new about what they expect from you and what they hope to hear from any future material. This knowledge can and should inform future recordings which, in theory, will be received better than whatever came before.

Do not be afraid to take time away from the internet.

We are convinced there are at least two negative comments for every positive one on pretty much every song, video, or think piece posted online. People are far quicker to complain than they are to compliment, especially in a public forum, which is why you should consider taking time away from the constant barrage of commentary social media provides when things take a turn for the worse. If you know the incoming messages are going to be riddled with negativity, there is no reason to wallow in the hurt feelings such commentary can cause. Absorb enough to understand why people are upset, then step away and take time to reflect on how you can improve your efforts in the future. You do not need the internet to do this, and in our opinion, you shouldn’t use it. Stay offline until you have something new to share, and if that doesn’t go over then feel free to take more time away. In fact, take as much time as you need. The internet will still be here when you return.

Whatever you do, keep creating.

No matter how you initially react to failure, you cannot let the ensuing negativity defeat you. Keep producing, always, and do not stop until you decide you are finished. There will still be someone in the world who thinks you are not good enough, but you cannot let the opinions of a select few stop you from expressing yourself through art. Creativity is a gift that is all too rare in this world, and it should be shared at every opportunity. Don’t let the haters win.

James Shotwell

James Shotwell is the Director of Customer Engagement at Haulix and host of the company's podcast, Inside Music. He is also a public speaker known for promoting careers in the entertainment industry, as well as an entertainment journalist with over a decade of experience. His bylines include Rolling Stone, Alternative Press, Substream Magazine, Nu Sound, and Under The Gun Review, among other popular outlets.