Lately I’ve been trying to figure out why I’m having so much trouble finishing an album. Normally, if I have a superpower, it’s motivation; I get excited about shit and that gives me the ability to power through rough spots and get something done. But writing an album is proving an exception to that, and I’ve finally figured it out: it’s because when I finish an album, it stops being about music and starts being about marketing.
I always thought the internet would bring about some golden age of music — cut out the middleman, let artists market directly to their fans! What I didn’t realize was that often those middlemen exist for a reason, namely that making music and convincing people to listen to that music are two very different skills. The studio system had massive flaws, but at least it allowed musicians to just be musicians. They could even be completely incapable of functioning as an human being, but if they made money, the studio would get their music to their fans.
Social media is a goddamn miracle. I’m making esoteric electronic music out of my apartment and I could, in theory, reach an audience all across the world. That’s mindblowing. But it means that it’s not enough to just be a musician. If I don’t advertise my work, no one will. If I don’t have the skill for marketing, if I don’t enjoy networking or promoting my music (or I’m terrified of being that obnoxious asshole who’s always bugging people to listen to their music), releasing an album is just one more voice screaming into a crowd of millions of other screaming voices.
“You should be making music for yourself, not for other people,” you say. Find me a musician who’s sincere in saying that, and I’ll find you a pathological narcissist. Of course every musician is making music for themselves; I believe that creating any kind of art is at least partially a selfish act. But most of us also care that other people listen to our music, that we can evoke something in another person with our art. I want people to listen to my music.
Nobody can listen to it if I don’t finish making it, but nobody will listen to it if I can’t market it the right way. And the longer I put off having a finished product, the longer I can avoid dealing with that, and keep pretending that being a musician is just about creating music.