This past year I’ve seen a growing number of my musician friends post “I quit” letters on various social media. The letters all have a common tone – “I can’t do this anymore. The music biz is bottomless pit. I’m going to settle down, get a real job, and hopefully be happier. It’s been fun, but now it’s a drag. Thanks for your support. Sayonara!” These posts undoubtedly prompt a whole stream of comments from friends and supporters. Usually a mix of “please don’t quit”, to “yep, blame Napster”, to “don’t worry, I’ll still come hear you play at the pub”, that sort of thing.
I find it disappointing, but I can definitely relate. After my last record, I was so burned out, I had to take a long break from touring, hustling, the whole scene. It took YEARS for me to replenish, reconnect, and get inspired to get back out there. I’m still not “back out there” fully, and maybe I never will be now that I have a child. But I will do what I can.
Because while I contemplated the word “quit”, I made a conscious decision to not choose it for my own trajectory. I might choose other words, like “evolve” or “grow” or “change”, but it became crystal clear that I never wanted to make the status of my music career the result of roadblocks, whether internal (frustrations, burnout, etc.) or external (dead business model, lack of funds, family commitments, etc). Thankfully, I never lost interest in going to gigs just to listen. I never lost interest in playing just for the sake of it. And most importantly, I never lost the feeling that I had something to say through music, even though it was buried far beneath my day-to-day artist survival tactics.
I had a lot of reconciling to do. It’s hard to swallow that you’re not “there” yet – wherever that is, arenas, world tours, throngs of fans, whatever. But I realized that I didn’t want to throw away all the ground I had covered. And yes, I might need to rebuild some broken bridges along the way, but those relationships I’d forged in the business were more than just a ladder to climb for me. They are my community.
So here’s my letter to you, my dears. I’m NEVER quitting the music business. EVER. I might need to take breaks. I might need to apologize for stupid things I’ve said. I might need to promote a lot sometimes, and less others. But I will NEVER QUIT. I will never stop trying to make records, or play shows, or tour, and honestly and gracefully share the music I make with you.
Because why would I deny myself the path, the long evolving journey of trying to figure out how to move forward and get better every single day?
And why would I deny YOU the opportunity to see what music I might come up with down the road? What if it’s something we both fall in completely and madly in LOVE with?
And why would I deny us both the chance to meet, literally or figuratively, and share our love of music, and then share it collectively with all the other people who might interact with it. The potential is endless and creative in of itself.
So even if I continue to toil in complete obscurity until my dying day, I will never stop writing or playing music, or calling myself a professional working musician. Because I have paid my dues. And I continue to pay my dues. And I’m still on a journey that is teaching me how to be vulnerable and humble in the wake of a force far greater than myself.
That force, of course is MUSIC!
I’m not here to criticize. In fact, I congratulate anyone who “settles down” and gets a “day job”. God knows I did. It can be an incredibly grounding force.
But, please, think carefully before you use the word “QUIT”. Why do that to yourself? Why do that to the world? We need you to take yourself seriously. (Ok, well maybe not too seriously!)
So here’s to growing and evolving and changing through music, through the music business.
You rock Mary! A woman of many talents. Keep at it! You inspire many others including me <3
Thanks Crystal! Much appreciated amiga. xo
Mary I’m glad you’re not quitting! 🙂
Another reason not to- inspire future musicians! (my 14 YO has announced he wants to be a musician- not a rock star as everyone assumes- a MUSICIAN!)
Thanks Sarah! That’s awesome – good for him! I agree, I think we need a whole new dialogue around how to be a lifelong working musician, especially around the teenage years when it’s easy to get sucked in to the star propaganda that the media promulgates. I look forward to hearing him play one day! 🙂 xo
Mary that was beautiful. Very well said. I think we should all think about that when contemplating “quitting” something we have so much passion for. Evolve is definitely a much better word.
Thanks Adrienne! I agree. Evolve is so much more natural and welcoming. As my friend Nadine said, even if you’re tired, burned out, broke, etc. letting yourself be an artist is still much easier than not being one. 🙂