Few non-musical people listen to music and realize just how much money, time, and work goes into creating a single song. From music lessons to recording equipment to the creative and emotional labor it takes to write, record, and produce a song, music takes an immense amount of work to make. For developing music-makers who have yet to find their audiences, asking what, if anything, listeners owe you is a fair question considering the sacrifice involved in creating music. However, the answer might disappoint you.
Listeners don’t really owe us anything as songwriters, not before we’ve made a real connection with them, anyway. It’s a hard truth to swallow, but countless people in your shoes at this very moment are trying to make great music that becomes a part of people’s lives just like you are. Until your music actually makes true connections with people, it’s a very one-sided relationship. We do our best to make great music and share it so that people will care and listen, but we aren’t owed anything until we’ve proven ourselves.
Don’t pursue music with a chip on your shoulder as a developing artist
If you’re serious about pursuing music, you have to realize that this unequal relationship is just the way it is. We can either create music and share it with a chip on our shoulder, or we can work humbly, appreciate anyone and everyone who listens to and supports us, and accept the fact that no one owes us anything as music-makers no matter how hard we work or how much we’ve sacrificed for our music until our songs have made a connection.
Music is such an intense and insular pursuit for some of us that we often forget that what we’re creating isn’t really ours anymore the second we share it. It’s not about pandering and trying to please everyone, but realizing that our music can’t and shouldn’t only be focused on ourselves and our own goals.
Yes, your unique personality and life experience go into the music you make. But if you haven’t found your audience yet as a musician, it’s unrealistic and unhelpful to think of listeners as owing you anything for your hard work. This might be a hard pill to swallow for some, but it’s something that can actually liberate you as a songwriter. If you want the support and attention of listeners, you have to make music that sticks with them and finds a place in their lives. But you also have to get your music in front of the kind of people who might want to hear it. If it were easy, every musician would be successful.
What listeners invested in your music owe you
When your music actually becomes a part of someone’s life, it’s a completely different situation than before when they weren’t familiar with your music. No matter how successful you become and what your goals are in music, you’ll need communities of listeners to support you. However, this doesn’t mean audiences always support the artists they listen to the most in 2021, especially when streaming platforms make it easy to consume lots of music from artists without connecting with them in a meaningful way.
In a perfect world, everyone who listened to your music would become loyal fans who bought your merch, donated to your crowdfunding campaigns, and showed up to your concerts. However, that’s just not the way the world works. Our listeners don’t owe us anything as artists, but the ones who go out of their way to show their support are the ones that are crucial for identifying and connecting with.
When you know someone is a loyal fan, thank them for their support any way you can. In our stat-driven music culture, it’s tempting to prioritize appealing to as many fans as possible over appreciating our most loyal and attentive listeners, but that’s a flawed strategy. There are countless artists to choose from in 2021, so when someone takes the time to meaningfully interact with you and your music, that’s a big deal as a developing artist. After everything you’ve already sacrificed for your music, it’s worth putting a little more work into recognizing your most loyal fans. It’s one of the best ways we can get people even more excited about a music culture that’s competitive and often isolating.
Patrick McGuire is a writer, musician, and human man. He lives nowhere in particular, creates music under the name Straight White Teeth, and has a great affinity for dogs and putting his hands in his pockets.