Having spent more than two decades as a songwriter and musician, I’ve collected some wonderfully distilled pieces of wisdom from friends and music industry luminaries. Here are a bunch of my favorites that I find myself using/referring to often.
I love this quote as it’s a not so gentle reminder that the music business is exactly that. As creatives, we have a tendency to forget this essential point. This is not to say that there aren’t some genuinely great people in the business BUT it never hurts to remember that it IS a business first.
Same song different verse. Part of the reason we forget that the music business is, in fact, a business is because of how passionate we are about our music. We should be passionate about our music and it IS a spiritual thing. The key is to remember that music and the music business are separate.
Sometimes the simplest quotes are the most illuminating. The reality is that most people don’t treat the music business this way and are consequently disappointed or frustrated in their industry interactions. It’s just good to keep this in mind.
This is a final, slightly heavier-handed take on the music biz. I, personally, don’t agree that the business is always this way but, I have to say, Mr. Thompson has a way with words.
I’m pretty sure this is not specifically a music quote but it definitely applies. Early on in our careers we’re blessed with more time than money. So, in order to get a great-sounding demo – for example – we’ll have to get into studios after hours on weekends or teach ourselves to record along the way. While this may take longer, we’ll end up with something we can be proud of. This quote is also a great warning that if something is cheap and is promised quickly then there’s a great chance it won’t be of quality. Beware.
This is a quote I refer to often when I’m overwhelmed by the sheer enormity of a project. When I start to feel this way, I remind myself that even the largest projects can be broken down into bite-sized pieces. So much of any successful career in music is about this kind of slow and steady progress.
John, one of my first Nashville friends and hit songwriter in his own right, said this to me once in passing and it stuck. What it means to me is that sometimes without knowing how or why, we can write something truly great. While this is wonderful, I’m a much bigger proponent of learning your own process and voice as a songwriter so that your songs will be consistently great. That way you won’t have to “screw up” to write your next great song.
In the article where Was is quoted, he states that “generous means music that’s open, that has something to offer to the listener, something to give.” And “selfish” music as “music made by self-centered [expletives] who get up on stage and say, ‘Check this out, look what I can do.'” What I love about this quote is that long ago I gave up the labels “good” and “bad” for music. I just don’t feel like those adjectives apply to art. There are songs that I love that other people hate and vice versa. But until I heard this quote, I wasn’t sure there were other descriptors that applied. “Generous” and “selfish” work great for me.
While this quote isn’t strictly a music quote, I love it for a variety of reasons. My take on it is that everything you do as a creative is connected. It’s not enough to be a brilliant songwriter if you don’t return phone calls and emails hence missing out on opportunities to get your music out there. If you take every situation in your musical life as an opportunity to be great – whether it’s showing up on time for an appointment or playing in front of 1,000 people – great things will happen.
This quote is related to the one above and it’s a good way to look at how you handle your affairs. In other words, be aware of how you handle even the most mundane tasks in your day. If you treat each task as one worthy of your attention and care, this will be a mindset that extends to everything you do.
I’ve seen this borne out too many times to count. The truly great artists and songwriters that I’ve met and worked with approach their careers and interactions with people with the utmost care and modesty. There’s no room in their lives for attitude or insecurity. They’re quietly confident about their abilities and don’t feel the need to belabor the point.
Again, while not “strictly” a music quote, I love this one. Here’s the thing. Most of us get into music with a plan in place. Our plan, however, is usually based on dreams and myths. This is not a judgment, that’s just how it is. What I’ve noticed is that the people who manage to continue in music are the ones who are able to get “punched in the mouth” pick themselves up and keep going. Plans are made to be modified. If you get knocked down, get back up and make a new plan.
This is, of course, not an exhaustive list of music quotes. However, I’m hoping it will give you a few things to think about when you consider the world of music and your place in it.