“Do what you love and the money will follow”. That’s a mantra I heard over and over growing up. The idea being that if you just, in the words of Joseph Campbell, “follow your bliss”, that will somehow magically lead to a life that unfolds magically and will result in a blissful life filled with money, accolades and everything your heart desires.
It’s a great idea. But, at least in my experience, it’s simply not true. I know tons of people “doing what they love” who are broke and one or two pay checks away from being on the street. In my own experience, I’ve followed this idea to a large extent, and although at this stage in my life I’m fairly comfortable, it took me a long time to get here and my success hasn’t been nearly as simple as just “doing what I love” and waiting for money to pour into my account. Don’t get me wrong, I love my life, but it’s not all easy. I’ve worked really hard to get where I am now, and I still have a long way to go.
Now, don’t get me wrong, life isn’t about just money. I’m sure as musicians we can all agree on that. But, money is important, and if you’ve ever been in a position where you start to run out of it, you realize quickly just how big of a role, for better or worse, money play in all our lives.
In my experience, learning how to make money, in both the music business and business in general, has required actually doing a lot of things I don’t love at all and learning how to have a good attitude about doing them anyway. Everything I do for money these days has started with some sort of initial passion, but in the end, every single road I’ve walked down that has actually worked, has involved a fair amount of doing things I really don’t feel like doing or particularly enjoy. It hasn’t been all bliss.
I’ll give you a few examples
Music Licensing – My desire to license music and make money started with a passion for writing songs. I still maintain my passion for making music and I love it as much as ever. However, the reality of making money licensing music involves a lot of things that aren’t necessarily fun or particularly enjoyable. Things like doing metadata, uploading music, aggressively emailing and calling people, networking and so on, aren’t really my idea of a great time. But, they have to be done in order to achieve my desired result of successfully licensing my music.
Running my website – The idea to create an internet business around my passion for music and music licensing was born out of a desire to work for myself, and focus on a subject that I love, writing songs and licensing music. I get a lot of satisfaction out of my work and it’s definitely a better way to make money than any of my previous “day jobs” I’ve held. But, again, running my business requires doing a ton of things that aren’t particularly fun. Things like editing podcasts, writing ad copy, doing accounting and so on, aren’t my favorite things to do, but they’re part of running my business and it’s work that has to be done.
Hosting Retreats – This has been a new venture for me, and with only two under my belt this year, I don’t have a ton of experience. But, again, although the overall process of hosting a live event was extremely rewarding, there was a ton of preparation leading up to the event that was fairly stressful and not really fun, per se. Things like creating websites, running marketing campaigns and so on were all a lot of work and not that exciting. Even the event itself was somewhat stressful and a lot of hard work. In the end, it was very rewarding, but it wasn’t all fun.
I could go on and on with examples like this, but I’m sure you get the point. I don’t think there’s a profession in existence that is all fun, all the time. Most successful people have to endure a certain amount of stress and pushing through resistance in terms of doing things they don’t feel like doing to achieve their goals.
So, where does this idea of “do what you love and the money will follow” come from? Well, it’s a nice idea and like many clichés, there is an element of truth to it. I think it’s an idea that can actually push you in the right direction, it’s just that it’s overly simplistic.
Let’s face it, most people probably aren’t cut out to work themselves, which is why most people don’t work for themselves. Only about 6% of the population is self-employed. The majority of people don’t have the “kahunas” to really follow their passion and make their dreams a reality.
The majority of people work for someone else and I don’t think this number is a coincidence. Working for yourself, in any capacity, is hard. Creating a career as an independent musician is hard. Starting a business that becomes a viable, profitable business is hard. There’s a reason most people choose to just get a job working for someone else. It’s a lot easier and in many ways, less stressful. It’s probably not as rewarding, for most people, but it’s definitely easier and less stressful, which is why the majority of people go this route.
But, since it is so hard for most people to get a business or project off the ground, it can be a huge advantage if you actually enjoy and believe in what you’re trying to do. If your passion is great enough, it can help you find the strength to keep going in the beginning, when times are tough and you feel like giving up. Doing what you love and are passionate about can be a huge advantage in terms of making money, if, and this is a huge if, there’s actually demand for what you’re selling or trying to do.
If there’s zero interest or demand in your music, widget, service, or whatever it is you’re trying to sell, no amount of passion is going to allow you to become successful. If, however, there’s some interest and you have a massive amount of passion, that could lead to making something that otherwise would have failed, or been mildly successful at best, becoming massively successful. Passion and love for what you’re doing, could be the tipping point that pushes you towards success, but there has to be interest in what you’re doing to begin with.
If you have no passion or interest in whatever it is you’re trying to do to make money, chances are you’ll probably just throw in the towel when the going gets tough. But if you really believe in what you’re doing, you’ll be much more motivated to stick with it and overcome the challenges that inevitably arise.
Do what you love and the money will follow? Yes, if what you love overlaps with something there is an actual demand for and you work really, really hard, overcoming the barrage of obstacles and setbacks that are sure to come your way.
So, go ahead, follow your bliss, just don’t expect life to always be blissful.
I’ve been posting a lot of content lately strictly related to licensing, so I thought I’d take a moment to write a blog post about a slightly broader topic that’s been on my mind lately. It’s not directly related to music licensing or the music business, per se, but it’s a mindset that’s applicable to anything you do in life, including, of course, making music and pursuing a career in music, if that’s your thing.
This is a concept that author and entrepreneur Seth Godin introduced me to, and it’s the idea that in business, and life in general, we have a tendency to take things personally when things don’t go our way. If our music or business venture fails, we feel like it’s somehow a reflection of our value. If the market rejects our ideas or music, we feel like they’re rejecting us, as people. We have a tendency to take our success or failure very personally.
Godin likens the process of starting a business or launching a new venture as being a bit like playing Monopoly. Only, instead of just playing with several people, it’s a game that we’re playing with several billion people. Every move anyone makes affects everyone else’s position on the board. But, like in the game of Monopoly, if you don’t land on Park Place, or you’re not the first one to buy up all the utilities, you shouldn’t really take it personally. After all, it’s just a game.
Of course, it’s easy to look at life and business this way when you’re sitting comfortably atop your multi-million dollar empire, as someone like Godin is. But, what about when you’re starting out, or when you’re still struggling to “make it” in your chosen profession?
Like the game of Monopoly, the game of life is a game you get to keep playing. If you lose at Monopoly today, you probably aren’t going to take it personally, throw the game away and refuse to every play again. Unless you’re like 4 years old. Maybe you got a few bad rolls of the dice and perhaps you made a few strategical errors. But, you still can play the game again tomorrow and you could still win again tomorrow.
The game of life is a lot like Monopoly. Just because you didn’t make the moves you wanted to make and haven’t arrived where you hoped you’d arrive, doesn’t mean the game is over. You get to play again, every single day you’re alive. Your past doesn’t define you and you can always make different moves today.
It’s not a perfect metaphor. After all, this is real life and our success or failure has real, tangible consequences. But, in a way, it’s a pretty accurate way of looking at the situation. Just look at the winners and losers in the music industry. It’s pretty clear that those who have “made it” commercially are not somehow inherently better people than those who haven’t. They might be better players, but even that isn’t necessarily true.
I think we can all agree that the Justin Biebers and Katy Perry’s of the world are just people who happen to have the right combination of looks, talent, hard work and timing. It’s a game and they got a lucky roll of the dice. That’s it. It doesn’t mean they’re better than you, or more talented than you, or even smarter than you. They just rolled the dice and landed on Park Place before you did.
Of course, like in all games, some people are more driven to win than others. Some players practice more and study the game better than others. Some players spend more time playing and get better than their opponents. Some players come to the realization that the game isn’t even worth playing and find a new game to play.
But the most important realization, regardless of whether you win or lose, continue to play or quit playing, is that, in the end, it’s just a game.
The blog of musician and thinker of deep thoughts, Aaron Davison.