There’s this musician. He has a world-class reputation and has contributed staggeringly influential works of art to the world.
But you know what? There were many, many, many times he suffered from bouts of poverty, poor health, self-doubt, and more.
He fought with publishers to get paid. His compositions alone didn’t produce enough revenue to sustain himself. So he sought other opportunities to make money from his musical skills. He wrote on-demand for people who needed specific kinds of music. He gave lessons throughout his life, even as, from the outside, he seemed wildly successful. He still needed the money. So he kept working hard. Really hard.
He dedicated his music to people who supported him. He wrote letters to fans, supporters, detractors, publishers, benefactors, promoters, venue owners. He got in fights with people who he thought had slighted his creative work. And he wrote lots of apology letters in the aftermath.
He gave opportunities to younger musicians, lionized his elders, and could give praise where praise was due. He was also often defensive, prickly, demanding, and disrespectful. He was complicated. But in the end, he knew his livelihood depended on people loving his work, and subsidizing his efforts. So though he never compromised his art for commercial reasons, he engaged with people, and he worked hard. Really hard.
He begrudgingly made peace with what he wasn’t good at. There were certain kinds of music he just didn’t seem to have a knack for. That was hard for him to accept. There were other areas where he realized other artists had pretty much already cornered the creative market, and he just wouldn’t be able to compete. So he really focused on the kinds of works where he thought he had a chance to stand out and carve a niche for himself. It was hard. Really hard. But he kept working, hustling, struggling, and—inch by inch, row by row—gained some traction.
You know what he didn’t do? He didn’t sit around and blame everyone else for his problems. He didn’t act like the world owed him something just because he created something. Sure, he was furious when his works didn’t receive the uniform praise and rewards he thought they deserved, but you know what he did? He channeled that fury right back into his work, and he created even greater music. In between having to write publishers, give lessons, attend social events, and “network” with “influencers.”
I put the words “network” and “influencers” in quotes because I’m pretty sure they weren’t in use during his time. But the idea is the same. You had to play a bit of ball with the powers-that-be if you wanted to get a professional leg up. So he played ball. He didn’t like it, and he actually wasn’t very good at it. It was tough. There were far too many times he had to come face-to-face with the reality that he was, in the end, a working man, a commoner, a service provider, at the mercy of the wealthy. That was brutal. But he sucked it up, and he played, and he worked, and he performed, and he wrote, and he worked. He worked hard. Really hard.
Throughout it all, he had to contend with an increasingly debilitating disability. He didn’t have health care. He had to work, to pay to take care of himself. That was hard. Really hard.
Today, his music ranks as some of the most excellent music ever created.
Do you know who I’m talking about?
And I’m pretty sure he didn’t’ sit around all day bitching about Spotify and Facebook.