Here is a bit of a dreamtime wander (there is no TL;DR for this subject matter):
It is very difficult these days to make a living from music. However it is also important to understand that it has always been difficult to make a living from music throughout the entirety of music history. Countless creators have had their work go unheard, unseen or unread, and very likely may have never been experienced by more than those closest to them. Yet… those unknown lights still chose to create those unknown delights.
Even more difficult right now is coming to the surface as a new musician/producer (as AE hinted at). There is a veritable ocean of noise and thus your signal must be strong, promising, and consistent - a good attitude is also a prime asset. But most of all, you must make music that is outside of time and unrelated to any fad. If you come up with a fad and stick with that fad, your place in music will go as fast as it arrived. If you create something that is singular - yours alone (no trifle of a task) - you stand to leave a lasting impression on at least someone, and they will return for more.
Very few creators end up being well known and receive accolades for their work - the latter is strictly a bonus and never to be expected in any form. The dynamics involved in how these creators end up being so well known is extremely intricate and there is a lot of ‘dumb luck’ and pixie dust involved. The old idiom “it’s not what you know, it’s who you know” is very true in music and indeed all of the arts. People sometimes climb over one another if they have lost sight of what is truly important in creating and sharing something with meaning - grasping for the light of a star that has already faded, only to be buried under the weight of all the others climbing for that same mirage.
So why do music in 2017, or at any time? It is a tremendous cliche (cliches are cliches for a reason!) but you must first and foremost do it because you feel it is your calling. The reality for most creators these days is that we have to have multiple sources of income. With musicians it is highly unlikely that most will end up getting to a point where they will be able to live off of it for an extended period of time (even fewer of the ‘well known’ musicians have ‘careers’ that span a full lifetime into their middle and old age).
Because of this it is important that your work come from your heart. There is no other reason more important to any form of art than that it comes from an authentic place/fire/spark/whatever-you-want-to-call-it within you. A communion with whatever force or Mind you do or do not believe in. This reason is the very fuel that allows you to get through the day when you end up having to do non-creative work that is less than satisfying or interesting to your heart and mind.
The smile that is visible in someone’s eyes who has just felt something of meaning in your work, something they hear that they now know is a part of themselves because they have felt it - the story that one person tells you of how your work took the edge off of a serious situation in their life. One tiny drop of that makes it worth it.
If you don’t love creating more than anything, but still expect something out of it and feel that you are somehow owed, it will eventually devour you from the inside out, corroding your entire life to the very seams of your existence. The creative fields are the very worst to have high expectations in, so one must never externalize or desire. Expectation is a curse of all curses. Expectation in the music ‘business’ is the eternally hollow vampire that will ceaselessly suck the marrow from your soul until nothing is left but an evaporating puddle of liquid one-was-human.
When you are creating first and foremost because you love it - adoring it beyond all else - it doesn’t matter if you become known or not - that barely crosses your mind - it is about the activity of creating, the doing, the translating of the ephemeral into something you can share with an audience (no matter the size - it might even be yourself alone sometimes - not all things are meant to be shared after all). To me it is always astonishing that we humble, tiny, things, are able to even touch, however briefly, what comes through us in our work - the thing that exists beyond us, beyond the music. It is something I never take for granted.
I’d also like to add that I concur with Entorwellian’s thoughts; there has indeed been no better time than now than to get into creating music. The means to do so have never been more accessible than they are now. There are so many options and pathways to take for very minimal expenditure.
I began creating music around 1997/1998 when I tried out a demo of ReBirth 338 1.0 that was on a disc attached to a copy of Future Music magazine. [Musically, it was godawful, but I enjoyed the rush of experimentation]. I had loved music since I was a young child in the late 80s and early 90s, but this was the first time I had really started to experiment.
Since that time I cannot describe how quickly and exponentially the possibilities have expanded both with software and hardware. One might say there are almost too many options - an enormous and rich valley of option paralysis. As far as I am concerned, the more creators this world has, the better. Not all will be good, some will be terrible, and some will be great beyond words, but at least they are all creating - no matter who may or may not experience their work. Whether it is professional or just for fun it is all worthwhile as an act of ‘doing’, as this act of doing benefits other aspects of one’s life, not just in music or art.
Entorwellian’s second point is also something I agree with wholeheartedly. Music has indeed become far too conservative - stripped of its heart. Why is this? There are a number of reasons - again the dynamics of how this came to be are intricate - but one of the key reasons is that both labels and the music press (what is left of it) are not willing to take very many risks at all. They are stuck in a feedback loop with one another that they both enable and cannot seem to let go of.
The music press these days is, sadly, a total write-off - reading announcements and reviews is a headache inducing task and seems more akin to reading tabloid fodder these days - and ‘think pieces’ are no more than shoddily written OpEds with nary a meaningful or constructive thought behind them. As an example, I am sure you have all seen vile and cynical articles of late such as FACT’s attack on what they call ‘Lo Fi House’ recently - it had the exact impact of a slowly, wheezingly, deflating, stray birthday balloon that had fallen from the sky into an empty field of weeds - longingly begging to be forgotten. They write of these utter trivialities and non-issues purely because it generates clicks and therefore ad revenue. Goodness knows what strange validation that sort of non-writing would bring to one’s ego. (However, I digress, and I should not be so venomous… alas).
As for labels, because of the risky nature of the music business these days (financially), they tend to stick to what they know has worked in the past; or what is working presently as a hype riding or hype generating fad. The only problem with this is that music doesn’t naturally want to stay in the past, it wants to progress and it wants to synthesize into new and novel forms - and fads, well, they never last more than a handful of years at most.
So because of this A&R / PR feedback loop, we end up with a whole lot of ever more watered down, meaningless, garbage that is used to generate plays and clicks rather than generating extra beats in one’s heart or hairs standing on end on ones skin. In nature, change and evolution is always occurring - it is only we humans who often seek to stay where we are and put on our shrouds of timidity to hide from what we really seek to do and know. [i do wonder though, about the lowest common denominator, and what mindset, what kind of people, allow this empty calorie music to survive].
I am, at my core, an optimist and see potential for great progress in music, however, at my core I know that one must have a certain madness and undying love for the act of creating itself that is one’s prime drive. The idea of the starving artist is certainly an ironic one, as you cannot eat the notes that float through the air as pressure waves. But on the other end of that spectrum, why eat at all if you haven’t got the drive inside to do something of meaning in this life?
There is very little that one could consider practical about creating music, or creating at all - it is messy, it often fucks you up in beautiful and terrible ways - but for all the hassle that it involves, my god is the rush of experiencing one microsecond of the act of translating true cosmic beauty worth it. In my experience, nothing else that is ‘human’ has even come close to that feeling. After so many times experiencing it, it becomes your siren, always singing for you to join it in the deep, and you simply cannot do anything but heed its call. If you know what that feels like, you know this is not hyperbole - you will do whatever it takes to bathe in that pool even for the briefest of moments.
At first, for me, it is a selfish urge, to follow my siren. Nothing else matters in those moments than taking the dive into another world. After the first act of creation is complete, and I resurface, then comes the second act and I want for others to feel their own version of that feeling when they listen - from a different perspective, but no less touching. I do my best to make sure that my translation of the ‘otherness’ is as precise and accurate as I can make it, so that it can be understood by those who seek whatever that ‘otherness’ is. I value the audience’s attention and see it as sacred - it is never to be taken for granted.
For one reason or another, those who came before you helped to give you this life you dedicate to creating - you have an invisible hand that reaches into the ‘beyonds’ of these other beings you share this planet with, and you caress them in ways that most people cannot begin to contemplate. You start to view your output as something to be responsible with - with this invisible hand you don’t want to manipulate or poison them, you want to nourish them somehow - to show someone a mirror that shows them something that has already been within them for so long, but that they may not have noticed before, what an immense honour to share that moment with another beating heart, someone you may never even meet in your entire lifetime. This is where things become ‘Pure Fucking Magic’ and it makes every bit of the struggle worth it.
How utterly dull and pallid - flaccid, waning, barren - the human world would be without music, electronic or otherwise. We would be like flies crawling up the wallpaper to the ceiling, hoping to find the sweetest of delights, but only inhaling starved air. A world without music/art would be a world of burned and faded wallflowers whose only hearts’ desire; ‘to survive’ off of an endlessly dry and cracked salt basin of ‘work’. Drudgery. Sadness. Skyless. Grey.
No thanks - I’d like to be a part of the infinite auroric meadow, the sheathes of colour, that enfold the heart of even just one person if it helps to prevent the sickening, Greying, of Earth.
*That* is why I am still making music in 2017 :)