10 Inspiring Quotes for Working Musicians By Working Musicians

Whether you are in it for the fun, or you’re serious about making money at what you love to do, being a successful musician is not easy. But if you follow some of the advice below from fellow working pros, you could soon see you hard work pay off.

HOZIER – Take Your Time and Focus On Yourself

“Take Me to Church” took him almost a year to write, and most of the other songs on Hozier had been brewing for a year and half before the album came out. His oldest songs, like the happily romantic “Someone New,” predate even his current repertoire. “I remember writing lyrics for ‘Take Me to Church’ for a long time before I even had a song in mind for it,” he says. “It’s not that I was trying to write that song for a year, but sometimes you just kind of collect lyrical and musical ideas and don’t actually complete the song until you feel like they work together and have a home.”

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The Grammy nominee also told aspiring musicians to spend time by themselves – if they want to make the big time. “People come and go in life, so musicians should focus their attention on bettering themselves.”

KELLEE MAIZE – Don’t Do Free Shows

“I love to perform and connect with people, I’ve probably done around 150 free shows over the years. It’s amazing practice, but once you get to a point where you feel like you have confidence in creating an engaging live show, I suggest not continuing to do it without some compensation. Unless of course it’s for a cause you care about, it can be a lot of effort and time that does not amount to very much tangible support. The sound systems at most shows asking you to perform for free could also be a poor representation of your voice and generally folks won’t know your music, so there will be little engagement. Especially if you are a rapper, your lyrics might be too hard understand. You may get a few die hard fans from a show, but that same effort you put into an online marketing campaign could yield thousands of new die hard supporters. At the same time, I don’t suggest not performing for more than a month or two, to keep you limber and in touch.”

BEN FOLDS – Don’t Wait for Your Big Break

“I realize the big question for most aspiring musical artists is how to get your break. There isn’t really a break. It’s a lot of different breaks, some good and some bad. There will be significant lucky opportunities that you may or may not recognize as such. It’s not an exact science and the landscape is constantly morphing. Advice on how to ‘make it’ is dubious business. I do believe that if you’re not ready musically, the best opportunity in the world isn’t even an opportunity.”

DEREK SIVERS – Bring Out Your Weird Side

“What’s great about the long tail is that there can be infinite niches. Be (and trumpet yourself as) the best at your tiny, sharply-defined niche. Better to be the world’s leading songwriter of songs about seaweed, than yet-another normal-but-good rock band or folksinger.”

ED SHEERAN – Push Yourself Hard

“It’s like if you want something so badly go out there and grab, just keep on doing it – because there are people out there who do want it just as much as you do and there are people out there if given the opportunity to take my place will, so it’s just as important to keep pushing yourself and working at it.”

DAVE GROHL – Play Live as Much as You Can

“Just play live. Honestly, if you’re good at what you do people will recognize that. I really believe it. I really believe that going out playing good songs live as a great live band will make you successful. I really think it will, it doesn’t matter if you’re at the shithole down the street or you’re on the side stage at Bonnaroo or you’re headlining Lollapalooza. If you’re a great band with great songs people will notice it. That’s it, that’s all it is, it’s that simple. Fuck product placement and fuckin’ labels and A&R people and all that bullshit, it doesn’t fuckin’ matter, I swear to God, it doesn’t matter…But you’ve got to be bad ass, you’ve just got to be really good. It’s the other things that make up for your musical inability.”

MOBY – Diversify

“Musicians are making money in wildly different ways than they did fifteen years ago, and it’s more important than ever that artists have a number of different music-related skills so they’ll have an easier time piecing together a good living. Here’s the reasoning: if you do something you hate and have success, you’ll still hate it; if you do something you hate and fail, all the worse; if you do something you love and fail, at least you did something you loved; if you do something you love and succeed, double win.”


“Increase your confidence in your self-worth and in your ability to contribute good things to the world.”

THELONIOUS MONK – It’s About Quality, Not Quantity

“Just because you’re not a drummer, doesn’t mean you don’t have to keep time. Pat your foot and sing the melody in your head when you play. Stop playing all those weird notes (that noodly bullshit), play the MELODY! Don’t play everything and don’t play every time. Let some things go by. Let some music just be imagined. What you don’t play can be more important than what you do play.”

VINNIE PAUL – Put Your Heart And Soul Into It

“It’s very difficult. First of all, you really have to want it. You’ve gotta be willing to sacrifice just about everything in your life. And if you really believe in it, you’ve got about a ten-percent chance of getting lucky and getting somewhere, but that ten-percent chance does exist. So put your heart and soul into it and give it everything you’ve got, and more power to you.”

LORDE  – Have Clear Goals

“If you want your music to be heard…you can just put stuff on the Internet and people can love it and that’s cool. I think the industry is much less scary than people think it is. You have to go into it with an idea of who you are and what you want to do, and you have to have an idea of the things that you won’t do, and the things that you want to aspire to. Because if you have clear goals and absolute no’s for yourself, then people can figure it out. And then you won’t be left like, ‘Oh, shit, why did I do that juice commercial?”

THOM YORKE – Do It Yourself

“Release music yourself without the help of a major record label. It is only a matter of time — months rather than years — before the music business establishment completely folds. Don’t sign a major label contract, instead venture out on your own. I guess I would say, don’t tie yourself to the sinking ship because, believe me, it’s sinking.”

KARMIN – Connect With Fans

“Work really, really hard. Be consistent. It’s also important to be connected with your fans on YouTube, Twitter and Facebook, as these are great avenues to help promote any band.”

DICK DALE – Learn How to Market Yourself

“Don’t sign with a label, don’t sign with a record company, ’cause the minute you sign your name, you’ll lose all the rights to your music and you’ll never see a dime. So what you should do is build up your following by continuously playing, save up your money, and record your own stuff and your own CDs and then learn to market yourself. Sell your own CDs right out of your vehicles, right out at your shows, like Johnny Cash sold his records right out of the trunk of his car. By doing that you’ll make all the money from the CD and make your money back ten times faster – then take that money and buy ads in magazines and learn how to market yourself.” [editor’s note – yes, we definitely agree with that last recommendation!]

photo of Lorde by Ian Doreian

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