Blog: In Defence of the Letdown

Luke Oram

Musicians are perennial dreamers; their post-rehearsal slumber is littered with sold-out Wembley Stadium shows, sycophantic Rolling Stone cover interviews and gold-plated Maseratis.

This is the kind of vision that makes a creative genius. Great art can’t be made in a vacuum of ambition. Artists are cultural prophets, living in the future, wrestling with the lion of ego and the persistent desire to be the best. No-one ever hankered after a #5 hit.

But there’s an offset to creative ambition. A curse in the blessing. That golden road to Oz is paved with disappointment.

And we don’t talk about it enough. So, here goes:

In a 2013 study, music service Next Big Sound estimated that around 91% of artists in the world are classified as ‘undiscovered’. Literally millions of songs on Spotify haven’t even been played once. (The guys at Forgotify are doing their bit though.)

The professional musician is considered one of the top ten in the world when it comes to depression. People working in the arts are fifth most likely to suffer from depression, with around 9% of them reporting a recent major depressive episode.

Nickelback and Creed have outsold Jimi Hendrix. Celine Dion’s ‘Falling Into You’ sold more copies than any Queen, Nirvana, or Bruce Springsteen record.

Before you relegate your keyboard rack to Trade Me, let me tell you why the letdown is the greatest thing that could ever happen to you. Why, as Henry David Thoreau said, there is “compensation in every disappointment.”

Disappointment reveals your true passion

Think about it; why are you so disappointed when it all goes wrong? Why does this setback/rejection/closed door tear you up so much? Hidden somewhere in this reaction is a very valuable indication of just how passionate you are about your art. On the other side of your disappointment is an essential truth; you have something you believe in, and you want the world to hear it.

Disappointment galvanises your priorities

Past its initial sting, disappointment has a funny way of redefining what’s important to you. What exactly does success look like to you? Are you making music for the purpose of fame? Or for the love of it? The statistics above would suggest that only one of these motivations will gain you true satisfaction.

Disappointment strengthens your resolve

Disappointment is like that time your dad sat you down and told you the way the world really worked. That one day you’d have to pay your own way, that one day he wouldn’t be there to bail you out. Disappointment is the cold, hard slap of reality. But, as the old adage goes, it’s not about how we fall; it’s about how we get up.

The world, the industry, your bandmates, your expectations will all let you down. And it’ll hurt like hell. But if you get back up, if you learn, if you resolve to see the experience as a lesson and not a sloping path to bitterness and cynicism, you’ll be stronger for it. You may not know it, but each disappointment will make the eventual reward that much sweeter.

There is no grand dream that is easily won. Disappointments will happen, like storms that batter the path of your life from a straight lane to a zig-zagged track. You don’t need to make friends with disappointment, but you can make letdowns work for you if you see them as a chance to learn, to reassess, and to strengthen your step.