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Musician 2.0 – Redefining Your Self-Identity

This is a rambling account of how I came to redefine what it means to me to be a musician and so become Musician 2.0. To do this I had to redefine what success means to me. I spent many years fluffing about in the “wilderness” instead of getting on with it and that’s ok, it all added plenty of character! Regardless here some suggestions for how you can avoid the same “mistakes” (if that’s what they are).

When I started out in music I had some pretty simple goals, make awesome music, get wildly popular, have a blast. That was about it and pretty soon I had accomplished this to a big enough extent that I suddenly found myself feeling empty inside and aimless. I then succumbed fast to all of the usual cliches of the young popular rock musician: drugs, booze, cheap sex.

Which was fun to an extent but was also dissatisfying.

Well fast forward 15 years and it seems I have really only now, as a musician, finally found my way out of the darkness and back into the light (to put it in a cheesy way).

I don’t mean I haven’t made any great music or enjoyed playing any great gigs, but I certainly do mean that my non-career as a musician since my early successes has been a direct result of first a misguided sense of entitlement, then a despondency that waking up to the falsehood of the former brought about.

By the time I was in my late 20s I started to believe that I was too old and had missed the boat. I felt bad inside about my self-worth and my music career chances in general.

It was a weird thing, because inside my heart I have never stopped being a musician (and have always continued to compulsively write songs and play gigs). And neither have I ever stopped (privately) nurturing the dream of becoming a professional working muso, but this dream has for years been held at bay by other factors, namely:

  • lack of focus and work ethic
  • lack of self-worth (due to a faulty self-identity model)

Lack of Focus

When I publicly started out in music, at the tender age of 18, I was very focused and there was little to distract me. I barely drank at all, I didn’t smoke weed, didn’t do harder drugs at all, and I was content with my steady girlfriend. I could also live off a very low income quite easily, due to life being cheaper then plus just being young and easy to please (i.e. wasn’t as soft as I am now, could sleep on a filthy old mattress on the floor in a damp and drafty old house and eat beans on toast and not mind a bit).

This keen focus brought me a lot of initial success but then as I said above, the lack of a deeper meaning in my life left me with an empty feeling that I tried to fill with drugs, drink and one night stands. Predictably the band and my relationship with my girlfriend fell apart and my life descended into a very feral stage. I was having lots of fun and adventure on the surface but underneath it lay a shallow sense of despondency.

Yet despite this lack of focus on the work I should have been doing, being a musician (who was focused) I still thought that my early success was all the proof I needed that all I had to do was get up on stage and sing here and there and I would eventually “be discovered” and rocket to true success and glory.

Sounds naive now … and indeed, it was.

Eventually, around the age of 27, I found a deeper meaning in my life. At this point I might have gotten things back on track, but no sooner had I pulled my head out of one pit did I promptly plunge into a different hole in the ground.

Lack of Self-Worth

I used to have a very strong sense of self-worth, but then as I pushed thirty and still hadn’t “made it” as a musician (read: Rock Star) my sense of self-worth as a musician deteriorated rapidly.

Why? Well, because my paradigm was all wrong. The model I had based my self-worth on (sad as it may sound) was the young-rock-star-in-the-making model.

I have always enjoyed the first part of the rock star (movie star, entrepreneur, etc) biography where the young star-to-be had to struggle and fight and hope and pray that one day their talent would get noticed and they would make it to Easy Street. And this is how I saw myself, as the young star in the making, who could happily look forward to hitting thirty as a well known and wealthy musician. Sounds stupid I know, but this fantasy kept me going and made me feel secure. It was in fact my whole self-identity.

So when I left my twenties behind and this fantasy hadn’t materialized (due to point above about lack of focus and work ethic, duh) I found myself at the wrong end of a defunct self-identity model and I quietly stopped telling everybody that I was destined for musical greatness. Even though a little voice inside me still claimed it was possible if I would just readjust my parameters, a louder voice inside me pointed out the fact that I had missed the rock n’ roll boat. This fearful voice said I should shut up about it and try to find other ways to make some good money.

Then five years went by very quickly. Fine years, happy years on many levels, but not on a career level.

Then one and a half years ago almost to the day, I was holding my brand new baby daughter in my arms, marveling at the miracle of Life, when a voice – a higher aspect of my own voice – spoke to me quietly (in my mind).

“What are you going to teach her? That it’s ok to just give up? Or that dreams can come true for those who persist?”

Well, I knew the answer straight away and recommitted myself to achieving success. BUT I had to go back and construct an entirely new model of success because the old one (young David Bowie style rock star) was completely out of date.

So I was thinking about this, soon after the baby holding incident, and was thinking about the age thing and suddenly, sitting in the sun one day eating my lunch, I suddenly thought “What if my goals took me another fifteen years to materialize? What if it took me another 30 years? Would this be so bad?” and the answer was “No – not as long as I enjoy the process.

And I do enjoy the process, and you are never too old to be a successful musician, and success is something that you get to define your own way anyway.

Analyze what’s going on inside your mind and see if you are holding yourself back with your own lack of focus or with limiting self beliefs.

And here I am one and half years later, well into a protracted, inspiring process that has brought me nothing but deep satisfaction. I am not the musician I once was, I am a new model, Musician 2.0!

Hope this helps somebody out there!

Cheers,

Seamus

29 Comments on Musician 2.0 – Redefining Your Self-Identity

  1. curiousjessica
    May 8, 2009 at 1:40 pm

    I love this post.
    I feel exactly the same way about being a writer. For too long I subscribed to the notion that I was that starving young writer waiting to be discovered and shoot to fame.
    It’s only recently Ive had the realisation that a) I won’t get discovered on half a novel, and b)its okay if it takes me a long time to achieve my goal of publishing a novel.

  2. Seamus
    May 8, 2009 at 4:00 pm

    Hi Jessica, thanks for your comment, the question I always like to ask aspiring writers is “do you actually enjoy the process of writing?” cos I reckon so many “writers” don’t actually enjoy the act of writing, they just like the idea of being a writer. Becoming a famous writer is not a high priority for me but I love writing so much I do it compulsively because it feels good. I dare say many of the successful writers would say the same thing.

    I have had plenty of articles published in a number of publications, online and off, and I find it very boring. I love the writing but when it’s published I get about ten seconds of “wow – cool!” when I see it print, then … nothing. That’s why I personally love music more because at gigs I get a whole evening of wow factor and a warm glow for a day or two after a really good gig. Anyway, rambling procrastinator that I am … must stop… now.

  3. Nathalie Lussier
    May 9, 2009 at 3:00 am

    I think you’re very wise Seamus. Like you said, it’s all about doing your thing now and letting it be fulfilling for you.

    Jessica, I can totally relate. I’ve been “wanting to be a writer” for a really long time. I used to write mainly to express my pain. Now I write mainly to share my message, experience, and knowledge. It’s so different and I really enjoy it more this way. I don’t really mind if I get a book deal or not, but I know it will eventually happen if that’s the best course of action for me! 🙂

  4. Mike
    May 9, 2009 at 4:05 pm

    Hey, I liked your post. I can relate to some of the things you said, though my particular situation is quite different. Though I’ve played guitar for nearly a decade, I’m just now getting serious about music (at age 27). I really love it and want it to be a major part of my life. I feel a little old to be “starting out” at 27, but there’s nothing I can do about that. And I’ve been making a lot of progress lately, so maybe I can make up for lost time 🙂

    Luckily, I’ve never had any rock star fantasies. Sure, I’d like to produce music that people appreciate, but I’m fine with occupying a niche rather than going for superstardom. The music I like to make probably won’t appeal to most people, anyway. I completely agree about getting “discovered” — why settle for a passive strategy when an active one is many times more likely to be successful?

  5. curiousjessica
    May 11, 2009 at 1:34 pm

    Hi Seamus
    I do enjoy the process of writing – its what makes me feel most alive. I often feel that its not me who is creating stories, but rather like someone is speaking through me. Does that sound weird?
    Having said that, its also incredibly easy to be distracted, especially since writing is a lone task. There are so many things that pull me away from writing – cleaning, my 9-5 job, my partner, cooking dinner, socialising… I guess its all about finding a balance. And focusing on whats really important.
    If I never “be published”, I’m ok with that. If all I do is share a couple of printed stacks of paper with my family and friends, then that’s what I’ll do. It’s more than worth it, to create something.
    Also, its fun to be the god of a universe 🙂 I can make my characters do anything!

  6. Seamus Anthony
    May 13, 2009 at 11:26 pm

    @Nathalie you flatterer you.
    @Mike Sounds to me like you’ve got your head screwed on pretty good and no 27 is not too old. I told my partner recently (who is 30) when she mumbled something about being too old, not to do what I did and spend from 29-34 thinking I was too old only to hit 34 and realise that this is bullshit.

    Wonder what stupid things I do now that I will regret when I am 40 😉 we live and learn hey?

    @Jessica sounds like writing is your thing then, no doubt. Just go for it.

  7. Ruth
    May 18, 2009 at 12:48 am

    And then you held your daughter in your arms. I so hear you on that one. This post is rich and evokes a desire to put even more focus on the dreams, realistically and persistently. As a writer who intensely loves the process of writing, I find that turning it into the product that COULD be published is my struggle (something to do with raising 3 kids and and and gets in there too!). I’ve about decided that blogging is the thing I love most but there’s a book in here and the trick is to not put my self-esteem in whether or not it’s a “success.” This post encourages…thank you.

  8. rabidtongue
    June 8, 2009 at 1:25 pm

    This is a very timely read for me. Thanks for the post. Just turned 27 and I can very much relate to Mike although I think I am taking music seriously or maybe it’s music doesn’t take me seriously heheheh…

    And i am still pushing (although i don’t want to admit it) for the rock and roll fantasy…but i guess it will be ok if i would never get to experience it…

    Cheers to you mate for having a beautiful daughter and may she inspire you to writing/composing more music! \m/

  9. kynan
    June 16, 2009 at 1:49 pm

    Hey Seamus Great blog, I couldn’t agree with you more. Its a strange thing how when you start to take music seriously that new opportunities present themselves that you previously have been oblivious to.
    Good luck with it all

    Kynan

  10. Jeremy
    July 20, 2009 at 2:10 am

    Hi there Seamus

    Brilliant post – inspirational.

    I’m the same age as you and have been held back from creativity for all the same stupid “I’m passed it” thoughts. Exactly who are those thoughts emanating from, because it sure as hell isn’t anyone else I’ve ever spoken to!

    It is all about the beauty of what you create, and age should play no part. I love the process of creating in the privacy of my own room, but there is admittedly a side to me that does it due to a search for some kind of acceptance. My aim is not stardom, but it is recognition for what I do, and finding a specific definition of what I mean by this is actually one of my goals.

    Well done for putting across your points so poetically. I too have a young child now (two in fact) and it is precisely for them that I’ve pushed myself to get out there and play again. They want their dad to be something, not nothing. It doesn’t matter if their dad is an international success story, but he does have to be a success, even if that just means believing in what he does and expressing that to others. I just want to change something in people’s heads, however fleetingly, and music is the tool with which I can do that.

    Keep going. Keep going!!

    Best wishes

    Jeremy

  11. David
    September 23, 2009 at 3:18 am

    I’m 33 (just turned) and play the same game with myself.

    Another one I do is compare my age with people who’ve achieved success and at what age they did it. For example, Hey! Ray Manzarek didn’t start playing with the Doors until he was 27 – Jerry Garcia didn’t like his bass player, so he found a 29-year old Phil Lesh to play bass! I’ll check bios of musicians who are achieving success and compare stories, backrounds, and ages.

    I should just be creating music instead, but the internal critic is a strong voice.

    Also wanted to say I really liked your post on RebelZen about burning the boats and just doing it. I currently have a day job, a secondary business, and a music habit. I’d like to ditch the day job and only have the secondary business to support myself, and I think I can do it, but the promise of steady money/benefits wields it’s sirenic voodoo over me. Plotting to break free..

  12. will
    September 29, 2009 at 7:53 am

    hey I’m facing the same issues and i was feeling very depressed to be honest after a younger friend planted a seed of doubt earlier last night with the “how do you feel about the prospect of not actually making money as a musician” i just told him I didn;t bother with that though because it was simply not useful.

    The problem is everyone has the same damn model as the one you discussed the young muso,this young musician culture not that realistic when you actually think about it in some ways you chances increase with age you have alot more to sing about thats for sure.

    People hand on their doubt and they don;t mean too they don;t realize ,self esteems a hard one for a musician and they can so easly piss you off with their arm chair opinions.

    I heard some oh so “young and popular” musicians and i’d be embarrassed to stand by their product, thats when i realised it has absolutely nothing to do with age,sure might communicate with a different group but being younger doesn’t necessarily make you sound better.Opera singers don’t really good till their at least 40 why should we be and different,as for the writers here just remember Bukowski he didn;t get recognized properly until well into his late 60s or something so you guys have plenty of time,I myself am a rocker singer/guitarist but i find myself estranged in the world as rock seems almost dead as i once new it.

    Don;t give up that’s all too easy I’ll leave you with this quote to all those in their late 20s or 30s in doubt,I turned 28 today.here’s the quote.

    I was laying in bed one night thinking, “I’ll just quit, to hell with it”. And then another voice in me said, ‘ Don’t quit. Save a tiny little ember. A spark. And never give them that spark, because as long as you have that spark, it will start the greatest fire again” – Henry Charles “Hank” Bukowski, 1976

  13. Seamus
    September 29, 2009 at 10:05 am

    Thanks for that awesome comment Will.

    Just thought I would pop in to point out that you are only 28. To me you are still a kid and you have plenty of time.

    Likewise, I am only 36 and to a 45 year old I am only a kid and still have plenty of time.

    Don’t listen to whoever that little dipshit was who planted that seed of doubt in your mind. Their mama probably still lays their underwear out on their bed every morning, you know what I mean? Seriously, apart from the odd freak “old soul”, little kids can only sing (play) for littler kids, you have the ability now after ten years of adulthood to make real meaning.

    I will cut you (and all who read this) a deal, if you don’t make the mistake I made of thinking you are past it at the age of 28 (or 22 for that matter which is what I did) then I won’t make the mistake of thinking I am past it at the age of 36.

    Success in music is getting to play the kind of music you want to play a lot, the rest is just a pile of baloney.

  14. will
    September 29, 2009 at 4:09 pm

    Thank you for your kind word Seamus you have some great insight,I might have a hunt around for more of your writing, its very good.And where can i find your music.

  15. Seamus
    September 29, 2009 at 4:20 pm

    You can find the music right here on the website (click on music in the menu) and there’s plenty of my writing on the web if you google for it or try rebelzen.com. Cheers Will!

  16. Justin
    July 21, 2010 at 2:35 am

    Hi everyone,
    I normally really don’t like blogs, but this was a wonderful post Seamus and has sparked a lot of great comments and stories.

    I think a lot of musicians and artists begin to judge themselves and define their lives by very unrealistic expectations . . . .I don’t know where these expectations come from . . .maybe a maniacal combination of images in the media and the ego?

    But I found this post helpful because another unfortunate part of feeling unworthy or feeling like it’s too late is that it becomes a cycle. For me sometimes I’ll think, “well a real/successful musician wouldn’t be having these feelings of self doubt and uncertainty. No way would Tom Waits ever feel this insecure about his music.”

    But then you realize that it’s normal to have these doubts and insecurities, and that artists on every level from small town to big stadiums do have these thoughts. And posts like this one are just reinforcing that you’re not alone if you have these thoughts, and that you should keep going!

    Thanks for the inspiration!

    Justin

  17. Seamus
    July 21, 2010 at 10:32 am

    Cheers Justin and thanks for your awesome contribution. I should probably point out that here that I am now (for better or for worse!) video blogging about this subject in-depth over at http://Seamus.TV (as well as more written stuff here), so anyone who likes the vibe if this please do subscribe to either or both, and feel free to contact me if you’d like to contribute further to the conversation.

    And yes … keep going making your music, not to do so is to deny yourself happiness.

  18. Shona
    September 30, 2010 at 9:05 pm

    I was Googling (to my shame) “27 too old to be a musician” and found this post. I’m about to turn 27 and have been working hard all my life to make it in music. I’ve achieved quite a lot but not enough to satisfy my desire to ‘make it’. I’ve had more knock-backs than I can remember and I’ve made some bad life decisions which have held me back. I wake up every morning thinking “I’ve failed… I’m too old to make it now”

    What your article reminded me of, is that in my past I have sacrificed my happiness for some vague notion of success. What is success? I know I can make a happy living from music without being famous or rich. It’s remembering this that’s the problem. I feel like I’m bombarded with images of successful people every day, and our culture is obsessed with the idea of the overnight success story and ‘natural’ talent (x-factor for example). I’d love to hear more stories about the struggles successful people went through on their way to the top.

    It’s comforting to know I’m not the only one who has felt this way…

  19. Seamus
    October 1, 2010 at 10:31 am

    I have so much more to say on these issues. I am writing a short ebook about it right now, which I will announce here and over at Seamus.TV when it’s done. It’s time for a new paradigm, to use a cliche, because I reckon that the other 99.99% of musicians deserve to enjoy being a musician too, but it requires a mental shift on our part. Thanks for the very eloquent comment Shona 🙂 and by the way 27 is SO NOT TOO OLD! Keep going – don’t stop! Otherwise, like me you’ll wake up (sooner than you think) to find you’re 37, as hungry as ever, and you’ll wonder why you didn’t just power-on for the last 10 years instead of letting a bullshit factor such as your age or your level of fame depress you and stop you from doing what you love – which is making music and getting it out there. Right?

  20. Niki
    November 19, 2010 at 3:02 am

    Hi Seamus,
    As an 29-year old just happened to find your excellent touching article here,
    I am really waiting for your ebook. trust me that I’ll even pay to be able to view it. as I really need it so much due to my low-confident afraid that I’m probably ‘too old/late’ to really play and ‘make it’ in music. While I’ve always been a very passionate musician/composer/songwriter.

    Please let me know once your ebook is ready!
    thanks!

  21. Seamus
    November 19, 2010 at 8:56 am

    Hi Niki,

    I am writing something, but it is a long term project. Meanwhile you can check out a new series of articles on the subject or related:

    http://www.genyrockstars.com/2010/11/my-music-marketing-epiphany.html

    The above link is the first with two more to come. Although ostensibly about “music marketing” they are actually about what the purpose of playing music actually is and how to get over the whole age myth and keep playing for ever. Keep in touch!

  22. Niki
    December 9, 2010 at 4:13 pm

    I have just clicked and read the Part 1 of your Music Marketing Epiphany article series,
    and I have to really honestly said that, your writing is just so resonating and meaningful that I almost couldn’t/never found this kind of article about musician ANYWHERE else. And I swear on this: please, you need to continue to write the rest of the articles, and share it, as I’m sure it won’t be just me who is deeply moved and connected woth your excellent writing!

    I am looking so much forward for the Part 2 and the rest of the article series.
    You have just givin’ me the most essential spark of inspiration I’ve been needing, as a musician/songwriter myself, and a currently depressed one, hopefully will no longer anymore soon after reading your writings!

    Much thanks, from Indonesia.

  23. Bo
    August 18, 2015 at 11:44 am

    This article is great. Thank you for sharing

5Pingbacks & Trackbacks on Musician 2.0 – Redefining Your Self-Identity

  1. […] wrote a post focusing on musicians and the issues I have faced on my journey as a […]

  2. […] I refer to the period from when I was about 22 years to about 27 years old as the “Hangover Years”. Not just because I woke up every day with one, but because from high school to 22 years old, life had been one fantastic trip, a joyous, invincible journey of discovery and fun. I was in a band that was hugely popular in my hometown and was fairly convinced that I was some kind of new God sent to bless the Earth with my presence and talent. I was basically living out a wonderful, ego-movie in which I was the headlining star. […]

  3. […] thanks all for the comments on this post. I am glad that post has ’struck a chord’ (arf arf) with musos and writers alike. Since […]

  4. […] But not that bullshit zen attitude that I superimposed on my musicianship back in my late twenties. Back then I was flopping around, slacking off saying “hey man, every thing is nothing, I got no agenda” but really I was burning up because even though I was gigging all the time, I wasn’t living up to the defunct musician model in my brain. […]

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