What Keeps Struggling Musicians Going?

The phrase “I think I want to be a musician” is one that terrifies the ears of every parent. Of course most of us appreciate musicians and their beautiful craft, but it is no secret that the road to become a musician is incredibly difficult and stressful. Even the most successful musicians have to go through serious financial hardships to pursue their dream of success.

Ed Sheeran famously made himself essentially homeless to pursue his career in music, sleeping on couches of friends or people he met at gigs. Kurt Cobain slept in his car the night he recorded Smells Like Teen Spirit and Irish singer Imelda May used to have to clean toilets in between her sets in pubs when she was starting off. There are many other stories of hardship like these for other artists which raises the question; how do they stick with it? Well according to a research paper in the journal of Development and Society titled What Makes Them Dream on? it is two things; social capital and dream capital.

Social capital is essentially the quality of an individual’s social network with other individuals. If someone has a large network and a number of good relationships with other individuals we would consider them to have a high level of social capital. Within a professional context there would be an emphasis placed on these relationships being mutually beneficial in terms of career progression. Dream capital is an individuals psychological ability to construct their own future.

It seems that the two most important factors are a musician’s access to a network of professional peers and autonomy over their own career path. What is interesting about the results is that they “suggest that economic factors including immediate earnings do not determine musicians’ desire to continue their professional career in music”. I feel this is something which is all too often not acknowledged by policy makers concerned with increasing cultural creativity.

Simply throwing money at people and telling them to be musicians is not a sufficient policy measure to increase the number of musicians in an area. What is of importance is creating a context which is conducive towards musicians networking. Making it easy for musicians to get work and network with each other within areas. This will bring about collaboration and knowledge transfers increasing creative output. If you are interested in keeping up with more analysis of the Irish music industry, please give Music Economics a like on Facebook.

By Daragh O’Leary

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