I try not to live a life filled with regrets. It’s wasted time. The past is done and can’t be changed – it’s much better to live in the present and look to the future. However, if I do have one huge regret, it’s not seriously pursuing music when I was younger. I started playing guitar when I was 13 and due to the good old confidence and impostor syndrome issues I’ve previously written about, I largely remained a ‘bedroom player’ (i.e., I never played in public) until I was in my early-mid thirties. Looking back now, I missed out on a whole world of opportunity, and I wish I’d had the self-belief and impetus to do more back then.
So, this post is an open letter to any kids who play a music instrument. I suppose it’s an open letter to the teenage me too. If I could pass on advice to the 1987 version of me, it would be this:
- Don’t doubt yourself. Don’t let your own fears and inner-critic stop you from doing something you love – something which has the potential to change the course of your entire life.
- You don’t have to be technically brilliant to ‘make it’. The members of the Sex Pistols certainly weren’t. The members of Nirvana certainly weren’t. Noel Gallagher isn’t the fastest guitarist on the planet. It didn’t stop any of these changing the world.
- Understand what you want and pursue that. Not everyone wants to be famous and selling out stadiums. Some are happy writing their own songs and playing open-mic nights or small pub gigs. That’s perfectly fine – do whatever works best for you.
- Remember the quote of the most famous Ice Hockey player of all time (Wayne Gretzky): You miss 100% of the shots you don’t take. If you don’t get out there and play with others, you will never experience the unbridled joy of being in a band. If you are too self-critical to share your own songs, or even begin writing them in the first place, you’ll never know if they will mean something to other people. Give it a try.
- Don’t follow trends. Play and write what you’re really passionate about. Be authentic and true to yourself. Trends come and go but the style of music that lights a fire inside you will remain for a long time.
- You can do things differently if you want to. Just be content with what you’re doing. Before Ed Sheeran came along, no-one thought one guy with an acoustic guitar and a looper pedal could sell out Wembley Stadium for 5 nights. The blueprint is changing all the time – why shouldn’t you be the one to start a new movement?
- Are you concerned that your lyrics might be rubbish? Listen to what you consider to be your favourite songs. How many of them make perfect sense when you read them on a screen, without the music? I could list hundreds of songs which look like complete nonsense when you read the lyrics without the music. Just get your ideas onto a page. Then mix and match the words. Then try adding chords and melodies. Before you know it, you’ll have a song on your hands. Or, if you prefer, play around with chords and melodies first then add the words. Do whatever works best for you but please, please, please – just do it. Don’t be embarrassed by any words you write/type and don’t hold back. If you write 20 different songs and only 1 of them works, that’s perfectly fine. In fact, that’s brilliant – you’ll have a great song on your hands.
- Don’t take criticism personally. If people say anything negative about you, it’s highly likely they will be jealous of your talent, creativeness and general brilliance. As Taylor Swift says, just shake it off (and in Taylor, you have the perfect example of someone who picked up a guitar, wrote some songs and ended up becoming the biggest pop star on the planet).
- There will be people who will support you every step of the way. Find those cheerleaders and treasure them. They are important for so many reasons.
- You have nothing to lose. Go for it while you can – certainly before you get older and blame a lack of time for not progressing. Please don’t get old and regret not having tried things when you were younger.
- Trust me implicitly when I say you have talent and have something to offer. We all do. Talent is not limited to the superstars you see on the TV or social media. They all started somewhere. They all did something to set the ball rolling. Please set your ball rolling. Watch it gather momentum. Enjoy the experience. Who knows where it will lead?
I appreciate that this may be a niche post but if it lights a fire in just one person, I’ll be incredibly happy, and writing this will have been worthwhile. If you have kids of your own, or know any aspiring young musicians, please share this with them. It’s vitally important that we offer support and encouragement. We need to be their cheerleaders. Please don’t let them hit our age and be filled with regrets.
As always, thanks for reading and take care.