I’ve loved music for as long as I can remember. When I was a baby, my father used to sing me the songs of the Beatles. I got my first keyboard at age five and started playing alto saxophone at age 12.
In the end, listening and playing music was not enough: I wanted to become an artist and create it from scratch. Now I’m a proud non-binary artist releasing music under the name “Mayan compositions», writing orchestral scores, piano scores and electronic pop songs.
Alas, releasing music isn’t all sunshine and rainbows. My music career is practically non-existent – currently, as this article is published, I have 28 monthly listeners on Spotify, for whom I am very grateful. Shameless self-promotion has never been my wheelhouse, but I do post Instagram stories and reels to my music, hoping to encourage others to stream my songs.
I don’t produce music for money — my bank account certainly doesn’t increase because of my music career. I just want to share my art with the world and show my talents. However, to have a chance of people listening to my songs, I have to go through the same processes as artists whose music is their livelihood: marketing myself and promoting my songs on social media.
The consequence is that if people don’t listen to your music – no matter how good you promote it – you start to feel bitter. Even if, like me, you claim not to care about the number of likes and streams, it happens to you. You enter this toxic mental space where you compare yourself to fellow artists who, let’s face it, always seem to at least have achieved more success. These comparisons inevitably lead you to wonder if you really have talent. If your music has fewer streams, is it still good? Does a lack of success speak to a lack of musical skill outside of your awareness?
And down the spiral you descend, confusing talent with success – the cardinal rule of what not to do as a creative.
Being non-binary in a field that focuses on binary gender divides further complicates comparisons. Many of music’s biggest awards shows — other than the Grammys — segregate categories by gender, leaving no room for non-binary ones. Many choirs still divide parts by gender: sopranos and altos are female, and tenors and basses are male. I’m not specifically into those two arenas, but growing up in a culture that promoted those deceptively clear divisions certainly turned my head around.
Singing is especially tricky, because while I want to use music to express my identity, there’s no way it can “sound” non-binary – at least not the way I want it to. It’s relatively simple to manipulate my speaking voice to sound less feminine, but it’s much harder to do while singing, which makes it hard for me not to feel dysphoric when I hear myself singing.
You might want to ask me, “So why release music? The music left you bitter and anxious.
First of all, I appreciate the hypothetical concern for my well-being. Second, the answer comes in the form of three lessons I learned as an artist.
The first of these lessons: Knowing that your song may be on the internet forever can scare you — in a good way — and inspire you to perfect things you normally overlook. Streaming music on major streaming platforms pushed me to learn how to mix and master songs, add effects, and work with complex digital audio workstations. Even if only a few people listen to my songs, I know there are audible improvements between my first and my last song.
Second lesson: comparing levels of success is counterproductive. Success is not synonymous with talent because there is so much chance in success. One person can change your music career. A retweet or a share can start a chain reaction that draws more and more people to your content. Yes, good music contributes to success, but success also involves a bit of luck.
And while that’s fine if you don’t want to compare yourself to others at all, it helps to listen to your peers’ songs and learn new sounds and techniques. I’ve written entire songs inspired by someone else’s mood or lyrical content.
The final lesson, especially for my fellow LGBTQ+ artists: don’t let labels affect how you view yourself. We place expectations on ourselves based on our identities, perhaps more than we should. There is no need to live up to a label which, in reality, has no strict definition. There’s no one “right” way to sound — period.
If you want to express your identity through your music, there are many different avenues to do so. If my voice sounds too feminine, I can use voice effects to change its timbre by stylistic choice. Also, I can express my identity through other aspects like lyrics and album covers.
Ultimately, I continue to release music – despite the bitterness and dysphoria I sometimes feel about it – because it has brought far more positivity than insecurity to my life.
To my fellow artists juggling schoolwork, a job, and a passion for music: maybe we’ll never hit the Billboard Hot 100, but as long as we love what we do and don’t get bogged down in negative comparisons, anything is possible. If anyone with just 28 monthly Spotify listeners can be that optimistic, so can you.