For all of its undeniable joys, the life of an indie musician tends to involve a fair amount of adversity. It takes time to get used to performing on stage, and a single bad show can be a major setback. You may not have the resources or support you need to devote as much time as you’d like to the craft. And in the end, you never really know if you’ll “make it,” if in fact, that’s the goal.
When you’re feeling the weight of these difficulties, it can be helpful to remember that most of the biggest stars in music were also independent artists at one point. And in fact, many of them have overcome specific struggles of their own to make it to the point they’re at today –– whether we’re talking about something fairly common (like stage fright) or something particularly traumatic (like Miley Cyrus’s bout with vocal cord surgery).
Recognizing that no one makes it without overcoming adversity can help you to deal with the challenges you face, either on a day-to-day basis or when some specific issue arises. So with that in mind let’s take a look at some instances in which star musicians have gotten past difficult circumstances.
After starting her career at age 19, English singer Adele became world-famous with the debut of her album ‘21,’ which was heavily influenced by country music she’d listened to while touring in America. When someone rockets to stardom so suddenly and convincingly, they tend to give off an air of perfection; it’s almost hard to imagine anything bothering someone like Adele. And yet, as an article at Cosmopolitan recounted in 2017, the singer nearly decided to stop touring because of stage fright. Given that this is something many indie musicians will struggle with within the early stages of a career, it’s encouraging to see how far Adele has gotten despite this issue.
In the case of pop star Nick Jonas, the adversity came in the form of Type-1 diabetes –– a potentially serious condition that causes the body to have problems regulating sugar levels. Diabetes can provoke symptoms of weight loss and increased thirst, which is exactly what happened to Jonas at age 13, according to a post on celebrities with diabetes published on SymptomFind. Since then, the famous singer has adapted to his condition by eating well, working out, and regularly checking his sugar levels (not to mention founding nonprofit promoting research on the condition). This management of the condition has enabled him to rise to the top of the music industry; it should inspire anyone dealing with a personal or health issue to recognize that it’s possible to overcome.
Growing up, Marshall Mathers, aka Eminem, was abandoned by his father and had to endure constant friction with his mother –– as well as bullying at school and around his neighborhood. Regardless, he showed an impressive talent for freestyle rap battles and ultimately made a name for himself on Detroit's rap scene. Today, as we know, he's one of the most successful and influential musicians in the genre. Eminem has made a habit of documenting fragments of his difficult upbringing in his music –– almost creating a sort of pseudo-autobiographical narrative about himself. But it’s important and inspiring to recognize that the struggles were real.
Jay Z grew up in Brooklyn, in a neighborhood known for being plagued by drug-related violence. He was involved with drugs and was even shot multiple times during this stage of his life. Later on, even after he too developed an interest in freestyling and a talent for rap, he also faced adversity in the form of rejection. Jay Z was rejected by record labels but ultimately decided to create his own –– starting him down the path toward becoming one of the wealthiest and most successful musicians in the world. Many of us can’t fathom a childhood like the one Jay Z experienced. But it’s the determination to push past rejection that serves as a valuable lesson for indie artists.
British rock band Def Leppard was at the peak of its popularity in 1984 when a car accident led to drummer Rick Allen having his left arm amputated. For most any musician, this unimaginable outcome would seem to signal the inevitable end of a career. But once past the initial shock (and a coma), Allen reacted with gratitude –– expressing in an interview at Forbes that he felt fortunate to have survived the incident at all. Allen eventually focused on developing his right-handed skill, and with the help of a custom-made drum set allowing him to do more with his feet, he was able to rejoin the band. Needless to say, it’s a remarkable tale of perseverance that should inspire anyone –– musician or otherwise.
Being a musician is not easy, and even those who find success will seldom reach the heights of the artists described above. Every now and then however it’s worth reminding yourself that we’re all human and that even these seemingly untouchable stars have had to overcome all sorts of significant challenges. It’s part of anyone’s road to success, whether you’re a pop star playing to thousands, or an indie songwriter setting up in a local bar.