Now Or Never·PERSONAL ESSAY

'It feels like it was all for nothing': Why this country artist is giving up on a music career

Alberta singer-songwriter Tanya Ryan is hanging up her guitar after 12 years of trying to make it in the music industry.

Alberta singer-songwriter Tanya Ryan is hanging up her guitar after 12 years in the industry

Tanya Ryan performing in 2019, before she made the decision to stop pursuing a music career. (Tanya Ryan/Instagram)

Contributed by Tanya Ryan

Pursuing your passion is weird. 

It's wonderful because you get to spend a lot of time invested in something you love. It's simultaneously challenging because you are so invested that when things go wrong, or don't go anywhere, it can be debilitating.

I have tried to quit music more times than I can count. ​​​​​

At times I have been so fed up and overwhelmed, filled with incredible cynicism and jadedness that I'm just done — over it.

The music industry should be formally categorized into phases. There's the marketable people-pleasing phase, the making zero — or losing — money phase, the getting fed up with that and making a little money phase, the making authentic music that honours one's creativity and artistry phase (the best phase), the corporate gig phase, and finally, the festival gig phase.

The order of these phases is in no particular order and may bounce around repeatedly.

It's usually transitioning between each phase that I get fed up and want to quit. And every time I try to, I have some variation of this conversation in my head:

Me: I quit! I'm done! I'm not doing this anymore! It's time to move on. I can't do this. I'm selling all my equipment. I'm over it. 

My mindOK, that's fair. You sound exhausted. Quitting is a good idea. 

MeThank you! OK, what should I do? Should we get the classifieds? I don't know what kind of job I should get… 

My mind: Yeah, that's a good idea. Maybe the classifieds will give us some inspo.

Me: *Starts rummaging for the paper and pulls up a job site*

My mind: Hey, we can still, like, jam, right? Just go to some open mic nights? Have some fun? Like, we're not quitting music full out?

MeYeah, of course. We can still do jam nights and open mics. That stuff is fun.

My mindCool, cool, cool. And I mean, there's that one gig – we've done it every year for the last six years. The pay is good, and they always treat us really well. We could still do that one, right? 

Me: *Opening the paper, half paying attention* Yeah, yeah. Of course. 

My mindOh, awesome. And I mean, when the Calgary Stampede comes around, there's all those calls, probably don't want to turn those down. 

MeHm? Oh, yeah. Sure. No, that's fine. 

My mindOh! We should call [insert venue/booking agent]! We haven't talked to them in ages! They always help us out.

MeHey, yeah, that's a good idea! 

My mindOH MY GOD. I just got the BEST idea for a new song. Get a pen. You'll like this! 

MeOK! 

So I go get the pen and my brain has successfully tricked me into not quitting music. 

This has happened more times than I can count. 

I try to quit and then my mind redirects itself, and I continue forward again with a spring in my step and reorganized expectations. 

Except for now.

Quitting — once and for all? 

I haven't been singing unless I have to. I had a few gigs that I had been committed to for quite some time, and it's important to me to honour my commitments. Looking at my guitar either makes my stomach upset, or I'll just outright cry. My singing voice doesn't sound right to me. It's lacking conviction, strength, and power.

Ryan strikes a pose on the main stage at the 2019 Big Valley Jamboree. (Tanya Ryan/Instagram)
 

And so I approach a very familiar inner conversation and tell my mind I'm quitting. I don't want to play music anymore. It's breaking my heart. And I wait. I wait for that inevitable conversation where my mind holds space for my heartache, and then redirects my focus so that I can keep moving forward with my music. 

But it's not there. 

For the first time ever, when I told myself I was quitting music, I didn't get any rebuttal from my inner voice. No song ideas, no performances to get excited about, no homesickness for the stage, no ideas for someone to call for a pick-me-up industry pep talk. Just done — empty. 

It makes me wonder if it's really over this time. 

My volatile relationship with music is finally finished — for real.

Here I am, nowhere near where I wanted to be when I embarked on this journey.​- Tanya Ryan

The idea of that is daunting. Not only because music is pretty much the only thing I've done for the past decade, but also because it means that I'm actually having to stare my failure in the face. 

The road's run out, it's actually over – and here I am, nowhere near where I wanted to be when I embarked on this journey.

I'm sad. And feeling really lost. 

I am thankful that I have a myriad of interests and skills. (If you're up-to-date on the latest, I'm currently working on my homemade candle empire right now. Oh my God, who am I?)

I am not hopeless for my future and the potential of my achievements. But I am very much at a loss for the hope of my music. 

It feels like it was all for nothing. 

All that energy, time, love, passion, drive, ambition, dedication — all that faith and perseverance — what was it all for?

'My volatile relationship with music is finally finished... for real.' (Tanya Ryan/Natalie Pinchak Photography)

The remains of a career

I have a box full of albums in my garage that I will have to take to the dump at some point. That day's going to be a real downer. Maybe I'll burn them, or do some sort of Viking burial ceremony, just to feel like my art and career gets a proper farewell.

All that energy, time, love, passion, drive, ambition, dedication, faith, perseverance… what was it all for?- Tanya Ryan

I'm sure at some point I'll look back at all my blogs and be super stoked to have shared my full-fledged breakdown over the internet. You know, because the internet is such a safe, non-judgmental space.

Please don't pity me. I'm just really confused right now. And I don't know what else to say except for exactly what I'm going through. I still have the capacity to write this with humour, which means I'll be OK.

now