What Sets Brilliant Artists Apart from Those Who Fade

Brady Toops

My mom often jokes with me that I wasn’t held enough as a baby.

I was born at the same time as two of my siblings—my brother Casey and sister Mickie. Most people call this triplets. I don’t talk about it much. I actually have friends I’ve known for years who will hear me say I’m a triplet and be absolutely stunned, saying they had no idea.

But back to my mom.

What she jokes about in that little sentence, is that I wasn’t given the attention I needed when I was little, so now I’m continuing to look for it in everything I do. Don’t get me wrong. My parents are amazing and have loved and supported me so well throughout my whole life—attending practically every sporting event and concert they possible could—but hey, it’s hard to hold three babies.

Today, I still find myself plagued with this internal need to be noticed, appreciated, admired.


I look for it in conversation, playing shows, the way I dress, etc. In some ways, this has been a gift driving me to “succeed”, but in other ways its been an unhealthy need I’ve looked for others to meet. It hasn’t been until recently I’ve realized that maybe people can’t fully give to me what I’m looking for.

Maybe I need to give it to myself.

The hard part about looking to get this need met by what you do—regardless if its music, work, relationships, or some other creative endeavor—is that it can lead to forsaking your own heart.

Can you relate?

Have you ever given up what you’ve truly wanted in order to get attention, praise or some other kind of affirmation?

If you have, you know how empty and painful it can be.

I was having a conversation with my friend Thad the other day.

We’re both musicians, so we often talk about things in relation to the music we write. As we talked, he looked at me and said:

Most artists start out making music for themselves. Other artists make music for someone else. The first can often be selfish, but that latter can be presumptuous. What I want to do is to make music for ‘us’.

What a beautiful thing to say.

I think the reason it hit me so hard was that I’m currently recording an album. And I’ve been in this process of deciding which songs to include, how vulnerable to be, what sort of instrumentation to use, and just general overall vision for the record. I often feel my need for praise and affirmation flare up in the creative process.

In that moment, I felt Thad give me a compass for my new album, a north star to check in with to make sure I was headed in the right direction.

Rather than make an album for me (selfish) or make an album to get the attention of others, I could make it for us.

And I don’t think you have to be a musician to understand Thad’s advice.

I think most of us start out creating because we have to.

It’s this thing that bubbles up inside and comes out in the form of drawings, or playing dress up, or humming a tune. When both the pain and beauty of life hits our hearts, we can’t help but find a way to get it out. We all have a need to be understood, and art has a way of giving us that gift.

For most of us though, it’ll probably stop at only a few family and friends being let into the creative process. And that’s ok. But for those of us who are plagued with the need to be seen or noticed, like I sometimes am, the art can turn into a bit of a “curse”.

This is what I think Thad was saying: those who create for the sake of the connection will be the artists who last.

Brené Brown says that there is nothing as essential to happiness as human connection.

In any relationship, if we’re looking to get from someone something we haven’t first given to our self, there will always be a breakdown in that relationship. It’s when two people decide to first care for and nurture their own heart that the deepest connections can develop.

The ‘us’ is about that connection.

It’s about the conversation, the moments we get to share. That’s the true power of music, or any art for that matter. When an artist taps into and expresses the sacredness and commonality of our shared human experience, we all benefit.

After listening to a great song, we say with the artist, “Me too. I’ve felt that.”

In life, it’s impossible not to experience love and loss, to know both pain and beauty.

But the world doesn’t need more selfish art; it needs greater connection. It needs a deep joy to be experienced, a joy that can only be found in truly knowing and being known. I need this kind of joy.

So my question is this: where can you enter into the ‘us’?

You’re a gift to the world. You have something special inside of you that no one else has. You’re a part of ‘us’. In what ways can you make that kind of “music”? I’m dying to hear it. The world is longing to experience it.

Brady Toops

Brady Toops

Based out of Nashville, TN, Brady Toops is a deeply soulful singer/songwriter. In the last year, Toops has garnered national acclaim, touring the U.S. as well as overseas. You may have also seen him on Season 11 of ABC's hit reality TV show "The Bachelorette". To listen to his music, check out his new album here.

  • I love this and completely relate. As a writer, I often find myself writing for approval or affirmation. And you’re right, it can lead to forsaking what you truly want to create in order to appeal to the masses. This idea of creating art for greater connection is so inspiring and beautiful. Thanks for sharing, Brady!

  • Wow. Just wow. Absolutely spot on. Love this Brady.

  • Gerri Garrick

    I am absolutely, unequivocally, profoundly in love with this post.