Being a solo artist is challenging, and not just on a creative level – according to researchers, working as a solo artist is actually hazardous to your health. A 2013 study of almost 1,500 career musicians found that over 50 years, solo artists were twice as likely to die than artists who were members of bands! While it’s not clear exactly why solo performers have a shorter life expectancy than that of other musicians, anyone who has worked as a solo artist will tell you that they face a host of extra pressures that bands don’t have to deal with. Perhaps it’s time for solo performers to put some serious thought into preserving their mental health, and with that in mind, here are a few strategies to consider.
1. Work With Other Musicians
Many of the problems that solo artists deal with stem from one main issue: isolation. It can be so easy to get stuck in your own little bubble both creatively and emotionally when you’re a one-person act. The best way to get out of that bubble is simply to work with other musicians, even if it’s just the occasional jam. Even though technology has allowed us to create and consume music in isolation, music is fundamentally a communal phenomenon, and it’s important to keep that communal feeling alive, even if you create music on your own most of the time.
2. Practice Self Care
When a solo performer says they need time off to look after themselves, it may sound like their ego is getting out of control, but logic indicates that solo artists really do need more time for self-care. If you’re in a band and you play a bad show or release an album that flops, there’s some consolation in the fact that what you did was a group effort. But as a solo artist, the success or failure of a project reflects 100% on you, even if you had other people involved in the creation of your work. That’s why it’s important to take time off when you need to – since there’s more pressure on you, it’s natural for you to need more time to deal with that pressure.
3. Develop a Persona
Whether you perform under your own name or an alias, separating your professional life from your personal life can be a real challenge as a solo artist. When you play in a band, the band often becomes its own entity, separate from your personality and the personalities of your bandmates, but when you are the band, you and your personality become the entity. And while it can sometimes be helpful to your artistic pursuits to showcase your true personality when performing publicly, there’s also something to be said for keeping some parts of your life to yourself. That’s why many solo artists (Lady Gaga, David Bowie, Bob Dylan, Lana Del Rey, Father John Misty) inhabit a persona (or even several different personas) when they perform. A persona allows you to market yourself more clearly to your audience, and at the same time, it can be another method you use to deal with the pressure of being a solo performer.
4. Protect Your Assets
While a developing a persona can help you separate the personal from the professional in the psychological sense, it’s also important to think about separating these two elements financially. Artists are well known for funding their passion projects out of their own pockets, and when your passion project has your name attached to it, the line between your personal finances and your music career finances can become dangerously thin. That’s why it’s important for solo artists to protect their assets through smart financial management. Depending on where you are in your career, it may or may not be beneficial to form something like an LLC to manage your finances, but at the very least it’s a good idea to keep separate bank accounts for personal and business use.
5. Don’t be Afraid to Ask for Help
In today’s music business, there are plenty of ways to build a career without being signed to a record label. But just because it’s possible to do everything on your own, that doesn’t mean it’s necessarily a good idea. While bands are able to divide up tasks like booking tours, posting on social media, bookkeeping, and everything else that goes along with being an independent artist, solo performers are largely on their own in this respect. On the flip side, solo artists don’t have to split their earnings with bandmates, which leaves more money in the pot to hire people like publicists, managers, and booking agents to take some of the workload off of their shoulders.
To the average listener, there isn’t much difference between a solo artist and a band – we listen to music because we want to feel something, and it doesn’t really matter whether that feeling comes from a single person or a group of 10 people. Which is to say that, while we may not be doing it on purpose, the way we listen to music actually puts a good deal more pressure on solo acts than it does on bands. So if you’re a solo artist, take a moment to congratulate yourself on how difficult your job is. Then get back out there and make some more music – just don’t be afraid to ask for some help along the way.
Casey van Wensem is a freelance composer, musician, and writer living in Kelowna, B.C., Canada. You can hear his musical work at birdscompanionmusic.com and read his written work at caseyvanwensemwriting.com.