Why The Music Industry Favors Night Owls

It isn’t fair for everyone, but most of the world is designed for people who wake up early. Music, however, is a completely different story. Music is rare in the fact that the industry surrounding it is mostly suited for people who stay up late. Besides the service industry, most every other occupation requires its employees to show up at or before 9AM. This means that music can be both a bastion for night owls and a significant challenge for musicians accustomed to sleep schedules that align with more conventional industries.

Why the music industry works late

In the same way that a 3:30 PM time for a meeting is normal for a conventional office job, being asked to take the stage at 12:30 AM is completely typical in music. The music industry has a long history of working late because of its close ties with alcohol and the establishments that serve it. Yes, for most musicians music is a serious artform used sometimes to convey a variety of serious feelings and emotions, but music––especially live music––is mostly marketed as a tool to help entertain people.

The music industry works late because it caters to people looking to kick back and relax after working at their conventional 9-5 jobs. Live music can’t be a dayjob for musicians because aside from weekend and summer festivals, daytime demand for live music just doesn’t exist. And live performances aren’t the only way music favors night owls. With most bands practicing, writing, and recording after work and in their spare time, the culture surrounding music is largely a nighttime affair.

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Challenges for early birds and night owls alike

The music industry’s preference for working late poses challenges for musicians on any sleep schedule. For early risers, a month-long tour consisting of playing multiple times a week and getting to bed every night at 2-3 AM is an obvious challenge. Research shows that a few things can be done to help a person shift their natural sleep schedule, but the unpredictable nature of touring makes this difficult or even downright impossible for some musicians.

A major hurdle for night owls in the music industry is maintaining solid relationships with people outside of music. You might be accustomed to a sleep schedule that has you falling asleep at 4 AM every night, but if your boyfriend has to get up at six, that’s not going to be sustainable over the long-term. And if you’ve got a job outside of music like the vast majority of musicians out there, a late night sleep schedule might negatively impact that source of income. Balancing a life in music with outside needs and obligations isn’t easy.

There’s no easy solution here for musicians working in a field as dynamic as music. But as a general rule, musicians who fail to take care of themselves don’t make it very long. Learning to be realistic about your physical needs will help you to sustain a career in music over the long-term no matter what your sleep schedule is.

Patrick McGuire is a musician, writer, and educator currently residing in the great city of Philadelphia. He creates music under the name Straight White Teeth, and has a great affinity for dogs and putting his hands in his pockets.

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Join the conversation
  • Nova Kane - April 6, 2018 reply

    I’m a early bird I love to write music in the morning it wakes my soul up inside!

  • Chris Dunnett - April 12, 2018 reply

    I’ve been a night-owl ever since I was a little kid so Music seems like the natural line of work for me lol…as I type this at 3:07 am CST 🙂

  • J. Mark Barch - April 12, 2018 reply

    You correctly tie the music life to alcohol-related establishments and late night venues, but there are other options. There are a lot of early evening events like weddings, private parties, corporate events, etc. Also, you completely neglected the Christian music industry which certainly isn’t tied to drinking establishments or late night venues. However, it is very hard to “make it” in Christian music because there are limited venues to perform so you really have to have some really good recorded music that plays on the Christian radio stations to get your name out there and then the venues will usually come to you. It’s almost kind of like it was for secular music in the past (up until about the 1990’s) where you recorded an album, it got airplay on the radio and venues came looking for you to perform there. But, if Christian music isn’t your thing yeah, you’re going to have to get used to playing late. Even if you get a gig that lasts from 8pm-10pm, you still have to tear down after the gig and load up, then haul your equipment back to the practice facility and unload it so, depending on the distance, you may not even finish up until 3 am. But hey, that’s rock-n-roll!

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