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.
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.