For many musicians, writing songs, playing on stage, and recording albums is the most rewarding work in the world. But look around your local music scene and you’ll quickly find a disparity between ambitious young musicians and their seasoned counterparts. Younger musicians are usually the most visible and active folks working in the industry, though there are exceptions. When some musicians get older, life gets in the way of their art and they eventually stop making music. But while aging is responsible for stopping many talented musicians in their tracks, burnout is another factor not taken seriously enough. Putting real energy, love, time, and sacrifice into your work is essential for finding any significant traction for your music, but play your cards wrong and you might put yourself in an unsustainable position for making music over the long-term.
1. Getting into serious debt
Being a serious musician costs a great deal of money. Essentials like instruments, recording equipment, a space to rehearse in, and promotion campaigns typically require a massive investment. The catch-22 here is that while musicians can’t meet their full potential without forking over the money for these essentials, taking on debt can kill an otherwise promising music career. Many ambitious creatives often work under the belief that they’re just one lucky break away from a major success. This line of thinking leads musicians to do things like finance albums on high-interest credit cards or take months away from reliable sources of income to tour. But pinning all your money, hope, and energy on one project or a short period in your career often leads to a world of negative consequences, including burnout. Investing money in your music is mandatory, but in order to be sustainable, it has to be done conservatively.
2. Taking too much on
At some point in a musician’s music career, learning to say no to things becomes not just important but essential for creative survival. Committing to playing shows, collaborating with musicians or playing a song at a friend’s wedding are all things musicians are regularly asked to do, and the longer you’re active in music, the more requests you’ll get. Any opportunity to perform or share music is great for new musicians, but taking too much on as a serious musician can lead to major burnout. A good rule of thumb when asked to commit to something is to ask if your contribution is truly unique and needed. For example, there’s a world of difference between being asked to play at a good friend’s wedding from a touring band asking you to open their upcoming show.
3. Committing to projects you don’t believe in
Making music in a project you’re not excited about or staying in a band even though you’re no longer inspired can lead to creative frustration and burnout. Many of us get ourselves into these situations because we’re too nice, polite, or afraid of confrontation to change course. But the longer you devote time to an ill-fitting project, the harder it will be to break ties. And while you might think you’re doing something nice by staying around, you’re really just delaying the inevitable and diminishing your creative potency and opportunities in the process. To avoid burnout and wasting everyone’s time, fully commit to the projects you’re involved with or extricate yourself as gracefully as you can and find something you can actually get excited about.
Patrick McGuire is a writer, musician, and human man. He lives nowhere in particular, creates music under the name Straight White Teeth, and has a great affinity for dogs and putting his hands in his pockets.