Successful music careers are often associated with musicians who give everything up for the sake of their music and end up getting rewarded for their sacrifice with money, fame, and critical accolades. However, the captivating rags to riches stories we read about profiling successful musicians don’t always tell the real story of what it takes for someone to find their footing early in their career. “Take care of yourself” might sound like bizarre advice for someone trying to defy the odds and find success making music, but taking your needs seriously could be the thing that keeps you creative, healthy, sane, and out of debt in your career for decades to come.
Your dreams, your music, and you
It can be easy for ambitious musicians to view music as something worthy of sacrificing everything they have for––money, relationships, time, non-musical career prospects. Many of us are so devoted to music that it can feel like a living part of ourselves. But the truth is that what you create isn’t you; not in a physical sense, anyway. The songs you write don’t need to pay rent, feel loved and understood, or eat three square meals a day. You can choose to give literally everything you’ve got to your music career without finding any real success or material payoff, and your music won’t be any better for it.
The thought of prioritizing your needs over the demands of your musical dreams and career goals might seem like a selfish compromise, but it’s a crucial part of taking care of yourself and getting set up for future success. Think about what it takes to make music seriously. Instruments, music lessons, recording gear, hiring outside help––all these things cost lots and lots of money. And then there’s your time to consider. Writing, recording, touring, and promoting are things that eat up a massive amount of time. It’s all worth it, of course, if you love making music and want to do it for the rest of your life.
Focus on your needs
But what we often forget when it comes to serious music-making is the “us” part of the equation. Your music can’t be made without you, and your immediate and long-term needs are crucial. Forgetting your needs and always focusing on the ones associated with your music is a recipe for frustration, debt, and an inability or unwillingness to make music in the future. If you love creating music and want it to be a stable part of your life, then you’ve got to put your needs first. This might mean disappointing your band mates by skipping a tour or resisting the urge to fund your next record with a credit card. It doesn’t, however, mean quitting music and killing your passion.
Finding a balance between what you want to do with music and what you can realistically give without neglecting your needs is a crucial skill you’ll rely on for the rest of your career. Burning bright and giving everything over to your music in the short term might seem like a grandiose, romantic gesture, but keeping your needs in mind and acting accordingly will keep your career in music going for as long as you want it to.
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.