You might be thinking “What does making music have to do with personal relationships?” Good question. From where I stand, music, and things like family, love, and friendship are inextricably linked. Everything from breakups to births is chronicled in music. It’s an art form we rely on to help us cope with life and understand our place in the world. But, strangely, some of us lead such unhealthy music careers that we end up damaging our relationships. It’s one of our jobs as musicians to bring people together, but our ambition and extreme approaches to how we prioritize music in our lives can end up isolating us and hurting the ones we love. If your music career is threatening your personal relationships, it’s time to take a good look at yourself.
How serious music careers strain relationships
Long nights. Weeks on end on the road. Money problems. All of these are potential relationship-killers. Most of the people in our lives want us to be happy and fulfilled in our musical pursuits. But everyone has their limit when it comes to what they’ll sacrifice to make their relationship work. To be successful in music, you have to approach it with the seriousness of a conventional job. Yet, it’s nothing like a conventional job at all. Many relationships easily withstand the stresses of someone working nine-to-five employment, but pursuing music is a radically different thing. Instead of the office, musicians spend endless late hours in clubs and in unfamiliar places on tour. Rather than the security of a consistent paycheck, bands and solo artists make new music having literally no idea how much money they’ll earn, or if they’ll earn anything at all in many cases. And while those with conventional jobs see the same people day in and day out for long periods of time, musicians constantly mingle with different groups of people. The novelty of always being around new people and in new places can be a huge benefit for some musicians, but something that isolates others. And money problems sound romantic until you’re staring down the barrel of a serious debt problem yourself as a musician.
What’s bad for our relationships is often bad for ourselves in music
Serious musicians have a challenging set of circumstances on their hands when it comes to maintaining their most important relationships. You don’t have to choose between the people you care about and your music. Although, it often feels like we do for many of us. Often, the stuff that ends up threatening our relationships are the elements in our careers that are bad for ourselves––instability, debt, spreading yourself too thin. If you can’t show up for the important people in your life, you’re probably neglecting yourself as well.
Balance makes relationships work––musical and non-musical
Building a music career that’s healthy and designed to last a long time doesn’t put distance between musicians and their loved ones. And, believe it or not, becoming an island in your music career will end up hurting the thing you think you care about most––your music. You can’t be your best, most creative, productive self in music without being happy and healthy. Having close relationships is a big part of that happiness.
Are there times when your music career will conflict with your personal life? Yes! If you’re a serious musician, this will happen for as long as you choose to make music. The trick is finding a balance, and it’s not easy. Set expectations and make sure you are clear on what people around you expect from you as well. Prepare to win some battles and lose some, and do your best to have empathy for your loved ones. If your wife, father, or friend toured constantly and spent most of their time at dingy music venues and recording studios, you’d probably get frustrated from time to time too. Maintaining your relationships isn’t easy as a musician. But neglecting them for the sake of your music won’t do you or your craft any favors. If you’re in this for the long-haul, you need to go to bat for the musical parts of your life and the non-musical ones as well.
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.