Creating and sharing music might be pursuits you live for, but an unhealthy career can ruin your plans and stifle your ambitions. Building a healthy music career is something we’ll all have to work at as long as we choose to seriously pursue music. Real health and sustainability in music looks different for everyone. However, we can look to a few signifiers that can apply to all musicians. If you’re feeling creatively stuck or spread too thin when it comes to the time, money, and energy you devote towards your music, there’s a good chance your career isn’t in a good place. Healthy music careers have three of the following defining characteristics:
A strong connection between artists and their music
You already know that even though thriving music careers are built on the foundation of creating and performing music, lots of non-musical work needs to happen in order to make meaningful progress. But there are times when the crucial bonds artists form with their creative processes break down within their music careers. Then, the non-musical duties somehow become the main focus. If you’re feeling disconnected from your music, your career has probably fallen into unhealthy territory. The good news is that you can move back to a place of creative connection and fulfillment. This can be done by prioritizing exactly what fulfills you about making music.
The things you loved about creating and performing when you first started should be the same motivators you have currently. Without a strong and exciting connection with your music, your efforts will feel hollow and unrewarding. To keep the connection with your music alive, you’ll need to prioritize what you love most about creating and performing. If you’re on the road all the time and miss writing music, you’ll need to position your efforts in a way that makes time for songwriting. If you haven’t played a show in years because you’re obsessed with writing great work, you might want to consider hitting the pause button on your songwriting and play live again. This connection between an artist and their music will be different for everyone.
Financial and emotional stability
If music has driven you into debt or emotional turmoil, something needs to change fast. If you remain in financial or mental distress long enough, there’s a chance your music career won’t survive the trouble you’re in. Great music careers require sacrifice, but going too far puts you in a position where making music could become unsustainable. Healthy music careers feature the balance between what your music needs to thrive and what you need to be happy and healthy as a human being. This means that relationships and non-musical careers should come before your music from time to time. Even simply taking a week off from music can rejuvenate your creativity and put you back on the right track.
When it comes to money, it’s important that what we invest in our careers is realistic. Quitting your boring day job to record and tour full-time might sound like a dream. But will doing so put you in a bad spot? The answer is most likely yes. Remember, you’re making music over the long-term, not just today, so financial stability is something you should care about.
Feeling creatively challenged
Most of us need to feel creatively challenged in order to be fully engaged with our careers. Taking risks in songwriting, trying something new and exciting through live performances, and exploring a new musical narrative are examples of things that can creatively challenge you as a new musician. Writing the same sorts of songs repeatedly or touring with an album you wrote five years ago aren’t. It can feel uncomfortable and intimidating to willingly take on new creative challenges. But failing to do so can threaten your career through boredom and a lack of direction.
Maintaining a healthy music career takes work. Yet, if pursuing music is something you want to do for the rest of your life, it’s worth the effort. It’s a good idea to check in occasionally to see if what you’re doing in music is making you happy. Yes, music is a tough thing to pursue, but if you feel chronically unhappy or frustrated, something needs to change.
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.