3 Signifiers Of A Healthy Music Career

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. 

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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.

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  • Abrown - June 17, 2020 reply

    Thank you…i gain alot

  • Luna Bec - June 17, 2020 reply

    Really helpful reminder in these challenging times – and inspiring since I’m right now feeling the shakiness of trying to write in a new direction. Thanks!

  • Silvana Vienne/ writing unser Kittykat, Sun Colours, Pocahontas - June 18, 2020 reply

    Yep totally true. Ive been writing creating nonstop but not really getting out there at all much to share that, except online, im a vegetarian nonsmoker and the music scene has been Run by very agressive people during my erA of life

  • Whitenacho - June 18, 2020 reply

    Remember, you’re making music over the long-term, not just today, so financial stability is something you should care about. Don’t quit your day job!

  • King Kudzu - June 19, 2020 reply

    Well said…I subscribe to the acid test imo: if you can parlay your talent into supporting you AND family..in other words, can you suppprt yourself sustainably with music-you ARE a successful musician/artist. I realize that sounds mercenary but that is my reality or opinion. Ok. That said, I want to touch People’s heart or at least give that listener something they can relate to and feel what is said has been experienced by them….all of that PLUS be something that ppl can dance to. Music is a universal language but has many unique dialogues. Be yourself and leave the pitch corrector pedal at the music store. Technology is great, but if you need black boxes to prevent scaring the horses or frightening children, please think about a career move to something more….honest. It’ll be more sustainable in the long run and preclude your having a problem when technology fails as it inevitably does. JUST my opinion. Peace and good luck with it.

    PS no offense to those who utilize technology. There’s a place for it for sure. But many of today’s “hits” are so manipulated that anyone or anything could produce one…it’s a fact. Check out todays ‘ hit parade and you will agree many should probably have looked into other work. IMO

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