The non-musical world gets a lot of things wrong about musicians. Some think those who create and perform music are lazy. Others hold overly romanticized views of what the lives of musicians are really like. An expectation that often comes attached to musical stereotypes is that young, talented musicians won’t be able to succeed unless they sacrifice everything on behalf of their music. But, as musicians know, their lives look much different than what the world thinks they do. Some musicians manage to succeed by going all in for their music at a young age. It’s an extreme way of looking at things and has stifled the potential and ended the careers of countless others.
The world might think that your only way to make it in music is by going into debt, dropping out of school, breaking up with your partner, or living out of your car and touring for a year straight. However, that’s an unrealistically narrow way to sustain a music career that could, and often does, backfire.
Devoting too much time, energy, and money on your music could put you in serious debt
Financial debt isn’t a musical badge of honor. It’s something that weighs a musician down and limits their options down the line for things like purchasing a home and being able to invest in their music. But, worst of all, it can keep you from pursuing your music career the way you ultimately want to. For example, you might love your new songs and want to tour while financing your expenses on a credit card. Many young bands do this, and it works out for a fraction of them. But for most who try, they end up in a financial situation that becomes unsustainable. The truth is that even for musicians who find an audience for their music by touring non-stop early in their careers, debt is usually still a huge problem because it takes a great deal of traction in music to actually earn decent money.
Whether it’s touring, funding a new album with a credit card, or quitting your job to focus on writing music, devoting too much time, money, and energy to your music could put you in a situation where you soon won’t be able to focus on music at all. At some point, you’ll be forced to pay down your debt. If this happens, your only option may be to pay it off through a non-musical job.
You could get burnt out if you don’t balance your music career with other priorities in life
Money is just one priority in the life of a complex person. Things like good mental/physical health and relationships are crucial for someone’s happiness. Going all in for your music at the wrong time could lead to feeling burnt out. This usually happens when a musician’s non-musical priorities are being neglected. Many bands make a pact to give it everything they’ve got only to break up soon after. This is because an all-or-nothing attitude ends up eating away at morale and forcing musicians into vulnerable situations.
Throwing yourself too deeply into your music could take you away from life’s non-musical inspirations
You aren’t a robot that exists here on Earth exclusively to create and perform music. Oddly enough, your music will suffer if all you think and care about is music. Music’s ultimate purpose is to connect with the people who hear it, and most people aren’t musicians. In order to create work that’s compelling and human, you have to draw inspiration from places that are authentic, emotional, and non-musical. Focusing too deeply on your music career can draw you away from the things that could end up having the most impact on your creativity: relationships, travel, nature, human-centered issues, etc.
The unsexy truth is that finding a balance between your love for music and everything else in your life can help you sustain a healthy, productive career in the long-run. Learning to make music a major part of your life in a way that doesn’t damage your health, relationships, or financial standing is something we’ll all need to do if we want to create freely and sustainably.
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.