As a musician, it’s easy to fall into the trap of thinking you’re only being productive when you’re writing, recording, or performing. But the truth is that your life in music will end up being far more fruitful and rewarding if you punctuate your hard work with breaks. Taking breaks is essential not only for preserving creativity and energy but also for sustaining your personal life. If any of the following four scenarios describe your current mindset, it’s probably time to take a break from music:
You dread performing, writing, and practicing
Every serious musician knows that pursuing music isn’t fun and exciting 100% of the time. But if the thought of showing up to band practice, playing on stage, or making music fills you with dread, you have a problem on your hands that needs to be addressed. It’s possible you just need a short break from music, or at least some sort of hiatus that gives you time to figure out exactly what you’re feeling and why. Powering through is not a good idea because it can leave you more exhausted and downtrodden than you already are. Give it a rest, see how you feel, and try coming back to it later.
You can’t come up with ideas no matter how hard you try
It’s inevitable that songwriters sometimes run into brick walls when they try to write. But if you’ve been at it for weeks, months, or years and have nothing to show for it, it’s time to hit the pause button and reassess. Something you’re doing isn’t working, and you need time to understand why. As much as we’d like to, we can’t force good ideas and musical creativity. All we can do is create the space and time for it to happen and show up. However, if you are showing up and the ideas just don’t come, a break will help restore your energy as well as give you clarity moving forward.
Making and sharing music has become unsustainable for you
Getting into serious debt funding a record or missing enough work to put your non-musical job at risk are examples of when pursuing music becomes unsustainable for a musician. Music might be the most important thing in your life, but that doesn’t mean you can––or should––sacrifice everything on behalf of your passion. It’s not sexy advice, but taking breaks and creating within your means will help set up a strong foundation that will allow you to make music for the rest of your life. Yes, create passionately over the short-term, but in ways that support you as a person. This means taking breaks to focus on your personal life: your relationships, your physical and mental health, your non-musical interests, the ways you financially support yourself and your family that might have nothing to do with music. An all-or-nothing, work-all-the-time approach might pay off temporarily, but it doesn’t work over the long term. We forget that the best songs aren’t about music. They’re about the richness and complexity of life. Spending every waking moment in your studio or touring will deprive you of living a deep life eventually. If you know the way you’re pursuing music isn’t sustainable, stepping away for a while could be the very decision that allows you to keep creating and performing in the long run.
You don’t have defined goals or a clear path forward
If you have no idea what you want to accomplish through music or how to move forward, a break can help clear things up. It’s not always easy or natural for us to know what we really want to get out of our work as musicians, and stepping away gives us a new perspective and renewed sense of purpose in music. Making music is endlessly complex and challenging, and it’s easy to forget this when you’re constantly writing and performing. Sometimes distance is the only thing that can bring us back to a place of passion and purpose in music.
A break could be a couple of weeks or a couple of years; it changes from musician to musician. Don’t be afraid to take breaks as a musician because refusing to could be damaging for you and your creativity. Time away from music will give you the energy and perspective you need to create and perform at your best.
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.