How to Avoid Burnout as a Musician

By Angela Mastrogiacomo

This article originally appeared on the ReverbNation blog

As I write this, I’m currently facing my own version of burnout. It’s Friday afternoon, and it’s been an especially long week of fielding emails, putting out fires, managing mini-crises, and trying to find time to actually build my business and look to the future. Did I mention also working in three miles of walking my dog each day, yoga, trying to eat right, and really, really, wanting to catch up on Bates Motel if I could just find the time to sit down, relax, and get my mind to stop racing?

We live in a society that is all about the now, while working in an industry that romanticizes long hours, sleepless nights, and a work schedule that never quits. We are constantly told that we need to be on call 24/7, and that there is always someone else ready to take our spot, so we’d better answer that email, take that gig, make that call, and play that show — and we’d better do it all right now. Because if we dare hesitate, there is someone right around the corner who will gladly snatch the opportunity from us.

Burnout comes from the fear that if we don’t act now, we miss out.

I’m here to burst the bubble of the music industry and tell you that this is a deeply unhealthy way for any industry — and certainly any person — to exist. We are not machines; we are human beings, and we have needs that don’t include sitting at a computer 14 hours a day, seven days a week, or answering the phone at 3 a.m. when you were fast asleep.

This may seem okay or even fun at first (it’s great to feel needed and in demand!), but believe me when I say it’s not sustainable. Sooner or later, you will burn out, and you will burn out hard.

There is a difference, of course, between the kind of nonstop work that you enjoy, and the kind that makes you want to pull your hair out. Loving what you do and wanting to devote a ton of your time to it is one thing, but when you start getting pulled into other people’s messes and your time becomes less about what you want and instead about what everyone else around you wants, that’s a problem.

It is not your responsibility to put out the fires of everyone else around you, while continuing to neglect your own wants and needs. Repeat this with me: “Your poor planning is not my emergency.” It is not your problem to jump when a client submits something a week late, and it is not your obligation to keep a band member on when they’ve missed countless rehearsals and shows just because you’re afraid no one else will want to play with you. There are a million potential clients and musicians who will be the fit you desire and respect your time, so don’t waste your energy on people who don’t.

We have to start treating ourselves with a little more dignity and respect and demanding it from the industry, or we’re apt to continue in this never-ending circle of burnout. And let me tell you, there is no one in this world who is benefiting from your burnout — least of all (and most importantly) you.

So, how can we prevent and overcome burnout?

The first step is to recognize it. About a year ago, I suffered my first real case of burnout after two years of working tirelessly to build my company. At the time, I didn’t even know what burnout was, much less that I was suffering from it. I thought I had simply hit my limit and didn’t have the grit to stay in the business.

The truth was that I had hit a wall, but it wasn’t because I didn’t have the skill set to be in this business, or that I wasn’t hard-working — it was because I was working too hard on the wrong things.

You know what I’m talking about. It’s spending nine hours a day doing those nitty-gritty “necessary” things that you think you have to do just to keep up, promising yourself that once all of that’s finished (and is it ever?), you’ll do the thing that makes you happy, that helps you grow your career and move forward. But we all know what happens. By the end of the day, you’re so tired and exhausted that it’s all you can do to keep your eyes open.

So what takes the hit? The piece that lights you up, the things you were looking forward to, the puzzle pieces that need to be put in place for you to grow and not be stuck in this cycle forever. That’s what gets tossed aside. Isn’t that insane?!

So the next day comes, and you look at your to-do list and the feeling of overwhelm hits you again. “I have so much to do!” And you dive in, only to continue the same cycle over and over.

When you’re spending almost 100 percent of your time focusing on tasks that you don’t enjoy or that suck up all your energy, and never leaving time for the things that you do enjoy and that can actually propel your career forward, is it any wonder that you’re going to get completely burned out?

So, the second step is to make time for yourself for growth. It seems simple enough, right? The truth is, it is. The difficult part is allowing yourself the permission to take that time, and trusting that all that other stuff will still be there when you get back. (Trust me, it will be).

Running a creative enterprise means actually taking time to focus on creativity.

If you’re a songwriter who doesn’t make time to write songs and practice your instrument, how are you going to play that huge festival you’re dreaming of? If you’re a budding manager, publicist, or label owner who only ever answers client emails and updates social media, how are you going to make the connections to land those big clients?

You have to think about what makes you happy and set aside time for it every single day. For myself, this means taking one to two hours every morning before I even open my inbox to do anything that requires my full energy and attention, such as any creative work or future planning.

I also no longer work evenings and weekends, because I didn’t start a business to be glued to my phone and my email 24/7 and miss out on the parts of life that really matter. I became a business owner so I could have the freedom to make my own schedule and enjoy my life, and you became an artist because you love creating and playing music, so don’t forget to nurture that.

If minimizing burnout means hiring someone to take on the pieces you hate doing, then find the money, find a friend to help, or get crafty. Because the truth is you can’t afford to operate like this forever. You can’t afford to have all the fun and joy sucked out of something you once loved so much. The music industry needs you in it, but you’re no good to anyone when you’re working on frustration and no sleep.

We need to embrace the idea that work has a cut-off point (and that’s okay!), and encourage others to take a break, to know that everything will be okay if those emails don’t get answered for a day or two. That their mental health is the most important thing, and that nothing is worth giving that up for.

If we can embrace this and encourage each other, rather than wearing lack of sleep and 24/7 work schedules as a badge of honor, I truly believe we can create a healthier, more thriving, sustainable industry — and, in turn, create careers that feed our souls instead of crush them.

Take the next steps in advancing your music career with Soundfly’s curated Hustle series of articles and popular online course offerings on topics like how to book a tour on a shoestring, how to get all the royalties you never knew existed, and how to let your fans fund your next music project!

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Angela Mastrogiacomo is a pop-punk enthusiast and the founder and CEO of Muddy Paw PR and Infectious Magazine. You can find hanging out with her dog, eating sweets, and curled up with a good book. 

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