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How to Be a Parent While Also Being a Musician

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I had been working on my new album for about a year and I was trying to finish the mixes. They were nearly done; I was getting so close. But then I heard a little voice from behind me, “Daddy?”

It was my two-year-old. As he reached for one my guitars, he had this big smile on his face that said: let’s make some music! In that moment, I had two options: 1) shoo him out of my home studio, shut the door, and keep mixing (while he cried in the other room), or 2) involve him in the music making.

I chose the latter option.

So I picked him up, sat him on my lap, and we mixed those songs together. I wasn’t able to work as quickly, and maybe I wasn’t 100% focused on my work in that moment, but we were both happy.

If you’re a parent and a music maker, I’m sure some part of this story resonates with you. It can be really, really, hard to pursue your passion for music the way you want to while also being the best parent you can be. It feels like a tug-of-war at times. So how can you do the whole parent-and-musician thing better? As a parent of two littles, I’ve got some thoughts on the topic.

Time Is Gold

Nowadays, my music-making time is at night after my kids go to bed. So from about 8pm to whenever-I-get-tired o’clock, I make music in my walk-in closet recording studio. This is the life of a parenting musician (especially a part-timer like me).

Time is gold — when you get your hands on some, you don’t want to let it go. You handle it with white gloves and put it in a safe with a 23-digit security code. It’s yours, even when it’s low karat. This is the reality of many musicians who are parents. It’s about time we accept that fact.

And that brings us to the next point.

Work Quickly and Productively

I have two or three hours max to do music-related things each day, so I have to use my time wisely. When I’m recording, I record every idea I have instead of wasting time being indecisive, because I can choose and edit later. When I’m songwriting, I have to be okay finishing a song in small chunks. If I’m prepping for a show, I can’t also be in the midst of recording a new album.

Constraints, like time, can be good.

Writer and artist Austin Kleon has a poem about this. Ernest Hemingway wrote a six-word story as a bet. The guitarist Nick Drake recorded his classic album Pink Moon in just two overnight sessions.

Only have two hours to make music? That’s probably better for your music and for your family. If your kids never see you because you’re always in your studio, that’s not really parenting. Part of why you need to work quickly is to have time to actually be with the humans you’re responsible for raising, and who love you.

Don’t Try to Do It All

Two or three hours of music time is not a lot, which is why you can’t try to do it all. You may have a lot of things you want to accomplish as a musician, but you need to ask yourself, “Am I doing too much?”

I’ve learned that saying “no” can sometimes be freeing.

Right now, I’m focusing on songwriting here and there, recording, and slowly getting into sync licensing. And that’s about my limit these days. I’m not touring; I’m not even playing local shows.

Sure, I could neglect my family and go full-throttle toward my goals. But maybe it’s better to go the speed limit instead, and enjoy the scenery and the little humans in the back seat. Isn’t that a better life?

Listen to Your Little Teachers

Confession: I’ve stolen song lyrics from my kids.

Well, sort of. They don’t know they’re song lyrics, they’re just jibber-jabbering while trying to figure out this muddled English language we have. I basically take what they say and turn it into song lyrics. My point is, little kids can teach you things if you listen.

It’s not just song lyrics either. Children can drive you to an existential crisis if they just ask you “why” enough times. They really make you think about things, which can benefit both your everyday life and your songwriting.

Bob Dylan once said, “Poets do a lot of listening.” And I think I should listen more to the little poets in my life.

Remember What’s Most Important

When your kids are young, like before school age, that’s a special time. In between one and three years old, they’re like really short drunk people. They can’t walk straight, they mumble like a Minion, and they have short fuses and erratic behaviors. But it’s such a fun time; and one that doesn’t last very long.

When they start going to school, hanging out with friends, and doing extracurricular activities, they won’t be around as much. They won’t be taking up as much of your time. You’ll of course love this, but you’ll also miss the way it used to be. There won’t be a little voice saying: “Daddy, Mommy, can I make some music with you?”

So I’m saying this to myself too: Remember what’s most important. Instead of being a musician who’s also a parent, I’d like to think of myself as a parent who finds time to make music.

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Caleb J. Murphy
Caleb J. Murphy

Caleb J. Murphy is a songwriter and producer based in Austin, TX., and the founder of Musician With A Day Job, a blog that helps part-time musicians succeed. He's been self-releasing music since 2009 in various bedrooms, basements, garages, and closets.