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When Music Is Your Side Gig: How to Stay Motivated, Efficient, and Sane

By Caleb J. Murphy

This article originally appeared on the Bandzoogle blog

This post is part of Flypaper’s Home Recording Week, where we’re sharing tips and insights from our community on home recording and production workflow. Read our featured articles here, or sign up for our weekly newsletter to make sure you never miss a beat!

If you’re a part-time musician, you know the struggle. You want to make music, but you run out of time in a day. Or you lose heart. Or your music time is not as efficient as you want it to be. Every day, it’s an uphill battle of sticking with it, being productive, and not losing your mind.

But there are practical things you can do today (see: right now) that can really help you keep going and be happy along the way.

How to Stay Motivated

Motivation is something that can be difficult to hold onto when music is your side gig. We get overwhelmed with all of the things we could or should be doing to move our music careers forward. Hustling day after day with little progress can suck the go-getter-ness right out of you. So here are some tips to combat that temptation to lose motivation.

Just do one thing a day

This idea has changed my life as a part-time musician (I’m not exaggerating): Do one thing today that will move your career forward, even the least little bit. Don’t think of all the things you want to be doing — all the things that could boost your career. Just think of one of those things. Then do it.

Take a big task — like building a music website — and break it into steps. What part of that process can you do right now with the time you have? Then tomorrow, you can do another step in that process. If you only have 15 minutes to do something, get something done in that 15 minutes. Then you can go to bed knowing you pushed your music career a little further forward.

solo musician performing

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Remember the big picture

When you’re in the trenches every day, it’s so easy to forget where you’re headed. When you see your friends or other musicians on social media growing their fan base like crazy, remember the big picture. Take a few minutes every day to zoom out and look at where you, specifically, are going.

  1. What does success look like to you?
  2. What is your ultimate goal here?

Write it down and tape it to your wall. Then look at it every day and remind yourself of your goals and your finish line.

Join a Facebook or Reddit group of fellow musicians

You know that we humans rely on each other. And I think this is especially true of the music community. DIY musicians, whether part-time or full-time, are generally a welcoming and helpful bunch of people. In my experience, they’re encouraging, motivating, and want to see you succeed. That’s why it’s a great idea to connect with them in Facebook groups or subReddits.

Here are a few music-related Facebook groups that are super helpful:

And if you’re a Redditor, here are a few subs I’d recommend subscribing to:

How to Be Efficient

Maybe you had a stressful day at work. Maybe you just got the kids to bed and you’re exhausted. Or maybe you’ve got school work that’s due tomorrow. In each of these scenarios, you’re not left with very much time to do music. And getting stuff done in the little time you have is so difficult, so here are some tips for staying efficient despite the lack of time.

Schedule stuff

If you know you’ll have Tuesday nights free, then take that opportunity to call it a “music-making night.” Or if you have early mornings open, schedule that time for your songwriting sessions.

These are just examples, but you get the point. Find the free time in your calendar, pull out your phone, and put stuff in your calendar app (or a paper calendar if you still use one of those). And don’t forget to set a reminder on your phone. This way, you’re holding your future self accountable to be efficient with your music time.

Make a to-do list

Staying organized is a huge aspect of being efficient. And one way to keep your shiz together is to make a to-do list.

Using whatever format you want (spreadsheet, notepad, stickies) write down the things you want to get done, say, this month. That way, when you sit down to write songsrecord music, email a music industry pro, or whatever, you know exactly what you need to do next. Plus, as you cross things off the list, it’s a little encouragement that you’re making progress.

Set a timer

This tip is especially useful if you’re super strapped for time. When you sit down to do a thing — something that will move your career forward — set a timer. Whatever time you have. Fifteen minutes, an hour, two hours; set a timer to help you focus 100% on the task at hand. For some people, this may sound like a stressful idea. I get that. But maybe this tip can help you break through that stress and get stuff done.

Keeping your sanity

If you lose your sanity as a musician — especially when music isn’t your full-time career — everything else goes down the drain. The whole thing relies on you taking care of yourself mentally, emotionally, and physically.

Don’t compare yourself to others

I’ve learned this tip from experience. I’ve compared myself to other more successful (“better”) musicians and gone into a deep hole. The type of hole where I’m discouraged all day and don’t get very much done at all. So instead of wishing you had some other musician’s success or opportunities, put your blinders on and remember that you are you. Your story of success will look different than every other artist’s.

Close Instagram. Stop watching YouTube videos of musicians you think are better than you. Re-focus your attention on you and how far you’ve come.

Get sleep

Sleep is super important. When I don’t sleep enough, I’m like a different person. And not a nice person.

Many artists brag about getting very little sleep because they’re so committed to winning. And that’s great. Good for them. And, yeah, you may have to go through seasons where you’re not getting a ton of sleep. Maybe you’re working on a project that you’re super passionate about and it’s taking some time. That’s fine, but give yourself a break every now and then.

For the sake of your own sanity and your music career, don’t forget to get a good night’s sleep.

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Caleb J. Murphy is a songwriter-producer based in Austin, Tx., and the founder of Musician With A Day Job, a blog to help part-time musicians succeed.

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