This post originally appeared on the Musician With A Day Job blog
Here’s a question you’ve probably asked yourself: “Should I give up my dream of being a musician?”
Maybe it’s just me who’s asked that. But I doubt it.
It’s tough being a musician with a day job. That’s what I am, so I get it. It’s hard trying to make music in the nooks and crannies of my life. Music often takes a backseat, and the quality of my creativity seems to diminish.
And that’s when I feel like giving up on music. That’s when the Burnout Beast reers its ugly head and threatens to bite.
But there are some tactics I’ve found super helpful in avoiding burnout. Things that help me whip out a fire extinguisher and point it at that fire monster.
So I’d like to share three things (three “Extinguishers” if you will) that have helped me keep going.
But first, let’s take a little hypothetical trip down your possible future…
Let’s say you quit music…
Imagine something with me.
Imagine you decide to quit making music, like for real. You stop trying to pursue the music career all the music blogs are promising you. You give up on your dream because, well, it’s just a dream.
Music isn’t in the backseat anymore — it’s in the trunk.
Maybe you pick up a guitar here and there, play a few chords on the piano when you get a chance. And songwriting? Forget about it. That’s something you used to do.
Picture yourself in this hypothetical scenario. Really picture it.
Now, ask yourself these questions:
- Are you happy?
- Do you regret anything?
Be honest. Your future self depends on it.
Okay, now rewind back to the present. Before you quit music, you’ll need to ask yourself some logical questions, just as you would before quitting your day job to make music.
You’ve got to think it through (which is probably why you’re reading this).
- Does making music enrich your life?
- Does being a musician have to be all-or-nothing?
- Are you okay being a part-time musician?
- Is there any way you can make a supplemental income from music, just to make it easier on yourself?
- Can you find a day job you don’t hate? Or maybe a day job you find rewarding?
Try sitting with these questions and really answer them.
Now, assuming you’re still with me and you want to try to put out the fire — to overcome burnout — here are three ways you can keep on keepin’ on.
Three ways to extinguish that feeling of despair many musicians get…
Extinguisher #1: Do Multiple Projects At Once
This one may surprise you. If you barely have time for music, why add more stuff to your calendar?
Well, the answer to that question is in the fascinating podcast episode “Jumpstarting Creativity” from the TED Radio Hour.
One of the guests, Tim Harford, makes the case that doing multiple projects simultaneously in the long-term is good for your overall creative output (in terms of quality and quantity).
He calls it “slow-motion multi-tasking.”
He cites people like Einstein and Darwin who created their most influencial works while doing several projects at once.
Einstein was working on Brownian motion, the Theory of Special Relativity, the photoelectric effect, and E=MC² — all at the same time.
Darwin had a few research papers in process when he came up with the Theory Of Evolution.
The idea is you can jump between your projects if you get stuck or bored with one of them. Let them speak to each other and make each other better.
If you’re trying to do some songwriting but get writer’s block, you can hop over to your instrumental side project. Then after a while, go back to songwriting and see if you’re unstuck.
Now, there is a balance between having multiple projects and having too many projects. Sometimes you will have to say “no.”
But the benefit of slow-motion multi-tasking is your creativity stays in a continuous flow.
Extinguisher #2: Remind Yourself How Far You’ve Come
Comparing yourself to others will make you miserable. It will lead to you making excuses as to why you’re not succeeding.
Instead, I like to compare myself to myself. Where was I last year? Three years ago? Five years ago? How am I better at what I do today than yesterday?
See how far you’ve come since you first picked up an instrument, produced your first track, or played your first show.
Write it down if you have to. Anything to encourage yourself to keep going.
Remind yourself how far you’ve come and you’ll give yourself fuel to go further.
Extinguisher #3: Use The One-Thing-A-Day Chart
I was feeling disorganized and discouraged with my music career. I couldn’t see the audience for the fan. I was losing the big picture.
So that’s when I created something called The One-Thing-A-Day chart, which I now use on a daily basis.
This chart can help you:
- Figure out what you want to do with music
- How to get where you want to be
- What you can do today to move in that direction
- Stay focused and not lose heart
And it’s been so helpful to me I want you to have it for free: download it here.
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