Dealing with Musician Burnout

From my experience, burnout is without a doubt one of the key reasons musicians stop pursuing their dreams.  It’s a condition I have seen all too often in my peers and it’s also something I have experienced myself.

As musicians, we’re faced with navigating an extremely tough industry and constantly figuring out how to be marketers, accountants, booking agents as well as creatives, all the while ducking and weaving to avoid the emotional blows of naysayers telling us it won’t work.  To make it worse, the biggest naysayer can sometimes be our subconscious.

After my last band ended it took me over a year to feel like I had the energy to get back on the musical bandwagon.  I’d been in this particular band for 6 years and although we had some amazing achievements under our belt (touring overseas, decent support slots, fans all over the world), I knew we had hardly crossed the starting line.  

I speak all the time about that feeling of invisibility and frustration emerging bands often face.   I’m an expert because I spent years feeling this way.

Like many vocalists, my previous band was my baby and I had invested myself in such a way that when we broke up, I basically didn’t know who I was anymore.  It didn’t help I was also going through a relationship breakup at the time so imagine that heartbreak, times two!

I’d unknowingly tied a lot of my self-worth into this band and once I built myself back up (which took 6 months of working on myself) I knew I couldn’t afford to approach any new project in the same self-destructive manner.  I had to learn to take care of myself, know the signs and prevent burnout before it happens.

What are the signs of burnout?

The signs vary for each individual but common symptoms include:

  • Fatigue (No matter how much sleep you get)
  • Inability to sleep
  • Trouble focusing
  • Anxiety
  • Lack of enjoyment (of music or anything else you usually love)
  • Depression (In fact, burnout is closely linked to depression)
An article in Pulp Magazine, Philippines where I spoke openly about some of the struggles of being in an emerging band.

There are many reasons why musicians can burn out but here are the main ones I’ve noticed and how to combat them!

NOT EVERYONE IS PULLING THEIR WEIGHT

Unfortunately, in many bands, it’s usually only one or two people who are the driving force, calling the shots and doing most of the work.  This obviously puts them under a lot of pressure which can most definitely lead to burnout.

It’s so important that you talk to your bandmates very early on to find out their goals and whether they’re in the band as a hobby or if they want to eventually earn a living off music.  This will make a difference to their workload, the way business decisions are made and even how royalties are split.

It can be a hard conversation to have but it needs to happen.  Finding the right people for your project can take a while, I know  (Check out my post How To Find Bandmates for tips), but it’s worth it in the long run.

If your band is a few years in, in my opinion, there’s no better time than the present to have this conversation.  I’ve seen too many of my mates struggle along for years with band members who aren’t committed or are just plain lazy. Cut the cord now and move on.  This is the type of blunt advice I give my friends and I have no problem giving it to you as well. If you are serious about your career it’s just business after all.

After you discuss each band member’s intentions, it’s good to work out how to divide up the workload.  If someone isn’t pulling their weight currently, it could simply be because they don’t know what to do!  Business and marketing don’t come naturally to a lot of musicians, but it’s definitely possible to learn these skills.  Allocating each band member a role within the band gives each person a focus, empowers the individual to take responsibility and instills a sense of pride.  You may find that that band member becomes inspired to up their knowledge in that particular field as a result!

If you want to up your knowledge of social media, marketing and branding I have designed a straightforward course especially for heavy bands which you can check out here.

The crowd at a sold out headline gig at Oxford Art Factory

YOU’RE FOCUSED ON THE WRONG THING

I hate to sound like a broken record, but many bands, particularly in the heavy genres, are focused too much on live shows and touring.  In Australia, we simply do not have the population or geography to support playing less than 8 weeks apart. To be honest, to have a longer gap than that between shows is desirable.

I’ve been that band who gets in a van, drives all through the night for 10 hours to play to 3 people.  I’ve also sold out shows. And the selling out of the shows wasn’t done through playing as much as possible. It was via having a BIG gap between gigs and promoting our asses off on and offline.

Bands are often too focused on making an album too early in their career before they have a big enough fanbase to sell it to.  Guys, a full-length album is a huge deal. Once you release your first album, that’s it. You can’t go back and release your first album again.  As a general rule, you shouldn’t be doing an album until you can confidently and consistently sell our 300-400 cap gigs not only in your city but in the other major cities in your country.  You’ll also want a hefty marketing budget in order to ensure people actually hear the album.

Many think that if they build it, people will come.   But that is not the case. Making an album will not give you extra cred or more exposure and not receiving the response we expect or desire from something we pour our hearts into can swiftly, and sometimes permanently, deflate our egos and induce that feeling of burnout.

When I need to take a break I get out into nature.

WE DON’T REST

When I was booking my old band’s first tour I remember being so anxious I’d sleep with my phone under my pillow and wake up in the middle of the night to check it.  After a few tired months of this, it dawned on me that if I’m asleep, it’s highly likely venues and support bands are too! Crazy, right!? I’ve turned my phone on airplane mode before bed every night since. No emails, no notifications, nothing (so…just so you know I’m not the best person to contact during a nighttime emergency)!

When we’re so focused on our goals, things can often seem much more important and urgent than they actually are.  So my advice to other overly-dedicated musos out there is to always take a step back and view situations as if you were watching them happen to a friends band.  Or even a band you don’t know that well. This will help put things in perspective.

I must admit that between freelancing 5 days a week, building my business and doing my share of work in my current band, I’m not always good at resting.  But I’m getting better at listening to myself and knowing when I need to have a social-media-free day or Netflix veg-out on the couch.

There is a difference between doing sweet FA because we’re feeling lazy, and knowing when to take a legitimate break in order to refresh and come back even more energised than before.

The fact it took me 9 months after moving to Melbourne to find a new band, was no accident. I was looking the entire time but it was almost like a part of me knew that when the time was right, I’d all work out and I’d come back all guns blazing. And I did. Taking a break from playing in bands allowed me to live a ‘normal life,’ as I called it; something I hadn’t done since I was 13.

At the time this meant going to work and actually being able to focus, coming home and cooking dinner with my boyfriend, writing music for no one but myself, going to gigs for the sake of enjoying the music and having a few too many drinks.  I rested and reflected and it was one of the best things I’ve ever done.

If you are on the edge of burnout, I urge you to assess the situation, work out how you can unload some of the work, take a break, vent to a psychologist and ensure you have something else in your life you are passionate about other than your band.  For me, it’s my business, including this blog.

I would love to get to know you more so please comment below, what YOU are passionate about other than your music?

3 thoughts on “Dealing with Musician Burnout

  1. This is totally true!!!! I’m a keyboardist that has played in every kind of working band for over 25 +yrs. been in all sorts of different situations from the good to the bad and the ugly and have dealt with many personalities along the way. As I’m reaching middle age 45yrs old to be precise I have been struggling with musical burnout for almost over a year now. I have been debating on retiring or maybe just taking a break. I love music and performing but don’t have the patience anymore to deal with the bullshit that goes along with it. Music used to be my life but as I’m getting older and trying to raise a family it really does get harder each day. I used to be able just to live off of gigging alone but as the times are changing there seems to be more musicians and bands out there struggling more then ever just to even get a booking date hence social media. I do work a full time job now because its either that or living on the streets. When I decide to go on this hiatus it would allow me to re evaluate things basically enjoy music again and pursue it just for the music and not the empty business part of it.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Yes totally understandable! Sometimes it’s hard to see the forest through the trees and by taking a break you can simply enjoy music for enjoyment’s sake again. Without the pressure of attending gigs because you’re trying to network or playing because you HAVE TO practice for a big gig coming up. It can be a scary thought to take a break because we wonder if we’ll ever get the passion again. But we always do eventually, music is in our blood.

      Like

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