As an independent musician who also previously held a job as a therapist, I am naturally curious about the way musicians react to the unique hardships we face. Music is a part of us—not just some 9-5 where you’re biding your time until the clock strikes Friday. Emotional connection is the essence of what we do as musicians, making the difficult parts feel more difficult, and the wonderful parts more wonderful. This recipe, along with the copious amount of resilience it takes to become successful in music, makes for one hell of an emotional rollercoaster. We all do it because we love it. But, there are aspects of this profession that make it incredibly draining at times. Here are a few things that have been emotionally challenging for me, as well as some tips to help cope with the impact of whatever downward slope you’re headed towards.
Being rejected over, and over, and over again is just a part of being a musician.
Everyone will tell you to simply “toughen up” and get used to it--and it is true that we become more accustomed to rejection over time, but it is NEVER easy. With every opportunity that presents itself, there is hope. And with every rejection, there is disappointment.
How to cope: That feeling of disappointment is totally normal, but try not to let that negativity get out of hand. Remind yourself that this is one person’s opinion. Even some of the biggest acts in history faced much rejection before they made it big. After performing at The Grand Ole Opry, Elvis Presley was told by the concert hall manager that he was better off returning to his day job as a truck driver. If you’re dealing with a particularly difficult rejection that you can’t seem to shake, take a day off for self care. Don’t do ANYTHING music related. Stay off your email and social media. Hang with a friend, go to the beach, go for a hike, meditate, get your nails done. Then get back on the saddle. If taking a break isn’t nearly enough for you, it may be time to re-evaluate your goals.
2. Social media comparisons.
Social media complicates musicians’ ability to focus on their own paths by instead encouraging comparison to others. Have you ever scrolled through your Instagram feed and thought: “It’s unfair that Jenny’s getting all these great opportunities and I’m not!”. We’ve all experienced jealousy, and even insecurity about our own talents. We see how much other talent there is not just locally but globally, which can be rather overwhelming or discouraging. But when these feelings creep up and turn into anger and bitterness, your emotional wellbeing can become compromised.
How to Cope: Sometimes the solution is just a matter of perspective. Instead of focusing on how unfair things are, ask yourself how this person that you’re envious of became successful. Are there things that this person has done that you can implement into your own career approach? For example, maybe they played in a cover band for two years before finding success as an original artist. Maybe they went on tour as a roadie and made tons of connections before being asked to join a well known touring band. It’s important to consider your path by first thinking about the bigger picture.
If seeing the others’ success is making you feel defeated, limit the time you spend on social media. Take the apps off your phone, and only check them from the computer for as long and as frequently as feels healthy for you. Now you can use that extra time to reading a self help book like “The Artist’s Way” by Julia Cameron. Then put your new skills to the test once you re-engage on the web.
3. Unstable Income.
If you’re an independent musician, you likely have multiple forms of income to make ends meet. Not knowing how much money you’re going to make month to month from your gigs, your dog walking business, and your Etsy store can upset even the coolest of cucumbers. You CAN make a great living this way, but making multiple streams of income work is a stressful balancing act. It almost always takes time, a lot of mistakes, and some late payments before you figure it out.
How to Cope: Make budgeting part of your weekly routine. Knowing exactly what is coming in and going out week to week, relieves a significant amount of financial anxiety. Look on Pinterest for budgeting tips and materials to guide you through the process. Do your best to plan and cushion your income so that you don’t fall short on your bills. Your system won’t be perfect especially at first, but at least you’ll know what to expect. If you still find yourself stressed and scrambling every month, it may be time to make changes in terms of how you earn your income.
4. Not having a boss and a set schedule.
As an independent musician, you don’t work by the same firm deadlines that structure more conventional positions. While there are definitely perks to being your own boss, there is the risk of slipping into a lax routine and losing productivity. Losing motivation or falling behind on progress can often lead to a feeling of guilt, as we blame ourselves for slacking on career goals.
How to Cope: Everyone has an organizational and motivational style best suited to their goals and personality. My advice is to find support and get accountability from other independent musicians. Look to Facebook groups, such as the Female Indie Musician Community for accountability partners. Even better, see if there is a local musician meet up in your own community so you can lean on musician friends for support. Then, find routines that work for you by blocking off times during the day for different activities (i.e. rehearsal, booking, etc.). During your least productive part of the day, schedule something enjoyable. For example, mornings are the most difficult for me, so I spend the first of hour of my morning making an awesome breakfast and listening to music.
Some people are social butterflies who thrive in networking environments, but in my case, and for many shy or anxious people like me, this can be intimidating. People who struggle in social situations end up going to these events nervous and worried, which impacts their ability to connect with others. They perhaps don’t go at all, which also inhibits the progress they could make through social engagement.
How to cope: When it comes to facing these fears, it is best to start small. Being at a large gathering can be overwhelming, so setting a small goal like “talk to two people” or “stay for one hour” can make it more manageable. This way, rather than avoiding events altogether, you can push your boundaries and get the satisfaction of achieving a personal (and professional) goal. Do your best to think outside of the networking box. Would you be more comfortable hosting a small musician meet up for locals? Or how about starting a blog where you interview indie artists and other music industry people in your community? For more networking ideas, check out this episode of the Break The Business Podcast. Just like your social media, your income flow and your schedule, networking is something that requires you to figure out a system based on your personal objectives and strengths.
The next time you find yourself with a frustrating #MusicianProblem, know that there are solutions on the other end of your own hard work and self-awareness, with plenty of resources and community support to help you along.
Author’s Note: These are just some suggestions on how to cope on your own with some of the difficult aspects that come along with being a musician. However, you should seek a professional opinion if your life is frequently being impacted by your emotions and the DIY route doesn’t seem to be working.
Guest Post By: Laini of Laini and the Wildfire
Laini and the Wildfire is a New Haven, CT based piano-fronted pop rock trio with lots of sass and a little soul. Their music blends the pop sensibility of artists like Adele and the raw edge of female-fronted rock bands, like Florence + the Machine, inflected with a touch 60s soul. Find more information at www.lainiandthewildfire.com.