[Editor’s Note: This article was written by Patrick McGuire.]
Organization. Moderation. Planning.
These might sound like unsexy things to embrace in a music career, but doing so will increase your chances of creating sustainably and happily over the long-term. Many musicians find themselves in somewhat of a conundrum when it comes to how they work.
The world expects us to be completely devoted to music, and many hold the belief that if we’re talented enough and work hard, we’ll find success eventually. While there’s some truth in that idea, it’s actually a whole lot more complicated than that.
Music is a pursuit where you can be fiercely talented and ambitious as they come and still fail––depending on how you view success, that is. But as it turns out, the seemingly boring stuff many of us associate with conventional jobs can actually help sustain our careers and give us what we need to be our best musical selves.
The power of organization in music
If you’ve never played at a big music festival, you probably haven’t thought much about the impressive organizational feats it takes to pull them off.
Without a team of people knowing exactly what’s supposed to happen and when, there wouldn’t be anyone to hire sound engineers, coordinate with venues, and make sure that the bands’ sets run on time.
If your music career isn’t where it should be, a lack of organization could be why. It’s about matching your passion with actionable goals, and creating a detailed plan to get you to where you want to go. Planning supports sustainability in our careers because it gives us structure and direction.
If you live to create and perform music, you’re on the right track. But the structural elements of your career are what will inevitably get things done. This is where booking shows, pitching music, and setting up rehearsals comes in. Without the administrative parts of your career being taken care of––”administrative” is another deeply unsexy word––you won’t reach your goals.
Maybe you’ll get lucky and find a great team to help pitch in with these duties down the line, but the reality most musicians face is that if they don’t handle the organizational aspects of their work themselves, no one will step in to do it for them.
Creating within your means
There’s no getting around the fact that spreading yourself too thin or spending too much money on your music career can cause major damage to not only the work you create, but also you as a person. This is an especially big problem for young, ambitious musicians.
Yes, creating great work and getting the world to notice takes lots of hard work, but if you sacrifice too much for your music, you might get to a point where you won’t be able to make it at all. Music-related things like chronic burnout, serious debt, and the loss of important personal relationships could put you in a position where you eventually don’t want to––or aren’t able to––sustain your music career.
Creating within your means requires musicians to take realistic stock of resources like time, money, and energy to see what they can commit to doing in their careers. This process will inevitably mean that music will have to take a backseat to other things going on in your life from time to time, like non-musical careers, health, relationships, and anything else that makes you feel well and taken care of.
Forcing yourself to put things in front of your music might seem like strange advice for sustaining a music career, but it’s crucial that we do as musicians. If you think about what motivates talented musicians to give up their careers, the reasons often come down to factors like broken relationships, debt, and lack of interest. By creating within our financial and emotional means, we’ll build careers that can withstand decades of challenges.
How will you know what musical endeavors to take on and which ones to turn down?
It completely depends on your goals and resources. Maxing out your credit card on new instruments and touring the world sounds like fun, but will doing so put you in a bad position? For many of us, a good question to ask is whether what we do in music fulfills us as people and pushes our careers forward or not. Much of the time, unestablished musicians have the best chance at enriching their careers by pouring their time and energy into something that’s virtually cost-free and that can be done right from where they live––writing music, practicing, and building momentum locally through live shows.
There’s nothing wrong with being focused on your music career, and you probably won’t do anything meaningful with real grit and passion. But by embracing a common sense approach to your career, you’ll be able to build something that allows you to keep creating and performing year after year no matter what life throws at you and your music.
Patrick McGuire is a writer, composer, and experienced touring musician.