Life During Quarantine: How to Stave Off Musical Burnout

May 6, 2020

[Editor’s Note: This article was written by Patrick McGuire and is part of our ongoing Life During Quarantine series.]

For optimistic musicians, the temptation for viewing COVID-19 as a creative opportunity to stay at home and make lots of music is too strong to resist.

You might think that more time at home means more time for writing, recording, producing, and promoting, but the reality is that what’s happening around the world and in your personal life right now can make focusing on music difficult or even impossible. If you stretch yourself too thin during these uncertain times, you’ll leave yourself vulnerable for the sort of creative burnout that can inflict serious damage on your music career.

But by leaving room in your creative life for breaks, patience, and kindness, you’ll have the best chance at creating productively and consistently throughout the COVID-19 crisis. 

Go easy on yourself

No one on the planet is immune to COVID-19’s impact. No matter who you are, how old you are, and where you live, this crisis has almost certainly upended your life in a serious way.

Instead of viewing your music routine as a chance to forget about what’s happening in your life and to those you care about, it’s crucial to recognize that you’re going through something profoundly challenging. Remember this when it feels impossible to finish a song or when it becomes tempting to force yourself to work on music. Your focus and energy will probably be split in countless directions during this period, and this is understandably frustrating. But beating yourself up and feeling bad about not being able to work as thoughtfully or productively as you normally do will only leave yourself tired and frustrated.

Approaching yourself with kindness and patience during this insanely complex and uncertain time is one of the best things you can do for yourself. 

Don’t force it

Serious musicians are accustomed to bulldozing through seemingly insurmountable challenges and becoming better off because of it.

Unfortunately, what we’re collectively facing is far more serious than the difficulty of learning a new instrument, absorbing a negative review, or playing to an empty room. Forcing yourself to be productive during this time could easily backfire by sapping your motivation and distracting you from what you need to thrive as a person.

We all experience burnout for different reasons, but it generally comes down to devoting more resources to our music careers than we can comfortably give. It’s likely that some days you’ll feel like you just don’t have the motivation or patience to give to your music right now, and that’s not something you should feel bad about. Rather than forcing yourself to work when you can’t or don’t want to, give yourself grace during this period.

Put down your instrument, close your DAW, and give it a shot another day. Remember, lifelong musicians are long-distance runners, not sprinters. Breaks are good for your music career. Pushing through despite lacking focus and motivation isn’t. 

Focus on what you love doing the most

During these tough times, you might find it harder than usual to tackle tedious tasks like pitching music to blogs and nailing down tricky musical passages on your instrument. You can avoid musical burnout by hitting the pause button on these activities and doubling down on what you love to do the most in music.

Doing this will help maintain your creative energy and excitement and give your efforts structure during this time. It’s also important to try to remove external pressures from the process as much as possible. Chasing popularity or focusing too much on using this difficult moment to shape your music could easily take the fun and creative potency out of your work.

Zero in on what you love about making music, and do it in the ways that fit best within your life and what you’re experiencing. 

Check in with yourself

Under normal circumstances, it’s easy to float through the day-to-day of your music career without taking time to reflect. However, these aren’t normal circumstances, so checking in with yourself is crucial for staving off burnout.

Doing this means shifting the work of creating music to pausing and asking yourself how you feel, if you’re enjoying what you’re doing, and whether the work you’re engaged in is actually helping to get you closer to your goals.

‘Checking in’ still counts as music-related work because it’s not always easy to do, but is necessary. The first step is asking, and the second is listening and acting. If you get the sense that you’re overwhelmed, out of energy, or lacking inspiration, then it’s time to step back and focus on taking the non-musical parts of your life for the time-being. You might feel defeated and aimless doing this, but it’s an action that can actually help sustain your creativity over the long-term.

There is no guidebook for how to cope with a crisis like this, but it’s important to remember that burnout is an issue that plagues musicians even during the best of circumstances. By embracing a kind, patient approach with your work during this period, you’ll be able to keep focusing on creating and exploring as a musician. 

Patrick McGuire is a writer, composer, and experienced touring musician.

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