The last two years have been extraordinarily tough on musicians and music industry professionals, particularly those who work in the touring sector. Whilst new shows and festivals are being announced, many of us still harbour feelings of uncertainty, knowing that things can change at any moment.
Particularly for emerging artists, feeling like our careers were stalled significantly due to the pandemic can feel frustrating and even leave us questioning our path in music.
There’s no doubt that forging a career in this unconventional industry can be difficult at times. Especially when big things are happening globally, it’s normal to question whether this path is right for you. So during the moments when you feel like you are doubting whether building a music career is worth it, or simply if you need an extra hit of motivation this week, here’s what to do.
Find your why
This is your bigger reason for doing what you do. It’s something greater than yourself to which you can hold on to when times get tough. For some people, it’s the ability to help others through their music and lyrics by showing them they’re not alone. Others may want to be an example of what’s possible for other minorities and communities who may not have much representation in their field.
You may love the lifestyle of being a musician: touring and seeing new places, getting to be creative, and not being tied down to a desk. Your ‘why’ could simply be that you want to bring joy to those who need it during difficult times. Or it could be a combination of a few of these things.
Finding your ‘why’ is not only important when your motivation has wavered, but it can also connect you on a deeper level with your audience, as well as ensure that you find or are working with the right team (managers, labels, agents, etc.). It’s pivotal in clarifying your personal values as an artist which can play into things such as lyrics, branding, goal setting and ensuring that the people you work with are on the same page.
For example, if actively representing the LGBTQIA+ community is important to you, having someone on your team who understands this mission is going to be imperative for not only achieving your goals by setting you up with the right opportunities, but also just having a great working relationship.
Your why isn’t always something you need to speak about directly in public or on social media (unless you want to). But it will underpin a lot of what you do as a musician, and give you something outside of yourself to hold onto when you’re having moments of doubt.
Focus on what you can control
For so many musicians around the world, COVID put touring plans on hold. The emotional rollercoaster of gig postponements was draining to say the least. This is especially true for those of us who felt that supporting bigger touring artists, or playing festivals and other live performances would be a core part of our strategy for exposure and career growth during the past couple of years.
As someone in a band that definitely fell into this category, one of the things that got me through was focusing on the career moves that were in my control. In my case, that was writing, recording between lockdowns, and planning a total rebrand. When we were stalled, planning for the following year included setting goals. Then the timeline of when our singles and EP would drop helped make it feel like things were moving again.
We’re hopefully seeing the other side to the pandemic, but there are many other instances where it can feel like your music career is stalled or out of your control. Events such as band members leaving, someone getting sick and missing recording, or things simply not going as planned can all seemingly derail things and leave you wondering if it’s all worth it.
So ask yourself, ‘What is in my control? How can I keep moving forward during this time? What new skills can I learn that will help me in the long run?’ Trust me, there’s no such thing as over-planning and when the time eventually came that my band could shoot videos and release music, we were so grateful we had those extra months to prepare.
Find passions and hobbies outside of music
For many musicians, it can feel like the desire to be an artist isn’t a choice, it’s simply in our DNA. Additionally, pursuing this musical path takes up a lot of time and resources so it can be hard to imagine trying to fit anything else in. But one of the biggest mistakes I’ve personally made is linking my whole identity and lifestyle with music.
After my previous band of 6 years broke up when we were about to kick some of our biggest goals, I was shocked to realize that I wasn’t sure who I was without it. My confidence took a blow and I had to spend a lot of time redefining who I am. When I eventually started a new project, I promised myself that I’d have a more well-rounded approach to my career as well as constantly remind myself that my achievements, while nice, don’t determine my worth.
So during times when you feel burnt out or unsure about your music career, know it’s ok to take a break. It’s ok to experiment and explore other hobbies and interests or even just ground yourself in average day-to-day tasks. If your hobbies involve something physical like sport, exercise or cooking, mental such as learning a language or personal development, or spiritual such as yoga or meditation, that’s even better. All of these things will either get you out of your head and into your body, or just simply help you feel like other areas of your life are growing.
Surround yourself with like-minded people
Motivational speaker Jim Rohn said that “You are the average of the five people you spend the most time with.” The music industry is unique in the sense that it is an industry built largely on relationships and networking. But furthermore, who you surround yourself with matters. If you are wanting a music career for yourself, yet have musician friends who are unmotivated or view music more as a hobby, eventually, that mindset will rub off on you as well.
However, having others to go to for advice who have similar objectives to you and are on the same journey will be instrumental in helping you be successful. Seeing friends or people you know kicking similar goals to what you have will inspire you and make those milestones seem a lot more attainable.
If you don’t have a community of like minded people, there are plenty of ways to find them. Connect with people in Facebook Groups, or even better, join music industry courses that have some sort of community aspect - it’s a great way to meet and support others on a similar journey. Of course, getting out there and playing live is a great way of meeting people as is finding music industry networking events in your city.
If you are experiencing a slump in your motivation or career, know that this is normal and will pass. Like seasons, creativity and motivation come in cycles and you’re not going to feel exactly the same every day. Of course, if you genuinely feel like the music industry is not for you anymore, that is ok. Your worth isn’t defined by your career choice and you can change your mind at any time. But if you are looking for a sign to keep going, this is it and we’re here backing you all the way.
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Monica Strut is a musician, heavy music fiend and “former” Myspace kid from Melbourne, Australia. After working for years as a music journalist and digital marketer, she now helps emerging bands and musicians reach the next level through her podcast, Being in a Band, coaching services and online courses. When not helping other musicians kick their goals she is writing, recording and playing in her own rock/metal band, The Last Martyr.
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