Having a career in music is different than it used to be. I might be giving away my age here, but when I idolized being a songwriter and musician, the world was working in our favour. Big record labels were the only way to have a sustainable career in the business, the only open door (or so it seemed). There was a physical product people had to buy if they wanted to hear their new favourite song, unless they wanted to request it on their radio station of choice.
These days, record labels won’t even glance in your direction if you haven’t grown a following and fanbase on your own, and by then—after you’ve built your career and a team of people you trust—you will have to ask yourself if you truly need or want to sign a record deal.
These days, where independent artists are a dime a dozen and streaming royalties pay in pennies, musicians are reliant on scrapping together enough money to record and release music. Many of us can’t afford outside help without having another job on the side, maybe two.
And what is the advice most mentors give, when you’re struggling to pay for everything?
Figure out how to do it all yourself.
Of course, in the barrage of toxic positivity that seems to dominate the Western worldview, not that many people are talking about the paradox that presents. How can you possibly do everything and not sacrifice your mental and physical health?
While it is exciting that anyone can create music in their homes, let’s not pretend that having a team that does the difficult parts of the career isn’t extremely helpful. It takes an extremely long time to do all of the work that is required to support an artist. I know after I’ve written, recorded, produced, mixed and mastered the song (and learned how to do it all), the absolute last thing I want to do is figure out how to promote it.
Promotion, marketing and artist branding is the other half of the work of a musician. If you’re working part-time or even full-time, do you truly have the time or cash to also promote your music in the way that it needs? All while supposedly releasing music every forty-five days?
Not to mention that when you try to do everything on a timeline that feeds social media algorithms, the quality of music often takes a backseat. There have been so many times that I’ve noticed when my craft is lacking because I’m so busy trying to balance the production and promotion, too. I get frustrated because I get the promotional materials ready but end up not wanting to release the song at all because I don’t connect with it.
What is the point of doing this if you’re not creating music you’re proud of?
I know that when I’m hearing advice on work/life balance—the importance of eating well, sleeping enough, turning off your work brain, having a social life, practicing a hobby—it doesn’t seem feasible. I’ve been searching for an answer on how to break the cycle of burnout for a long time. Here’s what I’ve come up with:
Observe the Paradox
Acknowledging that it really is impossible to do everything is honestly a very important part of it. I couldn’t move forward until I could accept that I was only one person. I had to ignore the noise from overly “mentors” and block the ads that are talking about how the path is “easy”.
Figure Out Your Situation
We can’t do what record labels do if we don’t have the capital, so we have to figure out our own formula. Maybe you have the financial resources to outsource a good amount of the work involved. Maybe you can actually do everything that’s required, but you can’t release as often as you’d like—that’s great.
Unless you’re somehow one of those people who only needs a few hours of sleep, resting is important. Taking breaks is part of the process of creating, to give your mind space to breathe and innovate. Sometimes I have to consciously schedule breaks, which helps a lot.
There’s No Wrong Answer
No one really has the answer on how to do things in a music career because all of this is new. We’re all figuring this out day-by-day as algorithms change, the industry changes and technology evolves. We need to understand what aspects of music are important to us.
We can’t do everything. As independent musicians, we have to understand what we can do—and hopefully, that includes continuing to improve our craft, too.