Does Being A Musician Put You On A Path To Being Miserable?

Not all musicians are miserable.

However, all the miserable musicians I know have at least two (or more) of the following things in common: 

  1. They let others control their career path. Letting others control your career path can be a recipe for misery. So many unhappy musicians I know have simply “trusted the system” and followed a very narrowly defined path to success, set up by gatekeepers in the field. Doing so prevented them from pursuing their own interests and growth opportunities, causing feelings of powerlessness, frustration, and even depression. 

    Solution: Take ownership of your career path by developing your own definition of success. The first step to doing this is to develop a personal strategy statement

  2. They take gigs that are too time-consuming. For musicians, time to create is often more important than money. Gigs take a lot of time when you factor in practice and travel to and from an engagement. A lot of musicians I know get trapped in an unfortunate loop. They have to take gigs to make ends meet, which takes them away from the deep practice that would allow them time to advance their career. 

    Solution: Before you say yes to any gig, consider the impact that it will have on your ability to have work-life balance. 

  3. They take gigs that don’t pay enough. So many miserable musicians I know only consider themselves successful if they are making 100% of their income through performance. That puts them in an incredibly tough place because quite often, they find themselves in a situation where they are woefully underpaid for the work they are doing just to be able to say that they continue to make their full-time living as an artist. 

    Solution: Know what an hour of your time is worth before you say yes to a gig. 

  4. They take gigs that are not artistically satisfying. We’ve all done it. We’ve taken that gig that seemed like a great idea six months ago. Now, we find ourselves sitting in a soul-sucking artistic experience wishing we had made better life choices. Unsatisfying gigs are one of the worst offenders when it comes to musician misery because it’s so difficult to turn work down, even when you know the gig is not going to be a positive experience. 

    Solution: Before I say yes to any gig, I answer these four questions.

  5. They have a scarcity mindset. With an oversaturated market, musicians often find themselves saying yes to an opportunity, not because they necessarily want the gig, but because they fear that if they say no they will not be asked to participate in that opportunity again. To be clear, sometimes when you say no to an opportunity, that becomes the first and last time you are asked for that particular gig. That doesn’t mean that you will never be asked to perform anywhere again. 

    Solution: Stop taking every gig that comes your way. 

If two or more of the above areas are making you a miserable musician, take the time now to explore the points above to think about how you might fix the problem(s) in the future. 

Photo Credit: Kevin Grieve

Like what you read here? Join my newsletter below to receive weekly tips just like this, designed to help creatives like you navigate the most important decisions in your life and career.  

Published by

Nate Zeisler is the Dean for Community Initiatives at the Colburn School in Los Angeles. He envisions a world where students majoring in the arts have a clear path to a sustainable career, where creative minds are empowered and inspired to rule the workforce, and where access to the arts is not just for the privileged few, but for all.

Leave a Reply

%d bloggers like this: