Five Tips To Help Musicians Avoid Burnout

Musicians and the individuals who support the art form are some of the busiest people I know. 

Our field seems to be in an endless cycle of doing more to justify the existence of this art we all care so much about. It’s almost as though there is an imaginary badge of honor for being the busiest artist or organization on the block. 

The problem is that this type of hustle culture is fanning the flames of burnout in our field.

We need to do more to build in some guard rails that allow us to slow down and avoid collectively feeling exhausted all the time. 

Here are five things I try to do to avoid burnout. 

  1. I find time to reflect, celebrate, and plan. Whenever I hit the end of an arc in a program I treat it as an opportunity to pause instead of immediately moving on to the next program.

    TIP: Try to block off 2–3 days on your calendar AFTER a program concludes to give yourself some downtime, celebrate what worked, and start to identify what could go better the next time. This time needs to be scheduled and blocked off at the start of your planning process for any project. 

  2. I find time to connect with my fellow colleagues to celebrate THEIR wins. We are all in this together and I have found it to be such a gratifying gesture to reach out to a colleague after they complete a big project or performance and celebrate their accomplishments.

    TIP: Schedule a time to take your colleague for coffee to celebrate and give them a moment to reflect on their experience. 

  3. I give my team a break. If you are in a position of power, gather your team to celebrate after you complete a big project. Whenever possible, give them a break so that they can take a pause before moving on to the next big thing.

    TIP: In addition to a break, ask your team what they might like to do differently the next time around to help them avoid feeling overwhelmed. 

  4. I reflect on the time it took me to bring a performance or project to life. Not all performances or projects are created equal. At this point in my career, time is the commodity that I value most. Be aware of the amount of time a particular project took to better understand how you will build programs in the future.

    TIP: Look back at the time spent on a project and tally how long it took you to bring the project to fruition. I often take more time than I thought I would on a project and documenting my work on a weekly basis in this way allows me to set more time aside for similar projects in the future. 

  5. I ask “What might we take away?” I try to set a longer period of time after my final event of a season to ask myself and my team if anything should go away so that we collectively have more time to pursue the things that bring us meaning in our creative pursuits.

    TIP: Just because you identify something that might go away does not (necessarily) mean that it needs to be replaced. Taking away some project activity might help you and your team avoid burnout and create a deeper artistic experience with the programming that remains in place. 

  6. I try to connect with my fellow artists. This profession can be incredibly isolating so I try to make it a point of staying connected and curious about what my friends and colleagues are up to.

    TIP: Pick up the phone and (gulp) give your colleagues a call, set a lunch date, and let them know that they are valued. I have found that this simple gesture alone is a powerful way to help someone suffering from burnout. 

Pursuing the very points above might just help us all slow down a bit, while simultaneously giving us an opportunity to reflect on why we are in this field in the first place.

What do you do to avoid burnout? 

Photo Credit: Christian Erfurt

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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.

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