A crash course in avoiding music industry burnout

Burnout, Music Burnout, Music Industry Burnout, 2019, burnout survival, surviving burnout

Everyone in music works too much and has a million things they feel they must accomplish, but taking time to recover is just as important as getting ahead.

Movies and television based on the life of music professionals and the artists they support make the entertainment business seem like a nonstop party highlighted by epic highs and perilous lows. It’s true that there is a lot of fun to be had in this industry, as well as plenty of opportunities to cut loose, but work is work. Music professionals often put in 45-80 hour weeks, every week, for as long as they can convince their body to continue getting out of bed. It’s like the postal service motto about how no weather can stop the mail from being delivered, only without the exercise.

There are many professionals working in music today who are great at their jobs. These individuals are the movers and shakers of the industry. They pour every ounce of themselves into their daily tasks, exceed expectations, and quite often find themselves being praised for all they do on industry blogs. The entertainment business tells us to admire those professionals because they have the power to make dreams come true, but far too often celebrations of talent overlook one key to success that anyone who makes a lasting career out of music possesses: Avoiding Burnout.

If 100 people decided to pursue working in the music industry at the same time, how many would eventually have a career? Of those that make it, how many would last more than five years? Ten? Twenty?

These are questions I think about a lot. Having worked in music for a decade now, longer if you count unpaid work, I’ve lost count of how many friends and acquaintances have chosen to pursue other careers. Some feel they will never find stable employment, while others run themselves ragged trying to establish a presence in the industry.

Not long ago, a magazine Editor I had worked with for nearly six years abruptly exited his role. When I inquired as to  why he stepped down his response was simple, “I’m just tired.”

Anyone who chooses to pursue a career in music is told from the day they make their desires known that success is a rarity guaranteed to no one. We are trained to believe music is a battleground where the hardest working people trample one another to uplift the most creative minds we can uncover. We are told to network, but also keep our cards close to our chest, and because of all this the stress involved in pursuing a music career can be downright overwhelming.

When you pour everything you have into something you’re passionate about results will happen. The problem is that no one is able to pour themselves entirely into their passion for as long as they have air in their lungs. Human beings did not evolve to be creatures of habit, living to work and working to live. To borrow a phrase from the band Switchfoot, “We were meant to live for so much more.”

But the music industry doesn’t recognize that. No business or industry does because businesses and industries exist to profit above all else. From a business perspective, time off equals time spent not making money, and who doesn’t want to make money?

Money is great, but it’s not everything. Your happiness and peace of mind are worth more than any paycheck could afford, but the need to realize that falls on the professional and not the people who employ them. If you allow it, working in music or any other industry will drain you of your passion, work you ragged, and keep you away from those you love. In a business as fickle as music, it’s hard for those working to feel strong enough to express a need for a break or vacation, but it’s something that must be done to ensure longterm success in this business.

With all that in mind, here are a few tips to help ease the burden of the nonstop pace of the music industry. The advice outlined below should be viewed as a treatment and not a cure. You need to get away from it all in order to remember why you gave a damn in the first place. Don’t lose hope.

1. Put a priority on face-to-face social contact with supportive people

Social media is a fantastic innovation, but all too often we confuse the connections the digital world provides with being a replacement for legitimate human contact. Too much time alone can cause legitimate sickness, sometimes with life-altering consequences.

2. Set a time each day when you completely disconnect from technology

You are addicted to technology. We all are, in fact, and because of this, our brains are rarely given a chance to decompress. Set aside a part of each day, even just 30 minutes, where you exist without the aide of a screen or device.

3. Move your body frequently—don’t sit for more than an hour

You don’t have to go to the gym, but it certainly won’t hurt. Physical activity increases the endorphins in your body, which in turn alleviates stress. Try to never go more than two-hours without fitting in physical activity of some kind. Take a walk. Try yoga. Be active.

4. Reduce your intake of alcohol, nicotine, and caffeine

In other words, “control your high.” You may think you need these things to function or fit in, but too much of anything is not good for you. In some instances, as with cigarettes, any amount is not good for you. Try to limit mind/body altering substances so that your body does not have to work as hard to reset your system from day to day.

5. Get all the restful sleep that you need to feel your best

The average American adult currently gets just 6.7 hours of sleep per night. Medical studies have related a lack of sleep to health problems and cognitive impairment. With this in mind, try to get anywhere from 7-9 hours a night. If you cannot make that work, maybe carve out a cat nap in the afternoon.

James Shotwell

James Shotwell is the Director of Customer Engagement at Haulix and host of the company's podcast, Inside Music. He is also a public speaker known for promoting careers in the entertainment industry, as well as an entertainment journalist with over a decade of experience. His bylines include Rolling Stone, Alternative Press, Substream Magazine, Nu Sound, and Under The Gun Review, among other popular outlets.