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The Many Hats of a Musician


If you’ve clicked on this and expected there to be a miraculous answer at the end that demonstrates how to balance all the factors of a hectic music career, you’re in the wrong place. Also, if you think that being a musician is going to be a case of “write a few songs, get a multi-million pound record contract, easy street…”, you should also stop reading.

The point of this blog post is to reach out to other musicians in my position and get their input. I want to know how other musicians balance their music lives with their personal, professional and social lives, and how they meet the challenges of being a musician that I’ve flagged up below.

I hope that in writing this, other musicians who face these challenges can pool their advice and knowledge of how to deal with them, and also not feel like they’re alone. I can’t be the only person in this world who’s juggling too many things at once!

Be warned: this is a little longer than most blog posts. Go get yourself a cup of coffee or something before you start.

Please comment on this post and share anything you think is relevant.

Wearing many hats

Being a musician (independent or otherwise) is great. The opportunities are limitless - anything you want to do, you can just do it. You don’t need anyone’s approval or opinion to make anything happen. You can simply go for it, and you don’t need to rely on anyone else to make it happen. Well, that’s unless of course you’re part of a function band, in which case you need approval from your audience for bookings. But that’s another story…

Unfortunately, this freedom comes with a major caveat. You are taking on the work of several people, and are saddling yourself with a pretty epic workload. Don’t get me wrong - being the master of your own success and seeing things progress has no equal in terms of providing satisfaction, but it very quickly presents two fundamental difficulties:

  1. Finding the time to devote to “doing the creative stuff”
  2. Balancing it all out evenly so each aspect gets its due attention

Sadly, if you’re serious about pursuing the music career, in any capacity, you really have to think very deeply and carefully about the business side of it.

Note: In case this is news to you, yes, being a musician is a business pursuit. But this is your lifelong passion, right? Bring it on!

The business of music

On the business side alone, you need to take the following considerations:

  • Marketing, networking and connecting (your web presence, your blog, your “musical persona”, your web content updates, etc.)
  • Finances (budgets, production costs, sustainability, income, etc.)
  • Performing (logistics, rehearsals, bookings)
  • Learning (reading about the music industry, charting your progress)

These three things alone can be extremely time-consuming (and addictive), and can sometimes get you bogged down, so much so that the creative part of your career begins to suffer. Believe me, I’ve been there, and it’s something I struggle with regularly.

You’ll probably want to be able to rehearse - either for self-improvement, as part of your performing repertoire, or even try and learn new things and improve your skills.

Your personal life

The chances are that you also need to think about how you can take care of your life in general. Just because you’re an artist, it doesn’t make you exempt from having living costs, a social life, a family life (and its various responsibilities). You also have a responsibility to yourself to live your life in between doing all these things. You need time to be a human - to rest, to eat, to recuperate, to be sociable (and to enjoy the world at the same time). Unless you’re an unsociable hermit, of course.

“The day job”

All of this needs time and money, and you probably have a day job you are doing to look after that side of things. With that, already there’s this massive chunk of time taken away from your week and you’re left with a very small period of time in which you can do the stuff you really want to do. Unless of course you’re one of those lucky people for whom music IS your day job. (My envy is immeasurable).

Making “the jump”

The likelihood is you’re only doing a particular day job for the money, and are desperately trying to find ways to make music your only day job, so you can live, breathe, eat and sleep music. For those of you in this position, you’ll know how difficult this is. Whilst you desperately want to just step into the music world, you know well that:

  • You could make a success of your musical pursuits if only you could totally devote yourself to them.
  • Your divergence into the music industry is going to be one of uncertainty - the money is irregular with no guarantee of success, and the competition is fierce. Your current regular salary is heavenly, so you’re probably looking for assurances that your leap will be less of faith and one of some security.
  • The chances of becoming financially successful in the near future from your own original material is slim, so you’re probably going to have to find more revenue streams to supplement it.

With those latter two points in mind, how on earth are you going to find what little time you have at the moment to make these things ready for you to make the change?

The other stuff

In the most extreme cases of people trying to do far too much (not that I know anyone in this position, personally), as well as everything else, you’re maybe also trying to achieve the following:

  • Set up a recording studio as an enterprise
  • Run a blog that helps other musicians (and keep it regularly updated)
  • Look into playing music in an alternative revenue stream capacity - party band, bagpiper for hire, session musician, etc.
  • (And maybe you also work part-time for your brother’s web design business. Ahem.)

Juggling the hats

As a human, there is only so much you can do alone. Unless you have really reliable friends who are willing to do stuff for you, you’re pretty much lumbered with being a one-man business.

So, the question is, how can one person handle this?

Rich’s solutions

At the beginning of March I realised that I had to take measures to balance out all of these facets better, and commenced a major “self-audit”. It has been a lengthy process but it has been very valuable to me, and after stripping every part of it back to the foundation, I have become far more efficient through the following:

  • I have very clear illustrations of how my web content works - how it interacts, exists, and of course where it fails
  • I have a very clear idea of how to improve my website, what its main needs are, and CRUCIALLY how best to design it to minimise the amount of time needed to keep it updated (!)
  • I have clearly defined plans for each phase of developing my career - complete with targets and reviews so I can track my progress better than ever
  • I have a clearer understanding of what I should and shouldn’t be doing at a given time so I can prioritise my time better
  • I have a better idea of what’s urgent now and what can wait

Yes, I have had to be very anal. There’s no escaping that.

Here’s what I haven’t yet properly solved:

  • Having enough time to adequately do everything each week
  • How I’m going to make a successful transition from part-time to full-time musician
  • Feeling a sense of despair that my ultimate dream won’t come to fruition.
  • Having lots of time to be creative

The end. Your thoughts, advice, knowledge, expertise?

Please, comment below and share!

References (1)

References allow you to track sources for this article, as well as articles that were written in response to this article.

Reader Comments (13)

I think you need to start wearing the hats one at a time and not try and rush.

The first hat for me is always great music, then a little marketing and web skill so that you don't always have to pay through the nose.

- Chris


I've always been a fiercely logical and rational person and have seen my art suffer as such. I went to school for music business and was determined to make a living out of music immediately upon graduating college. For that reason, I tended to lean heavily on the industry side of things and neglect my craft. I wrote during times when I 'needed to produce' and it was noticeable in the quality of my writing.

It was not until I had a severe life change that I dove into songwriting as a way of dealing with all that was happening. I was only able to find a balance between art and commerce when the art began to fill an essential part of my life. For others, this is easy, and they need to find a way to balance out their art with the business.

A big step for me was admitting my strengths and weaknesses and then proceeding in a way that moved forward on both fronts in a nonjudgmental manner. Most are stronger in one area than the other so spend time meeting people who provide the balance. I moved in with one of the most artistic and musical people I've ever met but who does not have a lick of business sense. We 'keep each other honest' and I'm continuing to surround myself with movers and shakers and people with all different strengths and weaknesses.

So I would say: 1. Know your strengths and weaknesses and keep them in mind but don't be judgmental. 2. Meet people who have different strengths and weaknesses 3. Make both the art and the commerce indispensable in your life. 4. Realize that there isn't time for everything and some days you will do too much art and some days you will do too much business.

A little rambling but that's what I'd say!

one of the things that has helped me quite a bit is having systems in place. by systems, i mean things that help organization-wise, such as databases, and hard drive file management. i have databases for songs, contacts, business contacts, inventory, web stats, etc. these take a while initially to set up, but in the long run, they make my day to day operations run much smoother. i could find you any file i need to in a matter of seconds, and i know how things are with $, and what my most popular songs are by sales totals, etc. the reason that these things are so important to me is because as life gets busier and i have more and more "hats" i have to wear, i have less and less time to spend with "busywork." systems help me keep busywork to minimum.

another important thing is constant self refection. i'm always looking at the way i'm handling certain tasks and trying to find ways to save more time, be more efficient, etc. i think this all boils down to the fact that time is our most precious asset. each one of us only has 24 hours in the day, so we need to be on the lookout for ways to maximize our work time, by being as efficient as possible...

lastly, i'd say keeping and up to date, organized calendar (on a computer or paper) is essential. it always feels like i've got about 7 million things i should be doing, and a calendar helps me set deadlines, check up on my self, and also, it gives me peace of mind. before i had a good timekeeping system, i spent a lot of time worrying and stressing out that maybe i had forgotten that i had to do something today, or maybe i had missed an important deadline. now, i have my calendar and i know what i have to get done, and also i can track what i get done each day, so i can see where i've made mistakes and can improve...

so those are a few ideas that have been a help to me. i look forward to reading other readers ideas as well!

Great post Rich.

Thanks for getting this conversation started.

Pretty much everything you talked about in here could have been written about me and what I'm doing for our band and indie label.

The one thing that was a very lucky change for me was my wife getting a large promotion at her corporate job which allowed me to leave my poorly paying job at a music store about a year ago to concentrate on music and our band. While it has been fantastic to have my days to be able to spend focusing on our band and the business, the two factors that I still run into is:

1) Needing money or expertise for areas such as marketing and radio promotion and not generating very much of that from the "current business model" (read not very well known indie band).
2) As it is a band that we're promoting, realizing that regardless of the time that I have, the other 3 band members are still trying to balance their lives and day jobs with the band as well - which often means less time than desired spent on writing lyrics, music, etc.

Additionally, we have just found that my wife and I are having a baby so she will be going off on maternity leave in about 6 month's time and will be bringing in about a 1/4 of the income she is now. All fine and good. It just means we need to get extra dillegent in the promotion of the band's new album, next month, before I have to go back into the "day job" world for a while.
Nobody ever said it was going to be easy!

Good to connect with other like-minded people living the same life. Let's keep in touch!


May 31 | Unregistered CommenterDave Moran

Depending on your point of view/attitude, balancing your time between art & the business of art will always be a career-long struggle/concern for all artists.
By definition the word "career" describes to others " what I do in order to survive".

At the basic level, as artists we're in the "business" of providing a service, just as the carpenter, plumber, teacher, the phone company, etc. all provide services.

The question is, who is good/better at marketing their services? Therein lies the necessity to compete for the attention of an audience, regardless of your skill level.

Whatever the artistic calling, all of us personally know several individuals, who really lack any artistic integrity( they suck),but make a fine living. No where is this more evident , than in the music industry itself.

This being said, to be successful at any level in art, we must speak to the dual nature of our art.
One part is spiritual.
The other material.
Both must be accommodated .

I have found artistic success by making a plan...a business plan if you will.

With a well thought out business plan, you have a system.
All successful things, thrive on systems.
Just ask Mother Nature; any professional sports team, any successful artist ; etc.: they all have a system.

With a plan, you can exploit your resources & time, intelligently,systematically, & thoughtfully, so you will be rewarded with the maximum results, from your efforts.

Would anyone like me to go into detail about planning?

Interesting post and one that highlights the trouble you're bound to run into when you try to do it all yourself. This is the moment where being in a band is helpful - assuming, of course, that you are able to spread the load amongst the members (a tough nut to crack, as I've learned on more than one occasion).

With regards to the problems you still haven't solved, here's my two cents:

1. I see two main ways to deal with handling the workload:
a. Prioritise - If you haven't got time for everything, you have to make choices. Set aside some time to regularly do each of the things that need doing, but assign weights to each task. Thus, you may set aside an hour or two daily for musical activities (by far the most important part of the biz, yet also the one that gets most easily sidelined), but only a couple of hours per week on promotional activities. You mention that you are already doing this, but if you're still pressed for time to do everything, you may have to downscale your operation to better fit with your resources at the moment.
b. Outsource - If it becomes necessary to devote more time to the business aspects than you can spare, consider bringing someone in to do some of it for you. You may have to pay them, but at a point where outside help is really needed, it will probably be worth the money.

2. Transitioning to full-time work as a musician generally requires either taking up some form of work for someone else (e.g. as a function player, orchestra musician or teacher) or generating sufficient sales of your original work to pay the bills. Recognition without sales is worthless. If people claim to like your music, but aren't buying it, you must either find a way to compel them to or accept your music business is without a future.

3. Sadly, very little can be done about the feeling of despair - that's why I'm the Cynical Musician. The only recourse is sheer bloody-mindedness and the ability to take comfort from each small success.

4. Time is money. Therefore, the way to secure time for creativity is to get your business to a level where you are in a position to secure a team of people to handle most of the non-creative stuff for you (at the very least, someone like a manager to look after the business side on a day-to-day basis).

Ultimately, you should be looking to first determine what activities offer the best payoff for the effort, focus on them to a point where they're generating a regular income and gradually grow your business from there.

May 31 | Unregistered CommenterFaza (TCM)

Wow! Thank you all for such well-considered and extremely helpful feedback! I'm really pleased this struck a chord with you all. :)

@Kory Livingstone - I'd be very grateful for more information on planning. I think it'd be a really useful insight.

Please, head over to my blog - where you can further connect with me. I'd be grateful for communicate with all of you on this and any other music-related manner.

My twitter is /rgmusicom

Thanks folks!

June 1 | Unregistered CommenterRich Gordon

It's times like these when the "evil labels" really show their worth.... I played in Hollywood and then "retired" from music all together, and then a few years ago started playing in bands again for fun. Despite the technical and industry changes, the problem is still the same - trying to break through the noise and "get discovered". Bottom line is, unless you come from money, there isn't enough time to do the business, creative, and personal sides of our lives well. We can't "have it all". We have to choose and prioritize. Here's how I do it:

1. Spend your time doing the things you are good at and like. These things will be easier to do and you will get more bang from your buck doing them. You really don't have time to invest in learning new skills at this point, unfortunately.

2. Things that you don't do from #1 (for me, it's website design/maintenance and anything graphic design) you have to "outsource". This is the hardest part, because this is the classic getting things for free (or almost free) spot that most of us without capital behind us are in.

3. You must pace yourself and you must get help from bandmates or from anyone you can find to spread the load. Burnout is a bitch, I've been there.

June 1 | Unregistered CommenterBen

@kory livingstone: Please, detail about planning :D

June 1 | Unregistered CommenterPoema

I feel for you. I've lived all this out - and still am living it out. i've learned to be creative in everything I do even the boring mundane stuff of life. Making the leap to full-time musician may not be for everyone - unless it just feels right - the stars line up and the door is kicked wide open by a force that is much higher than we are! Sometimes I felt like I had to conquer the whole world - or at least the United States - now I just want to conquer my town. I want to create something uniquely mine and get the people around me interested, excited and motivated about it. If I can do that in my home town - maybe I can branch out and do it in the next town etc. I could go on forever about your blog - if you wanna keep in touch - feel free to email me. I've had some amazing opportunities through social media over the past year... take risks when it's not detrimental to your finances and family... keep your eyes open and look for creativity and inspiration - even when you think no one is paying attention. Best wishes to you.

Great discussion. For me, key has been taking the time to sit and develop a realistic business plan and going back to that plan often to make sure that I am on track. I have always found that writing stuff down makes the process easier to follow. And lastly, its important to separate time for business and time for the art. Both require a different mindset. Schedule your time for each.

Luis Martinez - Singer/Songwriter/Producer

June 2 | Unregistered CommentereLeMz Music

The ONLY way to govern and improve such is by determining what your most vital statistics are, plotting these, and then discovering what actions are needed to improve these - and doing whatever it takes in order to improve these. <p>I'm writing this more as advice to myself, than anything else, because I have successfully gotten myself to the 'almost famous' / 'very popular' stage of being a musician/performer<p> I have a wife (married 11 years) and kid (8 years, and a 'special needs' child), a previous marriage with twin boys to which I pay child support to -- as you see, there is very little income left from a 'regular job' paycheck in order to fund things like my 'independent artist' pursuits, yet here I am. <p>It is a very careful investment of time and energy. In order to not have to pay rent, (and I live in a nice part of Southern California) I trained up and became an apartment manager by trading out web design services to the trainer (yes, I do graphic design and web design, too...and video and everyone else...) and became an apartment manager in a nice building that needed a lot of work. <p>This investment of time took one and a half years of hard work to get the bad tenants out who were ruining the place and get good ones in, and repair the damage to the place to make it a safe and enjoyable place that people wanted to live in. As a result, I now have a great place, surrounded by supportive, great people -- and a storage room was turned into my personal band rehearsal space.<p>I've been living here over 5 years no.<p> We live in a very nice 3 bedroom / 3 bath unit. It is home for us. <p>And I get paid to be here. <p>So, you just have to be clever about what the next step requires and know that no one else is going to do it for you. <p>And it is not easy. <p>My drummer is a fantastic, fantastic drummer, but I have to pay him for every rehearsal and every gig. He is a gun for hire - and he does this for a living in Los Angeles, which means he has to hustle for gigs, learn volumes of songs while driving and drives, literally, hundreds of miles a day to keep it up. (Even HE has another day job.) <p>For example, I had a show in San Diego. The night before he played in Redondo Beach, drove to San Diego, played our show, then drove up to Redondo for the next in that series. Many times he'd arrive from Palm Springs just before rehearsal, from a rehearsal or gig out there. <p>This game of being a musician is brutal. <p>But for the chance to rock a crowd with ones own art makes it worth it. Every time.<p>

Tough ain't it!
You have to plate spin
And find the sweet spot of confluence between left and right brain activities.
In the end it's ALL of these things together that make the poetry of the art and business
Don't let your accounting understanding prevent you from doing something artistically large and cumbersome. Look for tools that Help like sensible, tube mogul and hootsuite.
Maybe most importantly don't think for a second that this isn't the path - it IS and you are way ahead of anyone still trying to find the easy button.
Bestest ......Martin Atkins

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