Money Isn't Everything: Balancing Life As a Musician

Most full-time musicians are by nature hard workers; we do everything we can to make sure our passions fill our purses. But what happens when the pursuit of our dreams becomes a drain on other areas of our lives? Being in a career with the long, strange hours that come with performing or teaching music tends to create tough family situations. We hear too often of our musician friends’ marriages collapsing or of their terrible relationships with their kids. So how do we do it? How do we balance our personal lives with our careers as musicians?

1. Learn to Say No

We tend to always take the work because if the money is there we feel like we should be too. Sometimes we feel like if we say no, then the calls will stop, or we might miss that one gig that could have been our break. Let me tell you a secret: it’s okay to say no, especially when the work or distance out weighs the payout. Not every gig is a profitable one. Realistically, it’s not worth driving over 50 miles for $50. The gas and wear on your car alone cancel out the pay, plus food and drink expenses. This may have made sense when you were just getting started, but established career musicians don’t have to do this. Wait for the worthwhile gigs.

On the flipside, especially if you’re married, you have to learn to honor family commitments first. Even if you get that last-minute call, sometimes it’s more important to say no and stick with the family. The more you do this, the more willing your spouse will be to encourage you to go for the bigger gigs. Also, some gigs are worth turning down for personal time. Any bodybuilder will tell you that overworking a muscle doesn’t allow it to grow stronger – rest is where the change happens. Overworking yourself won’t make you better, so learn to say no and take some time for you. In fact..

2. Don’t Wait for Time, Make It

During busy seasons, it’s hard to balance rest with work, so sometimes you have to block out rest time. Even God took a day off after creating everything… He called it a Sabbath. Learn to “Sabbath” every so often. You will be a better player, teacher and person for it. There’s a ton of research out there to support a correlation between job performance and rest. Everyone is better when they’ve taken take to rest their minds and bodies.

Doing this may require something most musicians aren’t great at: the art of organization. You have to learn to schedule, schedule out, schedule with details, and stick to it. Creating a set work schedule for yourself allows you to place tasks in certain hours of the day, and when followed, allows you to free up specific times to rest. For me personally I try to have everything done on Thursday night so that if there are no gigs, Friday becomes my rest day. Also, given the busyness of weekends, I always leave Monday mornings open to rest. This allows me to intentionally create time for my wife and son where they know I’m theirs. And when they have more of my time, they tend to be more willing to give up that time when need arises. Which leads me to the next point:

3. Learn the Art of Give and Take

A relationship, whether it be with a significant other or parent, is like a bank account. The more time and effort you put into it, the more you can take from it in the future. By spending specific time with people, it makes them feel more cared for, and in turn helps them to care more about your passions and desires. So learn the art of give and take. If your spouse or significant other is frustrated when you leave to go play or take on some extra lessons, look back at the calendar to see the last time you did something special for them.

Also look at your habits when you’re with them. Are you constantly checking your phone to see if people have called or liked your recent insta-vid post? Are you noodling on a guitar during the date night movie? A great mentor of mine says, “Wherever you are, be all the way there.” People feel loved when they feel they have your attention. Don’t expect them to feel better because you’re physically there but emotionally checked out.

Finally, learn to balance those busy seasons. As I write this, I’m sitting here at a private school prepping for my spring show. Spring recitals are this weekend. All of this following a four-day road trip where I played eight times. Needless to say, my wife and son miss my face. So when I get home next weekend and all the mess chills, you better believe I am clearing the books for a couple of days so that my son Asher gets some time with his dad. Balance your busy seasons by intentionally creating blank ones. Make a time where you put the phone away, lock the guitar case, and watch every movie your kids want. Make some memories you can remind them of, so that when you are gone, they don’t feel abandoned.

Yes, we work in a fickle industry where we have to be gone for long hours or days, but that doesn’t mean we have to be another statistic. A little intentionality goes a long way with family and friends. Remember, without a support system, you really only have your talent to rely on, and we all know talent will only get you so far in the music world.

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