Lately, I’ve been having lots of conversations with some of my close friends and band mates about how much time they spend working on their music and how it affects their perspective.
These conversations stemmed from a talk with a band mate of mine who truly lives and breathes music. He practices and writes more than anybody I know, and yet lately, he has been growing tired of listening to music.
Now, I believe that listening to music is a very important part of a musical education. And so does he! But he was experiencing something we all experience from time to time: burnout.
If you've never been there before, trust me, it will probably happen at some point. Some of the symptoms include: feeling uninspired, listening to music and feeling nothing, practicing without enthusiasm, feeling unmotivated on the business side of things, and so on.
Personally, I’ve been trying to find a balance where I maintain my excitement for music and my drive to play and improve without getting tired or discouraged. Here is what has helped me ward off burnout.
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1. Take Time Off
If you’re a freelancer, musician, or an entrepreneur you understand how hard it is to take time off. I always ended up feeling guilty that I wasn’t working. It took a long time to realize how wrong and unhealthy this attitude was.
There's nothing wrong with having a strong drive to improve, but when you feel guilty about taking time off, you need to re-frame what you’re doing.
Nobody works all the time. It’s not good for you. How are you supposed to take in new experiences and grow your creative horizons if you’re holed up in your basement all the time?
I allow myself one day every week to not do music. On that day, I can do whatever I want, and if that doesn’t include music, that is totally fine. However, if I feel like sitting down at the piano or sending some emails, that’s fine too!
It’s all about re-framing your practice and your “work” as something you want to do, not something you’re forced to do by some misplaced sense of guilt.
2. Don’t Try To Do Everything At The Same Time
Doing one thing at a time if difficult, particularly in the 21st century. There are constant dings and buzzes and little red notifications trying to tear your focus away from what you’re doing.
It is simply not possible to do everything you want to do at the same time. You cannot have an effective practice session if you’re also answering emails and thinking about social media.
Instead, organize yourself so that you only have to do one thing at a time. If you’re practicing, give it your full attention. If you’re answering emails, just do that. Researching venues? Don’t stop to answer an email that comes in – work on the task at hand.
Personally, I have turned off almost all notification on my phone and computer. I have specific times to check my messages. Outside of that, I try my best to worry about one thing at a time.
3. Find Something Else To Be Passionate About
I genuinely believe that it is important to be”‘well-rounded”. As cheesy as the saying sounds, having many interests is not a bad thing.
Many professional musicians have other passions that allow them to escape from music every once in a while. I have a friend who paints, another is a fitness freak, yet another that spends time working on motorcycles.
Personally, I like to write. I write these articles, which are mostly about music. I spend some time each week working on essays about whatever I feel like writing about. It gives me a chance to develop my writing chops while giving me a break from music.
4. Go Outside
Okay, I’ll admit this is not my forte. I realized a few months ago that (especially during the harsh Canadian winter) I don’t go outside very often.
As a musician, you’ll end up working from home quite a bit. Literally all my work from writing to practicing to rehearsing is done inside.
I also have a treadmill in my house, so I really don’t have a reason to leave!
Lately, I’ve been trying to go outside more. Walk to the grocery. Or just go for a walk. I have to say it feels great, and I often end up focusing better and sleeping soundly.
5. Get Some Exercise
One of the things I don’t like about being a musician is the amount of sitting we do. Most of us sit to practice, we sit to do business, we get in a van and sit for hours. Then, if you play a sitting-down instrument (like keys or drums) you get out of the van and sit some more!
Sitting is terrible for you. It increases your chance of an early death. It increases your risk of heart disease. Your back will probably hurt. It limits the number of calories you’re burning.
You should not sit all day.
I may not be good about going outside, but I am good at getting exercise. For me, it took having a treadmill in my house to get me to regularly exercise, but it worked.
Now, I run every second day, and go to the gym when I’m not running. It feels great.
I was having terrible back pain before I started running, and literally the same week I began training for a 5-km run, the back pain went away.
That convinced me, and I remain an advocate for exercise to this day.
6. Go To A Live Show
On New Year’s Eve 2016, I went to see one of my favorite bands. Nothing reinvigorates my thirst for music like a great live show.
Go see some music that will blow your mind. Trust me. Something about seeing it live makes it so much more effective than hearing it recorded.
Talk to the musicians. Get lost in the concert. It’s good for your soul and it’s even better for your motivation.
7. Have Fun!
It’s important to remember why we all got into music in the first place: it’s fun! I love playing music, I love writing music, I love everything about it. Keep that in mind next time you’re feeling a little burnt out.