It’s hard to be a musician with a main job, at least the way you want to be. I used to work in the customer service sector and in parallel I was engaged in music — many late nights, early mornings and weekends I was engaged in music.
It may seem that you don’t have enough time, energy and attention to really start your music career. But there is also good news: today you can make small changes to better balance music with your daily work.
So, below are some of these changes. If you implement them, you can change the trajectory of your career so that it is directed to where you want.
Define your own Success
What it looks like to be a successful musician with a day job is up to you. Success is subjective. Everyone’s work and life are different.
What do you want to do with music? Will it remain a hobby or do you want it to become your career? In particular, what kind of musician do you want to be? These are questions that you have to answer honestly.
Defining your success means that you need to stop comparing yourself to other musicians. Each of us has gone through different life circumstances, we have experienced different musical influences, and we want different things from music and life.
Know what music is for you and what role it will play in your life. This will help you balance your daily work with your passion.
Change your internal dialogue
The way you think is important. It can change your behavior in the world.
For example, which of these two offers seems more suitable to you?
“I wish I had more opportunities for my music career.”
“I want to use the resources I have to make the most of my music career.”
For me, the latter option is more interesting. This is more far-sighted. And the way you think changes the way you speak, which changes the way you act.
So, here are some tips on how to change the way of thinking, translate the internal dialogue into a more musical atmosphere.
Not another word
Saying “no” frees you up to say “yes” to what matters. If you say yes to everything and everything, you will become dazed and distracted. And then you will have neither the time nor the energy to chase really good opportunities.
Derek Sievers, the founder of CD Baby, said it best of all.
“If you don’t say YES to something, say NO,” he writes. “… When you say no to most things, you leave room in your life to really fully immerse yourself in that rare thing that makes you exclaim: “YES YES!”
The “yes or no” approach helped me make decisions not only about music, but also in life in general. Therefore, if you do not completely and completely disagree with the idea of a project or collaboration, do not hesitate to say “no”.
You will feel free if you do this.
Say “no” instead of “no”
I don’t do bits. I don’t make regular pop music for sync libraries. I don’t rap. Technically I could do all these things (at different skill levels). But I don’t do that.
Notice, I didn’t say “I can’t.” Because as a musician you can try anything you want. When you say “I can’t”, it sounds like you are missing something.
So instead, try saying “don’t,” even for the sake of your own mental health. Saying “don’t” sounds like you’ve made the final choice regarding your music career, because that’s how it was. It’s not that you want to do something, but for some reason you can’t. You have decided not to do something to focus on what you want to do.
Many of us are waiting for motivation to hit us. As soon as this happens, we say, then we will start making music. But that’s not it at all. What you need is discipline. Discipline is how you form habits. And habits can really lead you somewhere.
Author James Clear has a 5-step process of forming new habits:
- Start with a small task/habit
- Gradually improve this habit
- As you change your habit, break it into pieces (keep it within reasonable limits)
- When you miss a day, get back on track quickly
- Be patient
I strongly recommend reading Clear’s book Atomic Habits. It has very specific tips on how to form and maintain new habits.
Change your definitions
There are some ideas that don’t serve us as musicians. And we have to remove them from our thinking and language.
Forget about the “perfect”
There is no ideal. As soon as you achieve what you thought was perfect yesterday, your measure of perfection will shift. This is the nature of the gap between where you are and where you want to be (see the video above).
Author John Acuff refutes the idea of perfectionism in his book Quitting: Bridging the Gap between Your Main Job and Your Dream Job.
“90 percent perfection and what you share with the world always changes more lives than 100 percent perfection stuck in your head,” he writes.
Perfectionism is when you get hung up on the details until you talk yourself out of doing something or sharing something. Forget about the ideal. Shoot with all your might.
Ignore the “overnight successes”
Look at any “instant success” and you will find that there are years of good work ethic behind it. Building a music career while working part—time is hard work, and it will probably take you some time to achieve your version of success. Just know it now so you don’t despair later.
You may not be the most gifted musician, songwriter or singer. But you can achieve your musical goals by making constant efforts, even if it will be small pieces. Your music probably won’t explode right after you pick up an instrument for the first time. And even if that happens, you won’t be ready for attention.
Include one day at a time in the work.
Don’t overload yourself with big steps
Musicians who don’t leave achieve their musical goals. The key to longevity is baby steps. To become a successful musician with a regular job, you need many, many small steps. It takes many days tied together.
Once you know what your success looks like, once you understand in which direction you need to move, take small steps forward.
You probably aren’t going to go from a full-time musician to a full-time music career in a month. Or even a year. So get ready for this for a long time. This will seriously help you avoid burnout.
Create a plan
I spent 10 years being the kind of musician I thought I should be. But there are many ways to make music, and it took me a decade to figure it out. That’s when I realized something: I needed a plan.
So I made one. And that was the most useful thing for me as an indie musician.
If you want to make a plan, I suggest you start with this post on how to create a plan for your music career (and just gather your thoughts). And this post will show you some practical ways to find and use your chosen ways of earning.