For most musicians, having fun doing your job is an easy part of this profession. You compose fun songs to play, have fun rehearsals with your band-mates, you record an album of songs you enjoy playing, you play gigs from that album, perhaps you even run a tour, then repeat.
These days, with album sales continuing to plummet, composing, teaching, gigging and touring is how most musicians end up making their living. However, we've all heard of burnout stories of musicians that gig and gig and gig and gig until they've gone crazy.
Radiohead's "Meeting People Is Easy" documentary shows just that – a successful band that nearly toured themselves into the ground.
So, we know that we have to gig, and hopefully we do love playing live, but when does it all become too much? There are a few warning signs to watch out for in order to keep yourself from over-working – here are seven we recommend keeping a close eye on.
1. The crowd is losing interest
If you're playing night after night, especially in the same town, for too long, your fans will start to get bored. Who can blame them? Would you pay to see the same show over and over? You might be thinking, "If it were my favorite band, of course!" But eventually, no matter how great you are, you need to switch up your set.
If you're always playing shows, there's a chance your crowd will lose interest. After the song they came to hear or have heard several times, they may decide to head out early or focus on the bar in the back. Make sure you don't overplay, and that you understand what your audience wants.
2. Your turnout is shrinking
Again, no one wants to see the same show over and over. If you're always available, people will decide to skip your show for other opportunities, such as different bands, a night in, or a night out on the town. And even worse, if your most loyal fans – the ones always in the front row, always staying after to get pictures and autographs – are no longer showing up, that's when you really have to ask yourself what drew them away.
It could be anything, of course, but chances are if you're playing too many gigs, they've just moved on. It's not because they don't enjoy your shows anymore or are no longer diehard fans, but even the most diehard fans can't be at every show. Give them (and yourself) some time to breathe. Take a step back and work on new material and your marketing. It's better to play a few full rooms than several empty ones.
3. You're exhausted
This is a red flag for any professional musician. It's inevitable – composing, teaching and touring takes a toll on every artist. You're constantly on the road or in the studio, not always eating healthy, likely not getting enough sleep, etc. Musicians are a lot like athletes – you can't perform at your best if you're exhausted.
Listen to your body – scale back your gigs, sessions, rehearsals, student bookings and tours... figure out how to become much more balanced in your career.
4. You're not writing or recording any new material
This part of being a musician can be a drain most musicians and on their bands. As artists, it's important to be creative. If you're always on the go, you're not in the studio. Sure, Lil Wayne has a recording studio in his tour bus, but even he takes time off the road to be still, write, and get new music recorded and released.
Some bands tour albums into the ground. It's not always their choice either – they can be at the mercy of the record label keeping them alive. However, if you haven't put out any new music in a few years, it's probably time to cut the bookings way down, stretch your creative legs, and get at making some new music.
5. The band is fighting
Obviously, this is another red flag. No matter how good of friends you are, being in a band with the same people for months or years can often drive you crazy. Everyone needs space.
If your band is fighting just because of everyday working tensions, then consider taking some time off. It won't hurt anyone to recollect themselves on their own time – it will only help. Don't let your band fall apart just because you wanted to keep a really hectic schedule. Finish out the next batch of gigs and give each other some space!
6. Gear is breaking
If you're a musician /band on a budget, (which most professional working players are), you can't expect your gear to last forever. Sure, sometimes gear breaks on the very first show that you'll use it on. That doesn't mean you should cancel the next gig. But if you've been playing for what feels like forever and your guitar frets buzz more than they sing, you might need to take some time off.
Just like a singer's voice can't go night after night forever, neither can your gear. Amps blow out, electric circuits fry, drum stands collapse mid-show. It's not fun for anyone, but it happens. And, if it's occurring far too often for you, you're probably pushing your schedule past the point at which you can have the spare time needed to maintain your equipment properly.So, be sure to take the time you need to always check and maintain your gear.
7. You're not having fun anymore
This is a sure sign that you've been gigging, composing or teaching a little too much and working far too hard. The point of being a full-time musician, writing music, teaching students and playing shows in the first place is to have a good time, blow off some steam, and feel the music live. If you're working in this business just to get a paycheck or to keep the band busy, you might want to take a break from things and re-evaluate your approach.
Your audience can always tell when you're not having a good time, no matter how great you think you are at putting on a show. While your heart may not be in it every night, it's important to generally enjoy working, if you're going to be a pro-musician full-time.
It's a necessary evil for some musicians who dislike it, but try to find the fun in it. If you're straight up dreading each hour in the music or teaching studio or each night's gig, that's probably a big-time sign that you need to scale things back!