[Warning: This article may stress you out.]
Musicians seem to have it pretty good. When things are going well: They get to make music that they love, perform it for audiences, make money, and achieve some form of recognition. As you may have heard people say to you (genuinely or not), “Wow. You’re a musician? That’s cool.” That’s right. It is cool.
But hey! Musicians have it pretty hard, too. Anyone who writes, plays, performs, or records music knows the stress that accompanies the fun. The more involved in music we are, the more stress we’ll have. The more irons in the fire, the more we’ll get burned. Fun? Oh yes. Stressful? Exhausting? That, too.
We’ve talked about the high occurrence of depression and anxiety among musicians in Music is Hard and we’ve talked to a lot of musicians about their particular experiences with depression and anxiety. Now, let’s just look at stress.
These stressors can both lead to and exacerbate depression, anxiety, and any mental health issue; however, they don’t necessarily do that. Let’s look at – with a wide angle lens (we’re not getting too detailed) – all the stressors that come with being a musician. Don’t let this list stress you out! Instead, let it validate your feelings of being overwhelmed from time to time (or always). Later, we’ll look at a big list of musician stress relievers to assist in managing the stress that we experience as musicians.
Different Types of Stress
First, did you know there are different types of stress? Read the quick rundown below. Learn more about the symptoms, signs, and causes of stress – and (not gonna leave you hanging!) learn some ways to cope – here.
- Acute Stress
- Related to worries associated with the recent past or near future.
- Some examples include: upcoming job interview, waiting on medical test results, a huge show, a record release, etc.
- Effects aren’t devastating, though they can be annoying: irritability, tension, stomach upset, sweating. This kind of stress can also be exhilarating and can push you to do your best.
- Acute stress sufferers respond well to stress-relief techniques. Typically, the stress dissolves naturally after a short amount of time.
- Episodic Acute Stress
- Acute stress happening over and over again creating a sense of disorder and chaos.
- Some examples include: several job interviews, many doctor’s appointments, a tour, the recording process, etc.
- Effects are concerning: ongoing irritability (sometimes hostility), anxiety, and tension; persistent headaches, migraines, hypertension; chest pain and heart disease.
- Episodic acute stress sufferers may benefit from (or sometimes require) professional treatment to combat the negative effects of episodic acute stress and to learn successful coping techniques.
- Chronic Stress
- Constant and overwhelming stress that seems inescapable, often occurring over the course of months, years, or even decades.
- Some examples include: the experience of poverty, abusive relationships, addiction, etc.
- Effects can be devastating: heart disease, cancer, depression, and suicide. Because chronic stress is ongoing and long-term (opposed to acute stress that is new and sporadic), sufferers often learn to ignore the stress even though the effects continue.
- Chronic stress sufferers often require ongoing professional treatment to work on resolving the basis of their chronic stress, gaining support, learning coping techniques, and more.
The Big List of Musician Stressors
This Big List of Musician Stressors is not exhaustive, and it’s in no specific order. It’s based on lots of things: personal experience, conversations with musicians, observations of musicians, anecdotes shared by musicians on various media (podcasts, videos, interviews, articles), and more. Many of these stressors affect other artists and non-musicians in the music industry, too. And many of these stressors can be considered positives, depending on how we look at them!
What did we miss? Did we go too far on any of them? Does this match your experience? What’s on top of your stress list?
Shows are fun, Man! It’s awesome to perform the music we’ve spent so much time and energy creating and get real-time feedback from an audience. Shows are also a huge source of stress for musicians. Local shows, out-of-town shows, booking shows, playing shows – they all come with unique stressors, but here they are all together.
- Finding a venue
- local venue
- out-of-town venue
- Finding other bands to play with
- Getting paid or not getting paid
- Getting (good) coverage before and after the show
- Creating flyers
- Creating event pages and listings online
- Hanging flyers
- Telling people, inviting people
- Other promotion
- Finding time to do all the necessary pre-show stuff
- Hauling gear and merch to the show
- Hauling gear and merch to the venue
- Transportation to get to the show
- Local show
- Out-of-town show
- Hauling gear and merch from the venue
- Hauling gear and merch back
- Finding time to do all the necessary post-show stuff
Touring is a special breed of fun and discomfort.
- Booking shows
- Finding venues
- Finding bands to play with
- Safe traveling
- Weather conditions
- Comfortable traveling
- Cost-efficient traveling
- Hauling gear, merch, band
- Where to eat
- What to eat
- When to eat
- How to pay for it
- How not to get sick
- Where to sleep
- When to sleep
- How to pay for it if it’s not free
- Where to shower, change
- When to shower, change
- How to shower, change in weird places
- How not to smell or look gross
- Other responsibilities
- Getting time off work
- Not losing money by being off work
- Caring for house, kids, pets while away
Music is the only thing that really matters when it comes to being a musician. And music is hard.
- Ability / Skill / Talent
- Coming up with new stuff
- Worrying that you can’t come up with new stuff
- Finding gear
- Purchasing gear / Money
- Caring for gear / Money
- Protecting gear
- Practice space
- Travel to and from practice
- Paying for space
- Comfort in space (hot, cold, dirty, hour-restrictions)
Performing our music is one of the most thrilling parts of being a musician. It’s exciting, but anxiety-inducing.
- Quality of music
- Quality of performance
- Quality of gear
- Quality of sound
- Quality of crowd
- How you look and feel
- How the stage looks and feels
- Ability / Skill / Talent
- Messing up
- Talking to people before and after
- Reviews and photos of performance
- Will there be any
- Will they be good
This category is weaved into all of the other categories, but it deserves a special section.
- Everything costs money
- Spending or losing money
- Places to stay
- Balancing “day job” career with music career
- Working multiple jobs
- Working job(s) you don’t like
- Lack of healthcare
- Paying for healthcare
- Music-related expenses (less money available for non-music stuff)
- Non-music-related expenses (less money available for music stuff)
Other Music-Related Stress
There are some other stressors that are part and parcel of being a musician that may or may not be directly related to any of these other categories. And, then, there’s just regular human existence to contend with.
- Music Business / Industry
- Music scene/community
- From self
- From others
- Mental health and wellness
- Physical health and wellness
- Tending to other needs
Music Industry-Related Stress
This section is an update to the original Big List! Thanks to Pittsburgh producer and songwriter Lauren “Shay” DeMichiei for bringing these important omissions to our attention. This addition is about what Lauren describes as “the overwhelming feeling of learning and not knowing where to start.” These stressors definitely affect those new to the music industry, but they continue to haunt even veteran musicians as the landscape of the music industry changes. (Sorry, but it’s true.)
- Learning to:
- Navigate the scene
- Book shows
- Find venues
- Deal with venues
- Deal with other artists
- Get paid
- Earn money
- Earn fans
- Promote yourself
- Sell yourself
- Retain dignity
- Retain balance
- Get followers
- Get “likes”
- Get supporters
- Do social media
- Do social media right
- Make your music available on digital outlets
- Not get completely screwed over by digital outlets
- Find the best way to record (DIY or finding someone)
- Understanding and/or utilizing:
- Understanding your legal rights and responsibilities as an artist
- Other legalities
- Not getting screwed over
- Dealing with feelings of:
- Creative ruts
- Creative hyperactivity
That’s all! Haha! Let us know what you think of our Big List, and feel free to add anything we missed in the comments or by contacting us! Next, we’ll present a Big List of Musician Stress Relievers for you to try!
Thanks for reading! Be well!