How To Find Work/Life Balance As a Hobby Musician
Being a musician has held a vitally important role for most of my life.
Over time, my trajectory led me to choose not to pursue music as a full-time way to earn a living. However, I’ve never lost the desire to play, write, record, and share my music.
My path has taken many twists and turns over time, and I’ve had to work hard to find balance so that I can continue to pursue music as what I call a “passionate hobbyist”, alongside a full-time “day gig”, a wonderful wife and son, and other interests such as training kung fu.
Finding and maintaining this balance has not always been easy. In this post, I want to discuss how to create and maintain this work/life balance for those of us who aren’t working on music full-time.
The Competing Demands Challenge
Many factors can impede the passionate hobbyist from remaining active and keeping the flames of creativity fanned. First on most people’s lists is often the precious commodity of time.
How do we find time for music, and how do we make the best use of the time we find, especially when we have competing demands such as:
- A full-time job
- Raising children
- Spending time with a spouse/partner, friends, relatives, etc.
These are certainly all legitimate uses of time, and without some intentional thought and action, it can be daunting to figure out where music-making fits alongside all of this.
The good news is there are things we can (and in my humble opinion should) do to move forward.
It’s Time to Make Time!
When we already feel short on free time, it can be hard to know where to start or how to get the things we want to do out of our heads and into action.
The first place I like to start is with making lists. There is a lot of research about the benefits of creating lists. Here’s a good article that summarizes some of the key benefits.
There are tons of apps in the digital world that can be a great help, but the key is not to let the tool get in the way. I firmly believe simple is better, and I use either the native iOS Notes app or even good ‘ol paper and pen.
The main objective is to get a list of things you want to accomplish captured. Depending on where you are at in your personal situation, this could be as high-level as a list of songs you want to finish writing or a list of questions you have about how to record acoustic guitars. Or it could be very specific, like a list of things to do to finish tracking or mixing a song.
Here are a few examples from my world:
Handwritten list of Song Tracking tasks
Your lists may have very different items on them, depending on what you have in your head and what stage you are at in your process. At this point, it doesn’t matter if the list is fully fleshed out or even prioritized, but it will start to clear your mind and make things more tangible.
2 – Track Your Time
Have you ever consciously tracked and documented how you spend your discretionary income (a.k.a. cash)?
If not, I strongly recommend it, but be warned: the results may shock you! When I saw how much I was spending on coffee drinks and restaurant food alone in a given month, I started bringing coffee to work in a thermos from home and packing WAY more lunches.
Suddenly, I had a few hundred extra dollars at minimum a month in my pocket (maybe to put away for a new microphone?). The same analysis works for how we spend our discretionary time. If you can honestly document how you spend your free time, it can be very revealing and has the potential to show you opportunities to re-allocate time for music-making.
Keep a simple log (in your list app, even!). Look at your Screen Time data if your phone captures it (there are apps for this too, if not).
When during the day and how much time do you spend:
- Watching TV?
- Playing video games?
- On Social Media?
- Listening to music?
- Watching YouTube videos?
These are not “bad things to do” in and of themselves, but you might be surprised to find out just how much time these things consume. This detail gives us a chance to re-prioritize and see where we can find more time to spend on our music.
3 – Start Somewhere!
I was never very good at physics in school, but I do remember a bit of what Sir Newton had to say about inertia, especially every time I have to force myself to get out of the house and exercise.
A body at rest definitely tends to stay at rest.
I firmly believe the same is true for how we use our time, our minds, and our creative energy. If we keep doing nothing about it, guess what? We are literally training ourselves to get “better” at doing nothing. Yikes.
So now we’ve started to document what we want to do when we have free time and how much of it we have. But how do we begin to actually do things on our list?
You can’t do it all at once. You can’t boil the ocean.
Instead, I’ve personally chosen to embrace the notion that incremental progress is indeed still progress. When I started consciously applying these ideas, I found that I could get a lot done in even just 30 minutes.
I started by setting a very modest schedule at first, blocking a few hours a week initially at set times. With that time, I used my lists to become a creative body in motion instead of one at rest, accomplishing a bit at a time.
I also started to cross things off my list, which felt GREAT! For me, a given 30 minute period might include one or more of the following “short burst” activities, such as:
- Working on a song arrangement
- When complete, writing that arrangement down, or even setting up markers in my DAW for the sections of the song
- Setting up instrument tracks and inputs in my DAW for a song
- Watching a tutorial on EQ or Compression techniques
- Recording a scratch acoustic guitar guide track
- Working on lyrics to a song
- Working on creating a recording template in my DAW so setting up projects gets faster
- Changing strings on my bass
- And so on
The critical point here is to build new (or at least improved) conscious habits around time management and productivity.
For me, over time, this has helped build my confidence and given me the satisfaction of seeing results. It’s also made me more efficient, so I’m getting a lot more done in less time.
I’m still “working the plan,” and learning how to improve all the time.
It’s a Journey (So Don’t Stop Believin’!)
This is indeed a journey, and there is a lot more to discuss, such as goal-setting techniques, mental and emotional blockers, and more; I hope to have the opportunity to share more in some future posts.
In the meantime, I hope this has provided some perspectives and options for my fellow passionate hobbyists! Keep moving forward!
Larry Miller is a musician and home recording passionate hobbyist originally from New York City, now living in Iowa City, Iowa.