Photo credit: Emma Simpson
As a long-time independent musician, I know how hard this life can be on one’s mental health. I’ve taken a break before. I’ve felt like I should just quit. Things can get dark if you’re not careful. So I want to talk about how to care for your mental health as an indie musician.
The Pressures of Being an Indie Artist
As an indie musician, you do it all. Maybe you have a small team, but most of us are out here doing it all on our own. Regardless, here are the biggest problems I see indie artists struggling with regularly…
Have you ever gone down the rabbit hole of comparison on Spotify? You land on an artist’s Spotify page and immediately look at their monthly listenership and stream counts. And then you compare that to your Spotify stats, knowing you’re nowhere near their level of “success.”
This is a prime example of the comparison trap, but there are so many chances for indie artists to compare themselves to others. You start beating yourself up because you’re not as “good” as another artist. And that’s when you begin digging your own grave.
Perfectionism freezes so many aspiring artists. They think everything they make has to be absolutely perfect. But you will never reach perfect. Because when you finally get to where you previously thought perfect was, it has moved further down the line. Your taste has gotten better, so the bar for perfect has moved.
I’m not saying you should settle for okay. Do your best. Try to make the most meaningful music you can. But also recognize that you could endlessly tweak a song. Instead, focus on what moves you. If a song makes you feel something, put it out.
If you work a cushy day job or career position and you make music at night and on the weekends, you don’t feel the financial stress of being a working musician. And that’s totally fine. Nobody wants financial stress.
But if you’re giving a music career a proper go, you probably feel a bit of stress around money. Being a full-time musician is a hustle. You’re doing whatever you can to make money with your musical skills. And for many working musicians, money is tight.
Balancing creativity and business
As an indie musician, you’re running a business. But you’re also the creative force behind the business. So it can be challenging to play both of those roles and still feel like you’re staying authentic.
You will have to learn how to compartmentalize. Art over here, business over there.
Nothing feels like flailing in the ocean than not knowing where you’re going. If you know you want to be a full-time musician but you’re not sure exactly what that looks like, that’s stress-inducing.
Practical Steps To Care for Your Mental Health
Okay, now that we’ve talked about the main stressors and depressors for indie musicians, let’s talk about solutions. Because whether or not you make a career in music, it’s essential to prioritize your mental health. Here are some strategies to cope with the pressure of being a musician…
Set realistic goals
Find your ideal career, specifically what it involves. Then figure out what goals would get you there. Then break down those goals into things you can do today. This way, you can do one small thing each day and know you’re making progress. But you’re less likely to feel overwhelmed.
Be realistic about what you can accomplish
Be realistic about what you can accomplish in a day. It’s okay if things take longer than expected or if you need to adjust your plans. But you don’t want to overdo it or overwhelm yourself.
Celebrate your wins
Every time something good happens, I write it down. So I have a list of accomplishments for the past few years of my music career. Whenever I feel discouraged, I skim through this list to remind myself of how far I’ve come. You need some version of this. Celebrate and track your wins. (You can use my free worksheet to do this).
Balance work and rest
I can’t emphasize enough the importance of a calendar. It helps you know when you have time to do music and when to rest. It helps you separate the different parts of your life, including creating music and doing the business side of music. You’re not lazy if you need to rest after working.
Connect with others
Community keeps you afloat and can even help you thrive. As an introverted recluse, even I recognize the necessity of community for mental health. So go to open mics and meet people. Find a songwriter’s circle. Hit up a local musician doing what you’re doing and offer to buy them a coffee. Get connected.
Stay physically active
A walk around the block every day can do wonders for your mental health. It’s simple and stupid and annoying. But it helps.
Create a realistic budget and financial plan for your music career. Track how much you make from music each month, then don’t spend more than that on music stuff. This will help you stay afloat and even save up for that new piece of gear.
Learn to say no
Derek Sivers (CD Baby founder and author) says if something isn’t a “hell yes” then it’s a “no.” This way of thinking helps you focus more on your yes’s. When you’re selective about the opportunities and projects you take on, you can give the important stuff more of your creative energy.
I think everyone should try therapy at least once. A trained therapist can give you coping strategies and a non-judgmental space to discuss your feelings. The goal is to learn tools to help you cope on your own.
Mental Health Resources for Musicians
Clearly, I’m not a mental health professional. I’m just a fellow indie musician passing along what I know from research. So I want to point you in the direction of some organizations and programs that offer practical help for those struggling with their mental health.
MusiCares, run by the Recording Academy, offers a bunch of health and human services to the music community. This includes mental health services, financial assistance, and addiction recovery resources.
Backline is a non-profit organization that provides mental health and wellness support to music industry professionals. They offer a helpline, therapy grants, and wellness programs.
Help Musicians UK (United Kingdom)
Help Musicians UK provides a range of support services, including a 24/7 helpline, financial assistance, and mental health resources specifically designed for musicians in the UK.
The SIMS Foundation (Austin, Texas)
The SIMS Foundation offers mental health and substance use recovery services to musicians, music industry professionals and their families in the Austin, Texas area. I personally benefitted greatly from this organization when I lived there.
CrewCare is an Australian organization that offers mental health support for music industry professionals, including roadies, crew members, and technicians.