Music producers mental fatigue is real

And what to do about it

As a music producer, I feel like I have too many things to do, production, promotion etc. I work 16 hours a day and still feel behind and running out of time, the world is just moving too fast! How to not being mentally exhausted in the pursuit of happiness?

Michael J

This is a great question with no simple answer. Such overall mental exhaustion is definitely an issue, especially for bedroom producers who trying to break through. Let’s try to find out the reasons of this fatigue and what we can do about it.

Why it happens

Back in the days, a music band would need a drummer, vocalist, and a guitar player just to write a song. Then they’d need a recording studio and engineer to record and mix the song, and a mastering engineer to prepare it for release.

Now you can program drums, chop vocals, synthesize leads, record, arrange, mix, and master all by yourself within a DAW. And even share it to the audience right away just in few clicks. Music producers are now one-man’s orchestra; it certainly has some benefits yet giving a double-edged effect.

As a modern music producer, you expected to have all of these skills and knowledge by default:

  • Digital audio fundamentals, music theory basic, synthesis, sound design, drums programming, DAW, MIDI, processing devices, routing, arrangement, structure, plugins, mixing and psycho-acoustic model , mastering basics, Djing, performance

We’re all know that having just great music alone won’t make you a career. To get an audience and do the business side of things, most likely you do the following:

  • Post at least on four major social networks, manage your website, run a podcast and record guest mixes, write blogs and guest articles, send newsletters, negotiate with labels, negotiate with booking agents, deal with press, bloggers, reviewers; plan ahead your promo campaigns

Besides, we’re living in a fast-paced world, gear and technologies are changing very rapidly. To keep yourself up-to-date, you probably:

  • Read magazines, articles, blogs and newsletters; attend seminars, tech fairs, shows; follow tastemakers on social media; study online courses; learn about management, marketing, and even laws
Sometimes I feel like a Swiss army knife, doing everything

The lists goes on. And that’s taking into account that most bedroom producers have full-time jobs to pay the bills, so realistically there are only a few hours a day available for all of these activities! Well, no surprise most producers who live like that not only feel fatigued, but also look like Earthworm Jim... without his suit (myself included).

But before you start to pity yourself, thinking to quit tough, unfair, and overcomplicated music industry for the sake of some ‘easier’ profession, think of the following.

You don’t have to be great

Yes, the music business is tough, confusing, and complicated, that’s for sure. But in reality, the reason of your mental exhaustion is not the profession you chose, it’s because you are trying to achieve something great.

Being great at something is extremely tough not only in music: ask any successful designer, lawyer, developer, scientist, surgeon, entrepreneur. It requires full commitment to what you doing regardless of what it is, whether you make music, write code, or run a business.

But the point is — you don’t have to. You don’t have to be great, being ‘normal’ is just as fine. Look around, there are plenty of mediocre workers (95% I’d say) in every shop, in every service profession, and many of those are happy people!

Even in music, ask yourself why you are doing this in the first place. Perhaps, just making music is what you need, without trying to climb to the top of the hill? Remember: you don’t have to. It’s your call, your life.

However, if you have serious ambitions in music as a career, then prepare to some sacrifices. There is no easy way. Here is what John 00 Fleming writes about it:

“This career comes at a heavy price, the sacrifice being the social aspect of my personal life. My life clashes with the regular World. [...] I spend most weekends in airports, hotels and clubs. The last thing I want to do if I manage to grab a sneaky week off is fly abroad and spend my time in yet another hotel. I associate airports and hotels with going to work. There’s no way I can relax in either of those places, my heads goes into work/DJ mode. So family holidays are out the question, as they wait all year for that annual vacation abroad.”

Cut the unnecessary

I don’t know a magic trick that would suddenly make your music producer’s life easier, and I doubt there any shortcuts. But I use a technique I call ‘cut the unnecessary’ which helps me to keep focused on what’s really important.

Every time you dig into new fancy plugins or read a review of a new DJ controller, ask yourself — “does it help me to progress toward my goals?”. Is it something you really need at the moment or it is your tired brain just needs some procrastination?

Re-energizing for music production after 9-6 work

We all are content consumers, we absorb new information through social networks and news media all the time. But sometimes (or most of the time?) this information gives nothing but a feeling of doing or learning something new whilst in reality it’s a junk ‘food’. It’s like if you would eat potato chips thinking you’re getting a protein.

Sometimes it’s good to have an informational ‘diet’ for your mind. If you cut the unnecessary, it might turn out that things are a little bit easier than you thought.

Recap

I know this blog might be confusing, so let me highlight three main points I was trying to say:

  1. Music business is tough and complicated. But there is no shortcut to success in any profession.
  2. You don’t have to be great, being ‘normal’ is just fine as long as you are happy with it.
  3. Focus on what really helps your progression.

On cover image: an illustration of Renton, a character of Irvine Welsh’s novel “Trainspotting” played by Ewan McGregor. His famous “Choose life” narration sums it up nicely.

P.S. This post is a part of the weekly “Advice” series. I’m happy to advise on such topics as production, performance, management, marketing, and design in the music industry and beyond. Send me your questions, too.

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