Working Hard vs. Overworking: Tips for Freelance Musicians and Artists

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A freelance career definitely has its perks—flexible scheduling, creative control, or being able to sleep in are a few of my favorites. But life as a freelance musician can also be incredibly challenging, especially when it comes to work-life balance.

One of the benefits of a “regular” job (something 9 to 5, Monday-Friday) is that the consistent schedule allows for healthy routine. Also, for many jobs like this, when your work day is over, work truly ends. The rest of your day can be spent on your own personal needs, family time, relaxing, or hobbies. In a freelance career, work spreads into all hours of the day and all days of the week, and finding time for yourself can get complicated.

Additionally, freelance careers often have busy periods and slow periods, and the busy times are financially essential to surviving the slower stretches. Most musicians I know are booked solid in December with holiday gigs, church services, and Messiah concerts. Many of us power through the busy times because we know it’s short-term and we should take the work while we can get it. The ability to survive a few weeks with an overwhelming work schedule is essential as a freelance musician, but at what point does it go too far?

Lastly, there are very few “dream jobs” for musicians. Unlike many fields where you can eventually get a full-time salaried position, a musician or freelance artist is constantly trying to grow their career to include better gigs and more rewarding work. Many big dreams for musicians (a solo album or a concert tour) are artistically rewarding but don’t end in much financial gain. Which means as soon as the project is over, it’s back to work. Because of this, most freelance artists are always working towards more, and rarely settled in their careers.

I think many musicians struggle with the pressure to work hard. Even if there are no tangible work goals, there is always the potential to be practicing your instrument, which can easily log hours each day. It becomes difficult just to feel like a day’s work is done and you can relax without guilt.

There’s a big difference between working hard and overworking yourself. Working hard means you’re being productive, seeing results, feeling rewarded, and continuing to feel inspired. Overworking means you’re often feeling drained, feeling unsatisfied with the results of your work, and find yourself resenting your current projects. It’s important to understand the difference as they have completely different effects on your overall career success.

Working Hard
Overworking
working long hours, less personal time
working long hours, less personal time
able to squeeze in time to decompress or relax as needed
unable to find time or ways to relax
feel tired but satisfied at the end of the day
feel exhausted and drained at end of day, but restless
excitement or positive thoughts about current projects
dread or lack of enthusiasm about current projects
able to see results or potential results of your work
feeling like your work is for nothing or not worth it
positive thoughts about how you’ll spend time when it frees up
unable to see past your workload
inspired by, supportive, or tolerant of your successful colleagues
bitter, resentful, or jealous of your successful colleagues
Throughout your career as a freelancer, it’s impossible to avoid overworking yourself at times. The important thing is to be able to notice and address it, so you can get yourself back on a healthier path for yourself and your career. No matter how hard you work, if your energy and well-being is being severely compromised, it’s likely there won’t be huge payoff. Being a freelance artist takes true stamina, and the last thing you want to do is burn yourself out. If you drive yourself into the ground working too hard on projects that aren’t meaningful to you or don’t give you much in return, it can take you months to recover and regain inspiration and the spirit to work hard at something that is meaningful. We can’t forget that although we need to be businesspeople and technicians on our instruments, we are artists, and we need to protect our ability to stay inspired and passionate.
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