How to avoid burnout as a music producer

Producing music can be an exciting but exhausting experience.

Often times, the work of a music producer consists of a never-ending cycle of creating, composing, and recording. The non-stop hours and seemingly infinite tasks can lead to creative, mental, and physical exhaustion if not properly balanced. How can one pursue their creative dreams without experiencing burnout?

The simple answer is effective time management; to have a well-balanced life, you have to cultivate healthy practices that, much like a good mix, work well together and create the best overall product. Without a healthy balance across mind, body, and spirit, your music and career will inevitably suffer.

Artists and entrepreneurs are regularly bombarded with motivational mantras that devalue sleep and relaxation. In fact, many people see getting proper rest (eight hours of sleep a night) as a weakness. This constant rise-and-grind / I’ll-sleep-when-I’m-dead mentality often leads to artists and producers becoming burned out and, perhaps to their surprise, less successful than they hoped. In this article, let’s explore some practices that will help you achieve your career goals and avoid experiencing burnout.

1. Schedule your work and don’t overload yourself

We’ve already covered a few creative strategies that help you finish your work. One of the best ways to be productive and avoid stress is to be an efficient planner. If you stick to a consistent work schedule, it’ll be easier to get more things done, and you’ll find that you have more time to relax. You have to treat music production, content creation, and all other related duties like a 9 – 5 job that you’re getting paid for regularly.

Music may be your job, but it shouldn’t consume your entire life. Create a schedule that works alongside your daily commitments, and spread your tasks out over multiple days. Schedule time to develop old ideas, finish projects for clients, and work on other forms of content. The more you treat your music like a serious career, the more you’ll see serious results (and reduce the frustration of feeling like you’re not progressing fast enough).

2. Take frequent breaks from music

Although it may seem a little counterintuitive, you need to take breaks to stay productive. When you become burned out, it’s because your body and mind can no longer sustain your lifestyle. You hit a wall that you can’t break through, so you breakdown. Taking a break doesn’t mean not making a beat for a day; it means stepping away from music for a week or two. This may seem like an impossible task for some, but it can actually be a powerful motivator. If you know that you’re going to take a week off once every two months, then you’ll naturally start to set two-month goals. This means that once you arrive to your ‘off week,’ you’ll feel accomplished because you’ll have a list of things that you’ve completed.

There are many benefits to completely stepping away from music creation. One of the most important benefits is that when you come back to creating music, you’ll have fresh ears and a fresh perspective. If you don’t want to end up resenting music or your profession, it’s good to regularly take a step back and gather a new appreciation for your craft.

In addition, taking a break will give you time to focus on the areas of your life that you may have been neglecting. Art is a reflection of life, and you’ll have very little to create about if you’re not living. Take some time to live and leave music behind. It’ll be there when you come back.

3. Make more time for family, friends, and loved ones

A key to maintaining balance in your life as a music producer is spending time with people who don’t primarily see you as a musician. Your parents, siblings, close friends, spouse, and kids will all view you as the person they love, not your musical persona. My kids don’t care that I’m working on a new beat tape; my mother just started to seriously follow my music this year. As much as I love my music, it matters relatively little to a lot of the people I love. That’s not because they don’t care, but because they care about me first — and there’s way more to me than just my music.

The people in our lives who are the closest to us are often the best barometers of who we are outside of our music. If these people aren’t physically close to you, it’s important to make time to call or video chat and just check in with them. Sometimes, we carry subconscious ideas that we must impress our friends and family with success, or face judgement otherwise. The people who truly love you will always love you, no matter what you do for a living. Make sure you don’t forget your loved ones in the midst of pursuing your career. Don’t bail on date night if you’re in a relationship, play with your kids often if you have any, and take time out of your week to check in with your parents, siblings, and close friends.

4. Regularly engage in non-musical activities

This is a simple but really important idea. Make sure you’re regularly reading books, watching movies, playing sports, going to museums, or doing something else that’s non-musical. Your musical creativity can be stimulated in so many ways; just a walk through nature can give you ideas for your next beat. Music creation should be a holistic experience that comes from a person who’s actively living and reflecting on life. You’re not lazy if you want to binge a Netflix show every now and then. What’s most important is that you’re happy and constantly exposing yourself to new experiences and ideas.

If you’re feeling consumed by music, create a reading list. Try to read one book a week, or a few books every month. Learning and stimulating your brain in other ways will naturally reinvigorate your music creation. Alternatively, make a commitment to trying one new activity with your friends every month. This could be as extreme as skydiving, or as simple as going out to a new restaurant. Most importantly, you need to live life and have fun in ways that aren’t centered around music. In doing so, you’ll have more fun with music when you come back.

5. Exercise, stretch, eat well, and drink lots of water

Believe it or not, your physical health plays a huge role in how successful you are. Many people think of being a musician as a life full of partying, recreational drug use, and sleepless nights. That may sound fun to some, but the reality is that over time your body will break down if you keep up that kind of lifestyle. There’s nothing wrong with partying and having a good time, but it’s important to balance those activities with healthy ones.

Having an intentional morning routine is a great way to start off your day right. Waking up and exercising or simply stretching can help release the tension that builds in the body from long hours of sitting in front of a computer screen. Maintaining a balanced diet is another way that you can maximize your output. Eating superfoods like berries will stimulate brain activity more than a bacon, egg, and cheese roll. Having a cup of coffee is great, but drinking lots of water will help filter your blood and allow you to feel ready to tackle the day.

6. Take care of your mental health

Taking care of your mind should be a top priority; being physically drained is one thing, but it can be very difficult to come back to music once you’re mentally exhausted. The mind is the super computer that runs the entire body, and therefore it must be treated with great care. Stress, anxiety, and depression are conditions that can occur from a number of factors including your career. That’s why taking physical and mental breaks from music is actually very healthy — it gives your internal hard drive a chance to reboot, rest, and recalibrate.

However, it’s not always feasible to take extended breaks from your job / passion, so it’s important to find ways to take mini breaks. My favorite way to do this is through meditation. In my experience, meditation allows me to be completely present and in tune with my body, mind, and spirit. This awareness reconnects me to my innermost essence, which is the place where I believe passion and purpose coexist. This idea is referred to as ‘mindfulness,’ and there are a wide variety of meditation practices that are centered around it.

Although many artists use their work to process their own life and emotions, it’s important to remember that art isn’t the only way to deal with pain, trauma, etc. It’s no secret that many musicians struggle with their mental health, and it’s important to recognize when you might need support yourself. You don’t have to wait until you burn out or break down to simply start a relationship with a mental health professional. As you continue to grind out tracks and push yourself to make the best music possible, remember that music is only as good as the musicians creating it. Do yourself a favor and take care of yourself.

Charles and his band (The Love Experiment) recently released a pack full of groovy neo soul sounds — check it out here.

Spark inspiration for your music with expertly-curated loops, one-shots, MIDI, presets, and more:

December 3, 2019

Charles Burchell Charles “BLVK Samurai” Burchell is a music producer, rapper, multi-instrumentalist, and educator from New Orleans, Louisiana.