It’s no secret that being a musician can be hugely fulfilling. You’re doing what you love, bringing joy to people and making a career out of it! But have you ever felt the need to always be positive, even when you’re feeling the opposite? Has anyone ever told you that you’re lucky to be doing what you love as a career and so you feel guilty for not being positive 100% of the time? 

As part of YCAT’s 21cMusician Coffee Break session in October 2021, Dr George Musgrave (co-author of Can Music Make You Sick?) talked about the harsh realities of being a musician and shared his advice on the steps that can be taken to protect your mental health. 

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Dr George Musgrave

Dr. George Musgrave FRSA FHEA studies the psychological experiences and working conditions of creative careers, with a current focus on mental health and wellbeing in the music industry. He co-led a major research project entitled 'Can Music Make You Sick?' on mental health and the music industry exploring the links between anxiety/depression and precarious work, the book of which was an Amazon Number 1 Bestseller in the Sociology of Work. He is also a musician who has signed both major recording and publishing deals with EMI/Sony/ATV. 

Here are our top tips in making a more healthy start to your career ->


Please note that the information provided should not be substituted for professional medical advice.

1) Identify your sources of stress

One of the most important things that you can do to make a healthy start to your career is to try to understand where the sources of stress and anxiety are coming from. The more you understand this, the more you will be able to reflect and develop coping mechanisms to deal with these stressors.

In our session with Dr George Musgrave, he explained how these factors of stress can be split into three different categories:

  • Work - What are some of the things that happen when you think about musicianship as a job? Can one consider a gig as ‘work’ when the fee being offered is very low, or nothing at all? Consider the relationship between ‘labour’ and ‘work’ and what you are willing to put into each category. Be prepared to not be making much money!

  • Validation - How does your work achieve status among listeners? There is a perceived need to stay consistently relevant and available for criticism 24/7 with the world of online music making, which can be exhausting.
  • Relationships - Family relationships can often be strained and a source of guilt when reliant upon them for money at the start of your career. 



2) Define what success is for you

In music, there is a subjective spectrum as to what we define as successful. For some people, success is being able to afford to buy a flat, or to not worry about where the next rent instalment is coming from. For other people, success is playing at the Royal Albert Hall even if you’re still living at home with your parents. For some people, success is just the ability for music to have a role in your career. Try to define what you want your personal success to look like.

3) Make sure that your personal and professional goals are aligned

Are the ambitions that you have in your musical life and your non-musical life out of sync? Do you value performing at a venue that you have always dreamed of, or do you want to spend more time with friends and family? Reflect on the priorities that you have in your life, both musical and non-musical, in order to strive towards goals that satisfy both.



4) Develop a healthy relationship with being online

There is an expectation in the music industry to be available online 24/7 and to build your identity as a musician by being very visible on social media. Whilst an online presence is very important, it’s crucial to develop boundaries so that you don’t become exhausted by being perpetually available.

5) Stop pretending you’re in complete control

Musicians tend to feel individually responsible for decisions within their career development and success. Have you ever been unsuccessful in an audition and thought ‘I just need to be better’? The reality is that whilst you have a level of creative control, you can never have complete control over your own career. Failure is not entirely your fault!

6) Don’t individualise social problems

We need to look at social problems for what they really are and challenge these structures rather than accepting that they are a problem for one musician as an individual. It’s not good enough to be paid below the minimum rate that is required, or to not get a gig on the basis of your age, gender, sexuality, race or any other factor. Challenge these structures to bring about change, but don’t blame yourself for losing out on a gig for factors beyond your control.

7) You don’t have to say yes to everything!

If you don’t think that a gig is going to be worth it, then don’t do it! It is difficult at the start of a career to judge what will or won’t be worthwhile, but it’s too easy to be desperate to please and say yes before thinking about how much money you’re going to make (or lose!), whether the ‘exposure’ really is worth it, and if you’re going to tolerate the perceived injustices of the opportunity at hand. 

8) Don’t give up!

All of this talk of harsh realities is not meant to put you off pursuing a career in music! Music is incredibly important and a career in the music industry can be incredibly fulfilling. However, it is important that we don’t shy away from these challenging factors and aim to have as healthy a relationship as possible with music.



Don’t stay silent

Many people have an unhealthy relationship with music and don’t talk about it. If you are struggling and need someone to talk to, contact Music Minds Matter or Help Musicians, or speak to your local GP/mental health charity.

For general mental health advice: 

Time To Change  

Mind 

If you’d like someone to talk to: 

Samaritans - or call 116 123 (free to call, 24 hours a day) 




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and keep an eye on our events page for more Coffee Break Sessions with industry experts.