Self Care for Musicians

Happy Hanukkah!

It’s December, and the holiday season is now upon us!

If you’re a musician, you know what that means. Your schedule is packed with carolling in the morning, Messiah in the afternoon, and Nutcracker in the evening. Wash, rinse, repeat the next day ad infinitum. It can easily get super stressful, and without proper self-care, your physical and mental health will quickly go into the gutter.

Here is a list of 8 self-care tips that will make the hectic holiday season a little more manageable.

1. Sleep

Without proper sleep, the rest of this list is null and void. Make sure that you get an adequate amount of good quality sleep. For most adults, this means about 6-8 hours of sleep. But it’s not just the amount of sleep. Check that your sleeping environment is optimized for sleep quality as well. Avoid electronics one hour before you go to sleep. Have comfortable blankets and pillows that are a good fit for you (if you have severe anxiety/depression, a weighted blanket may help you get to sleep more easily). You can even use essential oils and/or scented candles to have scents like lavender waft around the room to help you relax before bed. If you are having nights when you are just finding it impossible to get to sleep, you can also use supplements like Melatonin to help you get to sleep. Make sure you do your own research on these products so you know what you are putting in your body. And when in doubt, consult your doctor.

2. Hydrate

Drink water not just when you are thirsty, but periodically and regularly throughout the day so that your body stays hydrated. We are made of 70% water after all.

3. Eat (well)

Besides proper sleep and hydration, proper meals during the day have the next biggest impact on our day-to-day well being. But because the Holiday season is so GO!-GO!-GO! for us, it can feel very difficult to even find time to sit down and eat any meal during the day, let alone a properly nutritional one. One way to combat this is to set aside time during the evening when you are preparing for the next day and meal-prep everything you will need. For example, if you know you are doing a double performance of The Nutcracker, and have barely an hour or two between shows, go ahead and pack yourself a sandwich or salad so that you can decompress from the first show while fueling up for the second, all without leaving the theater and getting caught in busy as hell traffic. As far as what to eat specifically, making sure you have an even balance of fruits and vegetables alongside your meats and dairy products is a good start. Nuts and grains are also excellent for maintaining focus during intensive performances!

4. Exercise

I know what you might be thinking. ‘How in the world do you expect me to exercise when my schedule is so freaking jam packed?’ Exercise doesn’t necessarily mean you have to drop a ton of money on a gym membership, trainer, and classes (although if this helps you, there is no shame in doing that). It just means that you should be maintaining the major muscle groups of your body in addition to the minor muscle groups you use to play your instrument. And that can be done with something as simple as a morning and/or evening stretching routine. Even just taking 10 minutes to do a simple yoga sequence can keep blood flowing throughout your whole body, keeping you alert and feeling overall great.

5. Schedule time to decompress

With so much going on on any given day, give yourself time to just stop and decompress. Even though you’ll probably be feeling tired as hell when you come back home after a double Nutcracker performance day, avoid the temptation to just face plant on the bed the second you get home. Give yourself time to peacefully and thoughtfully digest the day’s events, check in with your emotions, and maybe even do some prep for the next day so that your morning isn’t as hectic. Maybe even try some of that yoga I mentioned earlier?

6. Stop comparing yourself to others

This is a problem that nearly every musician on the planet faces, comparing your musical ability and/or where you are now in your career with others. It’s an incredibly toxic habit and a very hard habit to kick. As a young musician myself, I’m often caught in this thought spiral that says “I’m not good enough” or any number of other bad thoughts. To combat this, take time to reflect on your journey; where you’ve been, what you’ve done so far, etc. And very often you’ll be surprised by the sheer amount of stuff you’ve done. Remember, your only true competition is you from yesterday.

7. Learn something new

Give your brain a distraction from the constant focus on music it has. Make it a point that in the small gaps of time you have between events, or before you go to bed, to do something that is distinctly non-musical. For example, have a language you’ve always wanted to learn? There are a ton of free language learning apps such as Duo-Linguo that can be picked up and put back down in easy 5 minute sessions.

8. Get a message (optional, but highly recommended)

We put our bodies through so much as musicians. It’s super important for us to also take care of it and put it through regular maintenance, just as we would our car. As of a few months ago, I have now made it a point to schedule regular massages to keep the stress off my body and to make sure that I am not putting unnecessary tension on my body. Not to mention, they just plain feel great!

Financial Tips for Musicians

Making a career of being a musician is tough because it takes a combination of hard work, professionalism, and being at the right place at the right time and with the right people to “make it.”

  1. Build an Emergency Fund

This is something that literally everyone should make the first priority when settling their finances, artist or not. Sometimes you will be faced with an unexpected situation and usually the first place you will feel the punch will be in your wallet. For example, your car breaks down and you need to get it to a mechanic immediately, because, let’s face it, we musicians travel a lot! It is imperative that you have a savings buffer that can get you through any sort of unexpected financial burden.

To help me save up for this, I use an app called Digit. It’s an automated savings app that connects directly to your checking account and will automatically transfer a small amount (usually between $0.10 – $5.00) to a specific savings account that is curated for your specific savings goals, including an emergency fund.

2. Time is Money

As musicians, we have A LOT to do; practice, maintain our instruments, go to rehearsals, give performances, etc. That in it of itself is a huge burden on our time! And with only roughly 16 hours in the typical workday (assuming you get a full 8 hours of sleep), our time becomes incredibly precious.

Something you can start doing, which will hugely benefit your mental health, is to start treating your hours of the day just like money (hence the phrase). Start placing a value on all the things you do in any given day, and start asking yourself if it is truly worth your time, energy, and/or money. If the answer is no, find something more valuable to your time to take its place.

Of course, there is a whole other conversation to be had about the paid gig versus the unpaid gig for exposure. In short, I will say weigh the cost-benefit ratio of the gig. Will the unpaid gig be full of networking and professional growth opportunities? Will the paid gig be paying you accordingly to the amount of work you are doing? Start asking yourself these types of questions, and that should steer you in the right direction for you.

3. Invest in Yourself

One of the biggest changes I have found that has helped me tremendously in not only my professional life but also my overall health is to invest in myself. One way to do so is through exercise. There is an abundance of scientific studies that prove that regular exercise improves many aspects of your health and your life. The more you exercise, the more easily oxygen can travel throughout your body and into your brain (Sometimes I’ve had some of my best ‘Ah-ha!’ moments while on the treadmill). So make time for yourself to get some exercise, whether that’s going to the gym, hiking, yoga, etc., find something that gets your body moving and your blood flowing.

Another aspect of the idea of investing in yourself is investing in things that make you feel good about yourself. In my case, this was my wardrobe. For me, that usually means a well-fitted shirt, comfortable and slim slacks or chinos, and dress shoes. I am by no means a fashion expert, but I do enjoy learning about what fits well with my body, what colors, patterns, and styles go well together, and figuring out where I can get them all for a price that won’t break my budget.

4. Diversify Your Skill Sets

Unless you get extraordinary lucky straight out of college and get signed on to become the next Joshua Bell or Yuja Wang or Gustavo Dudamel, chances are going to likely that you will have to do something other than performing. One of the smartest things you can do for your immediate financial future as a musician is to start learning about all the relevant sub-sections of the music world that may not be performance related. This can mean working as a ticket sales associate at your local concert hall, working as a stage manager, or teaching. In fact, teaching, whether it’s at a private studio or in a public school setting, is hugely beneficial as a young musician because it makes you think more about how to approach the basics of musicianship, and it’s a great resume builder.

I hope these tips are helpful!