How To Succeed In Music When You Have a Family

music career and family
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music career and family
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Photo credit: OPPO Find X5 Pro

I’m a single father of two, so balancing my music career and family life is…interesting. It takes intention, so this topic is something I’ve thought about a lot. Sometimes I’ve done it well, many times not.

What I’ve experienced is, sometimes you face a crossroads. Sometimes you have to choose: music or family? Or is there a third option?

Here’s an anecdote that shows what I mean…

I had been working on one of my albums for about a year. And I was in the final stages, trying to finish the mixes. The songs were almost done.

And while I was hyper-focused on EQing an instrument, I heard a little voice behind me say, “Daddy?”

It was my two-year-old son.

I turned around to see his huge, infectious smile. He reached for one of my guitars, excited to make music with me.

And this is the moment where I faced a crossroad…

One, tell him to leave the room because dad was busy working. Or two, involve him in the mixing process.

I chose option two, and I’m so glad I did.

I picked him up, put him on my lap, and we EQ’d that song together. Yeah, I wasn’t able to mix as quickly as I would’ve if he weren’t there. But in that moment, we were both happy.

So whatever “family” looks like to you – whether you have kids, a significant other, siblings, or close roommates – this post may help you balance it with your music.

Let me share some things I’ve learned about balancing my music career and family life…

Time Is the Most Valuable Thing You Have

As a self-employed person, I’m able to incorporate my music endeavors into my workday. I realize I’m fortunate. But it wasn’t always that way.

For many years, my only time to make music was from about 9 p.m. to whenever I had to go to bed. This is the life of most part-time, indie musicians. You learn how to squeeze music into your life wherever you can.

Time is your most valuable asset. When you have family time, try to be present and soak it up. And when you have time to pursue music, turn on your laser-focus.

Work Quickly

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Credit: Austin Kleon

Because time is valuable and limited as a family-person musician, you must work quickly. You’ll actually find you work quickly as an instinct. Limited time forces you to make creative decisions instead of getting stuck.

Limitations can be good for you.

Ernest Hemingway wrote a six-word poem/story as a bet. Folk artist Nick Drake recorded his album Pink Moon in two overnight sessions. You have limited time, so you get more done.

Because both family and music are important to you, your limited time can be a catalyst to be great at both.

Just Do One Thing

Here are two things that don’t mix well: limited time and a long to-do list.

Saying “no” is a power move. It allows you to say “yes” to what’s most important. As Derek Sivers puts it, “If you’re not saying ‘HELL YEAH!’ about something, say no.”

Every time I send the 5 Things To Help You Keep Going email, I sign off with “Just do one thing today.” The idea is to pick just one thing to do for your music career if that’s all the time you have. Because one small step forward is better than standing still.

Listen To the Teachers Around You

Your family can be your teachers if you let them.

This is especially true if you have kids. For example, I’ve gotten song lyrics from random things my kids say.

If you listen well, you can find inspiration in everyday conversations involving your family.

Bob Dylan said, “Poets do a lot of listening.” So bend your ears to the people around you.

What’s Most Important To You?

Your family won’t be around forever. I don’t mean that in a pessimistic way. But if you have kids, they will grow up and you’ll see them less. Your siblings graduate, get careers, and sometimes move away. Your significant other at some point will pass away – in the words of Jason Isbell, “Maybe we’ll get forty years together. But one day I’ll be gone, or one day you’ll be gone.”

So here’s something to remember, and I’m saying this to myself too…

Remember what’s most important to you. On your deathbed, will you have regrets? If so, will they be related to not spending enough time with loved ones? Just something to think about.

P.S. – if you want the perspective of two producers/engineers, check out this episode of the That Sounds About Right podcast.