As an independent self-managed musician, one may often find the need to be creative and express oneself at odds with the managerial desire to cultivate a financially stable career. Here we delve into how reconcile these two aspects of the job.
Picture this: A scrappy underground boxing arena, smoke filled and packed wall to wall with a myriad of characters, each straining to watch the unfolding drama at the center of the boxing ring. The announcer, dressed in a crisp white shirt and black tie riles the crowd and shrewdly crafts a fierce anticipation for the looming fight:
“Ladies and gentleman, tonight we have here an unprecedented match, the fight of the century – unlike anything we’ve seen before! In one corner, the reigning champion and heavyweight: The Manager! And, in the other corner, we have the underdog who has been able to miraculously come up from behind, making a way for herself: The Artist! Who will win in tonight’s match?”
Being an artist AND your own manager can often feel like the scene I described above: On one hand, you have a deep desire to express your creativity through your music – be it through songwriting, performing, arranging, or composing – and on the other hand, you have a deep desire to create financial stability and sustainability for your work so you can, you know, eat. You do not have the luxury of hiring a manager just yet, and so you find yourself working as a full time artist AND a full time manager.
While these two roles are not mutually exclusive (let’s face it, who better to push your music than the person who knows it best: you!), it can definitely be challenging to find the balance between your artist-self and your manager-self. I find it hard to be creative when I’m generally focused on more managerial tasks (such as running a PledgeMusic campaign, booking gigs, managing unruly bandmates, etc.). On the flip side, I find it hard to be focused and efficient on the business of my music when I’m writing and creating music.
So, how do we find that balance? I am still very much working on finding that balance myself, but there are a few things I have learned to help me weather this sometimes exasperating tension.
First and foremost, when you sit down to write or play, do not have your email open and turn off your phone notifications. For me, every little bing or beep rips my attention away from the creative process. “Maybe it’s this venue telling me they want to book me for this date. Or maybe it’s my producer getting back to me about our recording schedule. Or maybe it’s that writer who is interested in writing a review about me.” The moment that I hear that email or text pop up and those questions start running through my mind, my creative juices stop flowing. I take myself out of my creative mindset. For me, I have found it best to create a sacred space before I sit down to create – one free of distraction, stress, and negativity, as these can easily kill creativity.
Which leads me to my next point: it can be exceedingly difficult to be creative if you are stressed, and managing a band is stressful! Before I began pursuing music seriously, music was my outlet for stress. But once I began managing myself, my music became a source of it, which was devastating. I’ve since come to realize two things:
- I cannot solely rely on my music to de-stress me and I have to find other healthy ways to de-stress like hiking and yoga.
- Allowing your Manager-self to K.O. your Artist-self will lead to unmanageable stress (I’m going back to the boxing analogy from above – nice, right?).
At the heart of it, we are artists and we NEED to create to feel happy and fulfilled. However, at times, the sense of urgency you feel as a manager will outweigh your immediate need to create, and that’s okay. We are the arbiters of our own fate and we need to create our own opportunities. It can feel exhilarating to snag that big gig or connect with that one important contact, but never forget the reason why you became your own manager in the first place: because you love music.
Finally, in the endless battle between your Artist-self and your Manager-self, be kind and gentle to yourself. As silly as this may sound, it’s true. Working yourself up into a tizzy because you didn’t send that one email or because that one opportunity fell through and if you had only just… just… I am the worst offender when it comes to these thoughts – they keep me up at night, and I find that same anxious attitude works its measly little way into my creative psyche, making it hard for me to write at all. When I am gentle with myself and let myself off the proverbial hook, I am better able to focus on what’s next instead of lamenting over what could have been. Think about it this way: If you had a hired manager and she or he messed up, would you barrage them with criticism over and over? No (at least I hope not!), so then why should you do that to yourself?
“Zing! The Manager pulls a left jab! Ka-pow! The Artist pulls a right hook! Ladies and gentleman that’s it! The fight is over! This is one for the history books!”
Ultimately, the boxing match is a draw.
Leah Waldo is the Curriculum Manager for massive open online courses at Berklee Online. She is a Berklee College of Music alumna and received her Master’s in Education from the Harvard Graduate School of Education. Leah is also a songwriter and front woman of Elisa Smith & The Tiny Little Lies. She finds her musical inspiration from country greats like Loretta Lynn, Dolly Parton, and Tanya Tucker, and through her songwriting, she tells the stories of strong women across the country.