It’s no surprise you often feel overwhelmed as an artist: Writing and releasing music, promoting it, connecting with influencers in the music industry, growing a fanbase, booking shows and playing gigs… So many things to do besides your „normal life“. But what if I told you that there‘s a formula on how to deal with overwhelm as an artist?
In this episode of Pick Yourself, I‘m going to help you gain clarity again and focus on the essential next steps in your artist-career. Let‘s dive right in!
Don‘t worry, it‘s normal to feel overwhelmed as an artist
First of all, there‘s nothing wrong with you. You‘re not alone with this problem, even if your peers play it cool and pretend to have everything under control. I promise you that every upcoming artist is having the same issues. Feeling overwhelmed as an artist is normal, we simply need to learn how to deal with it. Guess what, even the most successful and experienced music producers struggle with this from time to time.
As an upcoming artist, you have to deal with much more than just the creative aspects of your work. You need to work on your artist brand, organize and play gigs, promote your releases, build meaningful relationships with other music industry professionals, and grow your tribe of true fans.
All of these things seem equally important and you simply don‘t know how to make all these aspects work together while earning some money on the side as well (and having a healthy private life).
Constant distraction, fear of missing out (FOMO) and the shiny object syndrome
Believe it or not: Feeling overwhelmed as an artist is not rooted in the things you have to do but in the things you THINK are important beyond that. Let me clarify this.
We live in a world of constant distraction and noise. Your phone vibrates all the time, people message you and want something from you immediately, you‘re being bombarded with news and ads. This information overload in our day and age makes it harder and harder to focus on what‘s essential. To quote one of my favorite authors, Greg McKeown (I recommend his fantastic book „Essentialism“):
„You cannot overestimate the unimportance of practically everything.“ – Gregor McKeown
On top of the constant distraction, there‘s the good old „FOMO“, the fear of missing out. What does that mean? Well, look at all the social events you‘re invited to and pay attention to what is popping up in your news feed. Wasn‘t there a discount on that one amazing plugin? And what about that blog post on mixing you wanted to read? Oh and that YouTuber‘s latest tutorial that you wanted to watch!
On top of the FOMO, there comes the so-called Shiny-Object-Syndrome. We all obsess over the next little tool or technique that might provide a shortcut to what we want to achieve. What about that Instagram hack that helps you gain more followers? What if finally switching to another DAW could ease all your issues with finishing your tracks?
It‘s no wonder you‘re feeling overwhelmed as an artist. So let‘s now take a look at how you can deal with it, step-by-step.
How to deal with overwhelm as an artist (step-by-step)
I‘m now going to walk you through my five-step process of how to deal with overwhelm as an artist. These steps are my go-to strategy whenever this feeling arises.
1. Accept the feeling instead of fighting it
Remember that the more you try to fight your feeling of overwhelm, the stronger it gets. It‘s a bit like feeding your inner beast. Acceptance is the first step towards relief and inner peace. That doesn‘t mean you can‘t do anything about it, of course. But it‘s important to not beat yourself up about it. I promise you that every single artist I‘ve ever known has felt exactly the same. Overwhelm is part of our reality as artists.
Remember that your feeling of overwhelm is more than just a time-management problem. It comes down to a lack of focus, clarity, and priority. So let‘s asses how you can re-gain that focus. You first need to take a step back and start looking at the bigger picture again.
2. Re-visit your goals and vision
I‘ve you‘ve followed my goal-setting process, this step will be quite easy for you. If you haven‘t manifested your goals yet, this might be the perfect moment to start with it. The good thing about having clear goals and a vision is that they work as your compass in rough times. When you feel overwhelmed as an artist, you need to first accept that feeling, then take a step back and re-visit your goals and vision.
What that does is it re-calibrates your perspective. Suddenly, all the noise disappears and you find out again why you are doing all these things. The shiny objects now feel much less interesting and the FOMO is gone, at least for a short while.
3. Focus on the next step your need to take RIGHT NOW
After having re-visited your goals, you should have a much clearer idea of what is important and what is not. This is what Greg McKeown means when he speaks of discerning the „vital few“ from the „trivial many“. So what do you do with that new clarity? You break it down into small, actionable steps.
To be more precise: You have to ask yourself this: „What is the first step I need to take RIGHT NOW to move in the direction of this goal?“. This will immediately remove your feeling of overwhelm and put your mind at ease.
Let me give you and example: If your yearly goal is to release one EP with four songs, your first step is to analyze where you currently stand. You take a look at your session folder and find out that two songs are more or less finished and you have five more song sketches that have some potential. The next step could be to get into the routine of working at least 1-2 hours per day in the next week on these song sketches. Then, you can re-evaluate them and decide which ones will end up on your EP.
4. Ask the right questions
Sometimes, feeling overwhelmed as an artist makes you feel paralyzed. Too paralyzed to even look at your goals and take the next step. This feeling puts an immense psychological pressure on you because you start to question everything, especially yourself and your talent. That‘s dangerous!
In this situation, I recommend focusing on asking the right questions, because the wrong questions might lead to a high level of anxiety, and maybe even depression.
I‘ve come across a very helpful book by Seth Godin, called „The Dip“. It works like a guide through these tough times and helps you face uncomfortable truths. In the end, it comes down to whether you create something exceptional, or settle with being average. Asking the right questions at the right time helps you adjust things so you end up above average.
“Never quit something with great long-term potential just because you can’t deal with the stress of the moment.” – Seth Godin
The important thing that „The Dip“ teaches us is that sometimes, it is truly time to quit something (or at least change direction, massively). So if you‘re truly feeling overwhelmed as an artist, and it doesn‘t seem to pay off in the desired way, you might want to re-think your approach. Maybe your music isn‘t as unique as you think. Maybe you‘re attracting the wrong kind of people with the way you behave on social media.
When it comes to asking the right questions, there are no sacred cows. Being brutally honest is daunting, but also refreshing and might result in something way better in the end.
5. Re-start your positive habits and celebrate the little wins
Feeling overwhelmed as an artist often comes from aiming for the unachievable and comparing yourself with others. When you hit rock bottom and start with re-visiting your goals and asking the right questions, you might still feel paralyzed, even though you theoretically know what the next step is.
In this case, it‘s a good idea to check your positive habits and re-start the ones that you‘ve skipped recently. Celebrating these little daily wins (meaning: sticking to your positive habits) is going to help you build up momentum again.
Once your positive habits have started pulling you up again, you will feel less overwhelmed in general. Moreover, you goals will suddenly be within reach again and it won‘t feel unrealistic to achieve your bigger vision beyond that. It‘s a snowball effect, you just have to get started again with the small but important daily habits.
Putting it into action: How to deal with overwhelm as an artist
Now that you know what is most likely the cause of your overwhelm and you have some go-to strategies at hand, let me now show you some action steps you can implement right away.
1. Write down one to three people who you truly trust that will listen to you when you feel overwhelmed
- It‘s dangerous to face this feeling alone so make sure you can open up about it and tell someone close to you when you feel overwhelmed. This can be other producer-friends but also partners, friends, family members.
- This outside perspective can help you re-gain clarity and focus on what‘s important.
2. Re-visit this episode next time you feel overwhelmed and use it as a step-by-step checklist
- This step-by-step guide of dealing with overwhelm as an artist works like a checklist. The good thing about it: You don‘t have to ask yourself what you can do about it, you simply follow these steps and you will find a way out.
- Don‘t forget to track your positive habits as this allows you to notice when you‘re starting to slack.
3. See the „dip“ as a moment to re-adjust and work towards something better
- Feeling overwhelmed as an artist can be frustrating but it‘s sometimes necessary. Moreover, these moments have the potential to re-think your strategy and find a better way to move on with your artist career.
- Make sure you focus on the next step you can take right now to move in the direction of your bigger goals and vision.
Alright folks, that‘s it for this week‘s episode. Now I‘d love to hear from you: Have you experienced that feeling of overwhelm as an artist recently? What have you done to overcome it?
Let me know in the comments, I read everything.