If you’ve recently attended a concert, you might be wondering what musicians actually do outside of their 90-minute set each evening. As a non-musician, it’s all-too-easy to assume musicians sleep-in until noon and party their days away. However, the reality of an average musician’s life is often a far cry from the typical ‘rockstar’ lifestyle they may aspire to.
So, what do musicians actually do all day? Over the course of an average day, musicians will often do several (or all) of the following:
- Their day job
- Write new material
- Travel between venues
- Fulfil personal duties
Keep reading for an in-depth account of each of the above activities:
Their Day Job
Contrary to what you might believe, very few musicians are lucky enough to earn their full-time living soley from performing. In order to make ends meet, most musicians have one of the following:
- An unrelated day job: Musicians may have a standard 9-5 job and perform during evenings or weekends. In many cases, musicians with an unrelated day job might not even be earning a stable income from their music.
- A portfolio career: A portfolio career is when someone works two or more jobs within the same industry. For example, a musician with a portfolio career may do a mixture of teaching, performing, composing and production work to draw in a full-time income. Portfolio careers are an increasingly-popular option amongst professional musicians due to ever-declining record sales.
Almost all musicians spend a portion of their day practicing their instrument. Practice generally falls into two main categories:
- Individual practice: Individual practice is either done to increase technical proficiency or learn new material. It generally consists of warm-ups, scales, sections of pieces etc.
- Ensemble rehearsals: If the musician plays in any form of ensemble (such as a band or an orchestra), they will almost-certainly be attending regular rehearsals. In order to execute a flawless live show, an ensemble will often spend dozens of hours in a rehearsal room perfecting every detail of the performance.
The amount of time a musician spends practicing each day depends on what they play and what their schedule looks like. Classical musicians often carry out individual practice for several hours a day, whilst popular musicians may place more emphasis on ensemble rehearsals. When a tour or an important show is imminent, musicians will usually double-down on their practice regime.
Write New Material
When writing for an album, it’s not uncommon for musicians to compose up to twelve times the amount of material they actually need, before narrowing it down to around ten songs. As a result, most musicians write new material constantly. Whilst every musician approaches the writing process from their own angle, it can generally be broken down into four distinct sections:
- Idea generation: This is where the ‘spark’ of a song (such as the main hook or chord progression) is written. Musicians will generally come up with several different options, before choosing one to work on.
- Drafting: This is where the rest of the chord progression, main melody and lyrics are written. Once the drafting phase is complete, the song will usually be arranged in skeleton format (in other words, for a single instrument and voice).
- Arranging: This is where the song is fleshed out with other instruments (guitar, bass guitar, drum kit, piano etc). During this stage, the song may also be re-structured.
- Demoing: This is where a rough recording of the song is produced prior to the official recording process. It’s usually used either as a reference point for the musicians or as an example of current work that can be pitched to prospective managers and labels.
Recording can often be a very time-consuming process. When recording an album, a musician can expect to be in the studio for up to 12 hours a day over a period of several weeks. Conventionally, a full-day recording session will start around 9AM and may go on until 10PM or later.
The recording process is broken down into three distinct phases:
- Pre-production: This is where material is tightened up and possibly re-written prior to recording. Demo recordings are often produced during pre-production to act as a point of reference. Pre-production sessions usually last for 4-8 hours.
- Production: This is where the material is actually recorded. Today, most recordings are ‘multi-tracked’, meaning the instruments are recorded one at a time. Production sessions usually last for 8-12 hours.
- Post-production: Post-production is where the recorded tracks are edited and extra effects are added. Whilst the musicians do not usually have to attend post-production sessions, they will have to listen to mixes and provide feedback. When on a tight budget, some musicians will handle post-production duties themselves, which can be immensely time-consuming.
Travel Between Venues
When on tour, musicians often spend the vast majority of their day travelling between venues. This is especially relevant for bands touring the United States, which is notorious for long stretches of driving.
Once arriving at a venue, an artist will generally have a very short amount of time to load-in and soundcheck before the show. After the show, most musicians will spend the night in a local hotel before getting straight back on the road the next morning.
Most self-employed musicians find most of their day being taken up by administration. Administration usually consists of the following tasks:
- Emails: Most people in the music industry contact each other via email. As a result, musicians will often find themselves emailing back and forth with several different industry operators each day.
- Research: Musicians have to research venues, studios, labels, PR companies and press outlets on a daily basis. A musician with a portfolio career will also have to spend time researching potential work opportunities.
- Accounting: Whilst it’s certainly not the most ‘rock n’ roll’ aspect of the job, self-employed musicians have to update their accounts on a regular basis.
Self-promotion is absolutely essential in order to achieve success in the music industry. Even the most successful musicians will spend a significant portion of their day promoting themselves. Here’s a few examples of promotion-related tasks musicians usually find themselves doing on a day-to-day basis:
- Social media: Social media is the way to build (and subsequently engage) an audience in the 21st century. Most professional musicians will spend a couple of hours every day creating social media content, replying to comments or hosting livestreams.
- Interviews: When on tour, it’s likely a musician be interviewed by various media outlets each day.
- Pitching: When releasing new music or announcing a tour, musicians will have to draft a press release to submit to media outlets, venues and streaming services.
Musicians must develop and maintain serious stamina in order to perform for extended periods of time. This is especially true for pop and rock musicians, who usually have to execute physically-demanding choreography. Touring also involves unpredictable sleep schedules, fast food and significant amounts of stress, which can significantly endanger a performer’s health.
As a result, many musicians attempt to stay as fit and healthy as they possibly can. Additionally, exercise can serve as a positive emotional outlet for musicians who find them stuck in a van or a rehearsal room for hours on-end.
Due to the fact that looks do matter in the music industry, popular musicians often spend time in the gym for aesthetic purposes.
Fulfil Personal Duties
Whilst musicians may (understandably) be perceived as a mystical breed of creatures, they are human beings with normal lives. Behind the glamor of live performance, musicians may be juggling a spouse, children, mortgage payments, friendships, laundry and Game of Thrones re-runs. Whilst their job may certainly be unconventional, their personal lives are often not.
- What time do musicians wake up? Musicians wake up at varying times, depending on their work schedule. When in the studio, a musician will usually have to wake up earlier (around 7AM-8AM). However, they may be allowed to sleep-in (until 9AM or 10AM) during a tour or on days off.
- How long do bands tour for? Bands will often tour for several months at a time before returning home for a break of 1-2 weeks. Whilst a band’s tour schedule may last a year or more, it’ll still be broken up into shorter stints.
- Where do bands sleep on tour? In the vast majority of cases, bands either sleep on a tour bus or at a local hotel. However, bands on a lower budget may have to sleep in a van or at a hostel.