Balancing Family and A Music Career
By John Rush
If you are single and sleeping around every night with a different girl (or guy), this is not the article for you. Go ahead and skip to the article on sexually transmitted diseases. If not, you have at some point had to try to balance music and family.
This is a subject that I am very familiar with. I tour a lot. I play around 200 shows a year (150 college shows and 50 bar shows) all over the United States. My last CD was titled Always Touring. I am also married. Three years ago my wife and I adopted a baby girl from China and 2 months ago we adopted a baby boy from the United States. Before we had children my wife went on tour with me about half the time so this helped. Now that we have kids; that’s just not really an option for us.
I think I have a big advantage because I tour solo, but whether you are a solo singer-songwriter or an 11 piece band, the fundamental problems are the same. How do you balance the two worlds?
The keys to this for me are:
2) Setting Priorities
4) Time Management – Keep Work Away From Home
Good Routing is pretty self explanatory, but it doesn’t always happen. When I first started touring I took any date my agent had no matter how far. I still am known for sometimes doing some crazy routing, but I try to make things route better when I can. I have one agent who books the East Coast, one who books the Mid-West and Far West, and one who books the South and South Central. They work in the same office so you would think that they would communicate with each other – NO. So it is my job to make sure that they are all on the same page and that we try to schedule when I will be in which region. Because of this I often have to turn down shows. It’s hard to say no but if you really want to make a profit and keep your family you have to be willing to say no sometimes.
If you have an agent, make sure they focus on filling in dates and not adding dates to the beginning or end of a tour. If you do your own booking (which I did for a while) your job is to set a guideline of when you want to be on tour and try as hard as you can to fill in the holes. Your goal is to play as many shows in the least amount of time. I have done as many as three shows in one day and often play two shows in one day. This is easier to do in the college market because many schools are willing to do noon time concerts. You’re probably thinking, “That would be great if I had that many dates, but we’re only doing 2 shows a month so we have to take what we can get.” That may be true but it’s amazing what can happen when you really focus on filling in specific dates. When you call a venue and say, “I’d like to play a show for you in November” it doesn’t focus them on a specific time. They don’t really feel any sense of urgency to book you. If you call them and say, “I’m touring right near you and I could do a show for you on November 16th or November 18th” it focuses them on specific dates. It also makes it look like you are in demand so they should want to book you. They might say they can’t do those dates but they could do the 15th. If that works for you you might book a show. If not, look at other dates down the road. Even if they decide not to book you, they feel like they missed out and could be more inclined to book you in the future. The bottom line is you want to play as many shows in the least amount of time.
Setting Priorities is extremely important. You must take time to be with your family or they will resent you and your music. Whenever I can, I go home. Sometimes I will drive 10 hours for one night at home. It is amazing what just one night at home can do. My kids need to know they have a father who loves them and my wife needs to feel like she is not alone. Sometimes I will fly home for a weekend. You have to decide if you can afford this. For me I look at what it would cost to fly home and compare it to what it would cost to stay in a hotel for those nights. Often the difference isn’t too much and it’s worth losing little money to be home. Many times it’s not how much you are home, but how often you are home that makes the difference. If you have a five week tour and you are gone for five weeks straight it is really hard on your family. If you have five week tour and you are able to be home at least one night a week for those five weeks, the strain on your family relationships is much less.
Good Communication is essential. You have to make sure that everyone knows when you will be working and when you will be home. Keeping everyone on the same page ahead of time will make your life much better. When I am going to be gone for 2 or 3 weeks without coming home, my wife needs to know exactly when I will leave and when I will be back so she can prepare herself emotionally as well as organizing how things will get done. With cell phones there is no reason to be out of touch. I talk to my wife very often throughout the day. Most of the time it’s not for very long. Just a minute or two can make a big difference. Talking often throughout the day makes it feel more like I’m still home and part of her life.
Time management is the most essential skill you need to master. Musicians are often flaky or in their own world. This has it’s place in the creative sense, but if you are serious about making a living and having a family you must get control of your time. Keep work away from home as much as possible. Work when you are touring and be with your family when you are home. As a solo musician I have much more freedom but also much more responsibility. In most cases, if I don’t do it – it won’t get done. There is always something that needs to be done. When you can afford it, have someone else do it. They will often do it better and you will have one less thing to worry about.
Take advantage of all the time you actually have while touring. Your goal is to work as much as possible while you are away from home and as little as possible while you are home. I never knew how much free time I had until I had 2 kids. My free time at home is gone so I have to use my time on the road. Don’t make or take any phone calls at home that can be made on the road. All my friends and family know that I will not call them or take their call when I am at home unless it’s important. This sounds cold, but I drive over 80,000 miles a year. I have plenty of time to talk to them on the road.
Take as much responsibility as you can off of your family. I handle the money and pay all the bills from the road. Get an account at Bank of America or another national bank so you can do all your banking on tour. You MUST have a good lap top. This goes without saying, but I can’t tell you the number of people who tour without a good computer. I have a wireless internet connection so I can access the internet from anywhere. This, along with a GPS and a cell phone, is one of the essentials I will not go without. Have any bills possible set up for automatic payment. It is amazing how much time is wasted paying bills.
Utilize the down time in the hotels. Watching late night TV is a nice way to unwind, but ask yourself if you’d be watching it if someone woke you up at 7AM to watch it. It most cases you’d go back to sleep. Keep in mind when you’re wasting time watching late night TV you are cutting into your time to sleep in or cutting into your time to wake up and get things done. I do some of my best work late night but when I really break it down, I’m more productive when I get up early. This is hard because I am NOT a morning person. One reason I am a musician is because I don’t want to be part of the 9 to 5 world. If you must stay up and watch infomercials get your lap top out and get something done while you do it.
This may sound way too structured or organized for a musician. It is. If you want to just get high and focus on your art, go ahead. You’ll sound great in your basement. I have made well over $1,000,000 touring in the college market and make well into the 6 figures every year. If you want to be a full time musician and have a family, you have to learn how to get organized. Maybe you’ll get lucky and be on American Idol and get a manager and never have to do anything for yourself. Good luck with that.
The bottom line is whether you are married with 5 kids or just dating, you have to learn how to balance the two worlds or one of them will go away.