Multi-instrumentalist and YouTuber Benn Jordan a.k.a the Flashbulb knows a thing or two about being a professional musician. He’s been a professional musician since 1999 and launched a successful YouTube channel in 2017 where he posts educational videos relating to music-making.
According to Benn Jordan, there are 7 stages of being a professional musician. These cover all the life stages from when one decides to leave their day job and embark on a music career to retirement.
Let’s dive right in.
Stage 1: Birth
Leaving the financial security of your day job and taking the leap to become a full-time musician is a huge decision. In addition to being a financially risky move, it’s bound to affect every aspect of your life. Stage 1 usually happens when you’re done worrying about a backup plan and just want to fully commit to being a professional musician (i.e. 100% of your income comes from music). It’s the first step towards an exciting career…with no guarantees of success.
Stage 2: GODmode
During this stage of your budding career, you’re likely doing a lot more gigs to make ends meet. You’re levelling up at a faster rate than before, and you develop a bit of an ego. You might scoff at musicians who have a day job as you’re working extra hard to survive and cut through the noise. This phase is characterised by a dog-eat-dog environment that’s overly competitive and subsequently, toxic.
Stage 3: Crash & Burn
This is when you leave the pond and enter the ocean. You move to a bigger city, with the hope of finding more opportunities. Or you might simply start hanging out with more professional musicians due to the nature of your work. It’s a psychological stage during which your identity as a “professional musician” is constantly being challenged and decimated. You compare yourself to other musicians and feel like a complete beginner next to these “geniuses”. You often wonder whether you should just give up and do something else.
Stage 4: Steady climb
This is the stage that you’ll mostly be remembered for. During this long phase of your career, there’s a balance between an exploratory creative flow and healthy learning. You isolate what you like and dedicate yourself to learning and exploring different things. There’s a lot of highs and lows, but you finally start seeing your worth. You create some incredible music and make a lot of acquaintances. This stage can also be characterised by a lot of touring, which is equal parts absurd, wonderful and exhausting.
Stage 5: The Ceiling
You feel like you’ve been hustling the good hustle for what seems like ages. You’re well-grounded, confident and know what you’re worth. You’re also realistic and feel like you’ve hit a creative brick wall. You try to objectify something that’s subjective and obsess over details that your audience won’t even care about. The dopamine cycle is starting to get burnt out.
Stage 6: Irrelevance
“Oh, is X still doing music?”. A simple comment on Reddit or YouTube is all it takes to make you feel like you’ve become completely irrelevant. You feel like your music has become a source of nostalgia for your core audience. You’re jealous of people with a normal job and a stable life. You worry about things like financial security, a retirement plan and health insurance. Simply put, you’re having an existential crisis.
Stage 7: Embracing wisdom and indifference
At this stage, you’re desensitised to all but the biggest peaks and valleys. You find a renewed joy in music. You start perceiving all of your knowledge as a playground, not a benchmark. This is when artists can simply be, without obsessing over stats and targets. In addition to creating some weird and experimental stuff, you also start thinking about your legacy and what you can offer to the next generation of musicians. Many artists start non-profits, start teaching music or music business, create YouTube channels or dedicate themselves to helping out young professional musicians.
Being a professional musician is tough. Comparison can destroy not only your career but also your mental health. Finding people who can assist you throughout your journey and resources that can equip you with crucial tools are key to making better use of your time and hitting personal career milestones without sacrificing your well-being.