A Balancing Act: Music Careers and Family

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Road veterans talk about juggling a music career on the road and a family at home. It can be done.

There are lots of people who play music in one way or another for a living: studio cats, songwriters, arrangers, music teachers. But the iconic image is the road warrior: the travel-weary musician who’s gone for weeks at a time, a new city every night—seeing the best of what the world has to offer. While this is true sometimes, most road work is far more grueling than exciting, and without the support of those back home you can burn out. The world won’t stop turning while you’re touring. Like in any other career, you have to strike a balance between work and home.

We talked with a range of musicians about how they stay connected to loved ones while out on the road, and one they’re off, how they get back into the home life groove.

Don’t have a communication breakdown

Bryan Hayes

It sounds so simple and obvious, but the number one way to stay connected to your family while out on the road is to talk to them. Memphis singer—songwriter Bryan Hayes maintains a busy schedule of dates around the country, keeping him away from his wife of 17 years. There’s always somewhere to be, as he observes in his song, “Farther Down the Line,” but it’s easier than ever to stay connected.

Our primary way of connection is the smart phone. We text consistently throughout the day. Also, I think it's super important to actually call. Just hearing each other’s voice goes a long way when you're on the road. And of course we FaceTime. This is an amazing tool. Just "showing" my wife where we are, what it looks like, etc. helps to make her feel a part of being on the road with us.

Militia Vox AKA MelitiaA.

The adage “show, don’t tell” doesn’t necessarily hold true for the folks back home when you’re on tour. It’s vital to do both as Hayes suggests. Militia Vox, also known as MilitiA., is the powerhouse rock goddess of New York. An only child, she talks to her parents weekly.

I always talk to my parents every Sunday. (This is non-negotiable in my family.) They are NOT texters, I’ve tried. I also connect with them by emailing them pictures or sending them links via Facebook.

But sometimes, as MilitiA can testify, family and Facebook don’t always mix so well.

My mom loves to troll my Facebook pages and often calls me to complain about pictures I post, the color of my hair, or some of the things that I write.

Reunited, and it feels so good

Alastair Moock

If anyone should know about keeping the balance between life on the road and at home, it’s Alastair Moock. The 2014 Grammy nominee performs across the country for audiences of all ages. Moock has found a way to make life on the road just as family-friendly as his music.

The best thing about touring—after the initial thrill wears off, and except for those rare times when you get to visit some amazing new place (and actually have time to see some of it)—is that it gives you the chance to catch up with family and friends who you wouldn’t normally get to see as often.

Bryan Hayes also meets up with family and friends on the road, and never goes more than two weeks without seeing his wife in person.

Sometimes that means getting creative. For example, there have been a few times where we routed the tour in order for us to meet somewhere on the road. We always keep an eye on discount flights, too. By booking WAY in advance, we've been able to fly her to a couple of shows on the road. We also reach out to family and friends along the tour. Sometimes we can find people who are going to the same location, and my wife has been able to catch a ride.

Ilan Rubin

Ilan Rubin of The New Regime, Angels & Airwaves, and Nine Inch Nails is no stranger to constant touring, and has found a way to turn it into a form of thanks to his parents for raising a musician.

My family is extremely supportive, involved, and loves coming to shows. My parents treat shows like their vacations!

At least someone gets to have a little R&R out on the road!

Make it a family tradition

Denny Svehla AKA Denny Diamond

You don’t have to meet up with family to see them while on tour. You can bring them with you. Denny Svehla, better known as Denny Diamond, plays around 200 dates a year with his backing band, The Jewels. The two members of The Jewels round out Diamond’s multi-faceted live show in true family style.

We are a family trio so my two sons are with me all the time. My wife joins us whenever she can.

Not lucky enough to be a father to two talented musicians? Don’t worry. Ilan Rubin doesn’t just have brothers of the road—he takes his brothers on the road.

My oldest brother manages me and our middle brother plays bass with me live.

Like the Jonas Brothers, there’s no word on what really goes on backstage at The New Regime shows, but hopefully no one gets a wedgie.

Bring it on home

A memorable scene in the biopic, I Walk the Line, has Johnny Cash just sitting in his armchair for what we’re led to believe is days on end after coming off the road. His wife is mad because he’s not settling back into the groove of home life. He’s mad at her for not understanding. Blah. Blah. Blah. You can’t be that guy! It didn’t work for Mr. Cash, and it won’t work for you.

Patrick Sweany

East Nashville bluesman Patrick Sweany knows a thing or two about long, exhausting tours—the kind Cash would embark on. He was our only panelist to offer some “don’ts”:

Don't do things that disconnect you from your family. Remember that they have lives, they have frustrations, and be sensitive to that. Do your job the best you can do.

You have to leave work at work just like the majority of folks out there. Playing music may be the best job in the world, but some days you’re reminded that it’s still a job.

Don't dump your frustrations with work on them. Be an adult. Make time to communicate when it's convenient for their schedule, not just yours.

And most of all,

Be present when you are home.

Different strokes

At the end of the day (or the tour), you have to strike your own balance between work and home. It’s different for everyone, but you have to keep in mind that the road affects you as well as your loved ones. Take a couple of days to get back into the swing of things. But most of all, get back out on the road when you’re ready. We need more good live music in the world.

Do you have advice to add or stories to share about balancing touring and family? Weigh in below.

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