Recently, there’s been a lot of public discussion about ‘burnout’, following a viral article published by BuzzFeed titled How Millennials Became the Burnout Generation.

Burnout isn’t unique to just one generation, but millennials are a particularly responsive one – they’re fully engaged, constantly connected, always reaching out for new information to digest and spit back out in innovative ways. At its core, burnout is nothing new. The term, in a clinical sense, dates back to the early 1970s, coined by American psychologist Herbert Freudenberger to describe the physical or mental collapse caused by overworking and stress. If that sounds uncomfortably familiar, that’s because it’s still affecting our society at large – just in more ubiquitous ways.

In the creative industries especially, work-life boundaries can become easily blurred or fail to exist at all. You only have to look as far as the uphill struggle of being a freelancer, or our dependency on social media as a round-the-clock tool for socialising and work alike. Here, we speak to figures in creative industries who offer insight into how burnout culture affects them and how they try to relieve the fatigue.


“Doing your best work when you’re feeling bad is a myth”

Musicians are in an industry where people want you to stay on stage through any means necessary. You have to stay in people’s faces. It’s always easier to give everything that you have – that’s why people burn out. I take time for myself to make sure that I’m safe.

I had to learn this balance – the time to work and the time to play. Personally, I was blessed to be able to go through learning experiences in my life to have that type of discipline there for when I joined the music industry. There’s a time and place for everything. On my off time, I don’t think about work. When I’m working, I’m not thinking about my off time. That’s the equilibrium.

Burn out has an effect on artists’ creative lives because artists just stop being creative. Staying so publicly present all the time isn’t doable. Phones are in people’s hands 24/7, and they’re always looking at something, and that something isn’t always going to be you. You need to sleep, you need to rest.

The music industry is the most fucked up industry in the world. Nobody cares about your health. If the music industry cared about their artists’ health, you wouldn’t have people out here dying of overdoses. They think, ‘If you’re happy and that’s making us money, then let’s keep you happy. If you’re out here not making any money, we don’t give a fuck about you’. If they think you make your best music when you’re stressed the fuck out, they’ll think, ‘go get stressed, just make us money’.

Doing your best work when you’re feeling bad is a myth. Most times people truly express themselves when they’re in a bad place because they just don’t care and they let it all out. The industry doesn’t care about you and your good spirits, just give them that fire music. No one wants to hear songs about drinking more water. We need to be capitalising on happiness and motivation.

iLoveMakonnen is a singer-rapper who rose to fame in 2014 when Drake remixed his track Tuesday

Call Super

“By placing ambition as a lifestyle choice you may well burnout… but not before making our scene a little bit worse”

Questions around burnout are essentially an extension of the 21st Century Silicon Valley values that have insidiously affected much of our creative fields.

The way people come into the music scene with careerist goals of being as big as possible and looking at success simply as a goal in itself has a rotten impact on how we make and engage with art. Choosing an artistic pursuit in life should be the only option because you are so lost in what you love and it can’t be any other way. Making the choice should involve a degree of despair because it’s a life of being lost in trying to express your ideas. It’s a life that will probably be mostly unsuccessful and you need to be happy with that. Any degree of success is obviously nice, but it needs to be essentially ignored if you’re keeping your mind on your art.

The evolution of work is what consumes the best musicians. If this isn’t you, then you’re probably bringing an element of Big Tech capitalist values into the scene. Your emphasis is on success over art. By placing ambition as a lifestyle choice you may well burnout… but not before making our scene a little bit worse.

I kind of drew up my own mental guidelines on how best to engage with social media for my own work. Cyber technology is changing how we live, think about ourselves and relate to one another more than anything has since the industrial revolution. I’m fairly comfortable thinking it’s probably going to have a more dramatic impact on us than that, and we probably won’t appreciate how dramatic it is for a decade or two yet.

Presuming that you, like me, are begrudgingly going along with it for the sake of pursuing your own practice. There are some added dimensions if you’re an artist. What kind of scene do you love and wish existed? What’s inspiring, what’s not and how are you contributing to your vision?

You might find that the convergence of lifestyle and branding gets you really jazzed and that is precisely what you want your voice to sing. Just ask yourself the question before you post something, that way at least it’s a conscious decision. One thing social media allows is for you to develop your own language visually or in text. Hopefully it’s an interesting one.

It’s difficult to get a handle on just how damaging living by comparison can be because it plays out most brutally on those who are vulnerable to comparing themselves negatively to others. If your ego is massive or you’re just very resilient, this isn’t going to be such a worry, but you need to know where you exist on this spectrum.

Don’t see every career achievement as a social media opportunity. Physically, the answer is to do less. Place your ambition into substantial things. Remember that saying ‘no’ is a powerful artistic tool. Use it.

Berlin-based DJ and producer Call Super is a fixture of underground electronic music


“The key is for artists to learn how to say no”

Burnout has happened throughout many phases of my life. The most recent instance has been taking on too many shows, more than my body was capable of handling. This was mostly a physical burnout because I’m incredibly sensitive, and the act of going on an airplane and travelling was just tearing my energy apart and made it really hard for me to function. Being in that extreme situation taught me to consider what I needed to recover physically. I had to take eight months off. I had to sacrifice a lot of shows and “opportunities” but it was simply what I needed to not burn out completely. I got my yoga teaching license during that time and started trying to spread knowledge to other artists struggling in the community.

I think a lot of artists, who normally make art for the sake of making art, but eventually turn it into a career, face a point where lines are blurred. There’s a need to uphold some degree of expectation in order to feel like their career is validated. They are now financially dependent on their art, so they have to drain their creative forces to sustain this.

I’m willing to feel the burn of whatever comes along with self-care. Whether that’s less followers or getting yelled at by my agency because I’m not getting enough booking requests. I’ll take that over sacrificing my mental and physical health. I hope that more artists are honest and open about how they are suffering as soon as they feel their health is starting to be compromised.

I believe general awareness is spreading in people’s needs to honour their own limits, but many are still stuck in toxic cycles. The pressure of success is immense and overwhelming, but people should align with their own definition of success. You have the power to re-define the conditions of your life. The key is for artists to learn how to say no when enough is enough, for agents to not push artists past their boundaries, and to be compassionate in helping an artist define those boundaries, instead of exploiting them for what they’re worth. Sounds typical, but keep trying and don’t give up.

Xosar is a Berlin-based DJ, producer and wellness instructor for artists in the electronic music community

Munroe Bergdorf

“As an activist, people expect you to say something profound about everything”

Burn out is probably the hardest thing that I have to contend with. A lot of the time you don’t see it coming. I find it hard to recognise the signs, especially when you’re so close to your cause. With me, speaking about racism and transphobia, it opens up old wounds about how I’ve felt in my life. You can block out the noises from other people but burnout definitely forces you to look inside yourself and that can be a scary place when there’s trauma there.

This hits creatives hard because a lot of us are doing what we love but sometimes the boundaries that we set for ourselves get pushed because we’re doing what we love. We think, ‘oh, I’ll just do this for a few hours’ and then that turns into more hours, days, weeks. We take on too much because we’re scared of losing out on opportunities that might not come so frequently. We overcommit or overpromise. We don’t think about the fact that we need to be there for ourselves rather than other people. A lot of creatives can’t support themselves just doing what they love, so they overwork themselves.

As an activist, people always expect you to say something profound about everything. I think it’s difficult to not take it to bed. In other industries it’s easier to remove yourself from your work and switch off. Stepping outside the office, as it were. But I don’t just do activism. It’s difficult to navigate my media career as well as my activism. There needs to be some form of balance; I need to use my platform from the modelling to get my activist message across. Having a transgender woman of colour on the cover of a magazine is a form of activism in itself.

Figuring out what works for you will help stop you from burning out. I’ve realised out that there’s no one form of activism – some things work for me that don’t work for others, and vice versa. We’re all working together as a machine rather than individual parts. We’ve all got to play as a team. For example, I find protests extremely triggering. It’s about selecting what works for you.

Know what your strengths are. My strengths are my writing, my platform, my reach. I use my platform to amplify the voices of other people. I think the key is to try to think about how you’re going to feel, not how you feel at the moment. Whenever I feel like I’m burning out, my go-to self-care regimen is: scent, sex and ice cream. It’s about finding your happiness and being aware of your surroundings.

Munroe Bergdorf is a model and activist leading the fight for trans visibility

Du Blonde

“Learn to budget, do your taxes, keep spreadsheets. Know your worth”

I feel like I’ve been experiencing burnout to varying degrees for the past 10 years. I’ve been working in this industry since I was 15 year sold so I don’t have much experience with a regular 9-5 job with weekends for myself. Any time I take to relax just leads to anxiety that I should be spending that time figuring out where next month’s rent is coming from and learning another skill. The result is regular sleepless nights, low energy, depression, anxiety, low self worth and physical illness. You have to have thick skin, and you have to really love your job to make it worth it. Thankfully, I love my job.

For me, as streaming and illegal downloading lessened my income from music, I turned to art and animation, but with my clients mostly coming from the music industry, they also lack the funds to pay a real wage. Even 10 years ago it was still possible to pay your rent with what you made as a musician. Nowadays musicians are sinking what little money they do have into the production of their records without any possibility of a decent advance to cover their costs, only to have people consume two years of hard work for free. So you have
a generation of creatives working ungodly hours for less than minimum wage, which is both psychologically and physically damaging.

Financially, I barely stay afloat, but I subsidise my income by selling art. Psychologically I’ve stayed afloat through the support, kindness and generosity of certain people in my life, alongside my inability to give up and hope that it’ll all end up okay.

I think there comes a point where you have to recognise that working so hard for so little return becomes unhealthy. It’s important to remember that no matter how much you want to continue doing the job, you won’t be able to if you get sick. I’ve worked seven days a week for as long as I can remember. I tell myself I liked doing that, and it’s true, I love my job. But telling myself I enjoy working seven days a week, often in spates of 16-hour days, has also been a way for me not to lose my mind the way I would if I realised I don’t actually have a choice.

To myself and other people in this position, I would say, take time off. Make sure you get out of the house once a day before the sun goes down. Take time for yourself and leave computers outside of the bedroom. Keep work correspondence to email as much as possible – it’s harder for people to take you for a ride when you have written proof of their initial requests. Frequently reassess what makes you happy, what you want to achieve and how you want to achieve it. Learn to budget, do your taxes, keep spreadsheets. Know your worth. Don’t let the squares of the world convince you that you’re doing anything other than a job that has value that deserves a living wage in return.

Beth Jeans Houghton, also known as Du Blonde, is a multi-disciplinary artist working in music, animation and design

Sandy Marris

“There’s a general feeling that if your job is perceived to be fun, who gives a fuck if there’s negative elements to it?”

There are probably more professional DJs working than ever right now. The global interest is higher than it’s ever been in the kind of dance music that I work with. Due to the competitive nature of the underground dance music scene right now, there’s a general pressure for artists to tour as much as possible. Not only do artists need to keep playing the UK and Europe and the occasional tour to the US and Australia, they have to pay attention to every country in the world. Which can be exhausting.

People must empathise with what touring lifestyle entails. I used to just look at four dates in a row on a date sheet and think ‘that doesn’t sound so intimidating, does it’, but when you go and travel with the artist, it’s a very different beast. It’s invaluable for people not to hound the artist until they experience it themselves. Travel with them, see what it’s like.

There needs to be more patience with both the artist and those working around them. In the music that I work with, generally the more underground side of techno and dance music, fans are quite loyal. There doesn’t need to be a rush. You don’t need to cram too much into their diary. Something I’m trying to enact is planning holiday time for artists, instead of just planning shows. Time off is very important.

Social media can also cause a lot of artists anxiety. A lot of people think that they need to be constantly seen and let their audience into their own lives. There’s also a pressure to present yourself in a certain way which may not be reality. Everyone wants to see DJs who are constantly grateful and upbeat about their lives. Obviously there’s many brilliant aspects about what they do, but there’s also less good aspects like relentless travel and general pressure.

Burnout certainly has an impact on health, both mental and physical. It’s good we’re having conversations about mental health in dance music, because when I first started working in this industry eight years ago, there was zero. There are countless examples over the last couple of years where DJs’ lifestyles have had an incredibly negative impact on their lives, and even in some cases ended up killing them.

Not just in music, there seems to be a general feeling that if you do a job that is perceived to be fun, who gives a fuck if there’s negative elements to it, which is not a very empathetic standpoint. There needs to be a lot more understanding, a lot more support from everyone working in the music industry. I’m hopeful that slowly we’ll start to see a difference.

Sandy Marris is a booking agent at Coda Music Agency


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