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Hey Larry,

I wanted to message you to ask for some advice. Over the past year and a half, I’ve been slowly turning away from music. Cody and I stopped booking gigs this summer, and I’ve been working with a couple of other groups, playing only when I’m asked or getting paid. I haven’t actually sat down and practiced for a couple of months now. I don’t know if it’s just convenient not to, or if I really don’t have the fire anymore, but I was wondering what approaches I could take on how I can motivate myself in order to make music exciting again.

Hey Evan,

I know the feeling, brutha’. Nearly all serious musicians tend to go through phases of feeling burnt out or uninspired. It’s very human but also can be a result of one’s ego on overdrive, always feeling the need to be great and recognized. I’m not telling you to ignore your ego or pretend it doesn’t exist. After all, it’s there for a reason, specifically, to kick you in the ass and make sure you’re prepared for a lesson, gig or recording session, etc. That said, you can bring it down from an all-encompassing part of your psyche by letting your love and passion for music be your driving force instead. While it’s important to practice “boring” stuff for your overall musicianship (although there are ways of making this stuff more motivating), at times of burnout, it’s best to find something in music that reignites you instead. Maybe it means playing certain music or along with albums that caught your ear and made you want to start playing in the first place. Maybe this, in turn, will inspire you to do so some composing, arranging and programming. Maybe it’s a matter of getting away from the everyday, gig hustling, music biz’ stuff and go somewhere that will reignite you. I’m leaving for a Brazilian music camp amongst the redwoods of the Russian River in Northern CA this Sunday and can’t wait. I’ll be in nature, away from L.A. traffic and dumb gigs, studying, learning and performing music I love with renown artist-teachers. I think it it will be literally a breath of fresh air.

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Sometimes though, one truly needs a break from music in any context. The amount of time away is up to the individual (practical income concerns aside). There are no rules in life regarding this despite what your fearful, competitive ego tries to tell you. One of the world’s great jazz saxophonists, Sonny Rollins took several years off in the 60s and 70s to go to Asia to study yoga, meditation and Eastern philosophies. I go on international trips with my wife and often don’t play for two weeks. I love photography (it’s a second career), the summer boogie boarding season, mountain biking, our dog, hanging with friends for a nice meal, etc. All of this usually prevents me from feeling burnt out. You have to live life because ultimately this time outside of music is what will keep bringing life to your music. Hope this helps.

Dealing With Artistic Burnout

Larry Steen


Past winner of the International Society of Bassists’ Jazz Competition, bassist/composer/producer Larry Steen attended the Berklee College of Music, the University of Miami (BM) and CALARTS (MFA). He has toured, performed and recorded with numerous renowned artists ranging from Mel Torme to Stevie Wonder and has recorded two ASCAP award winning CDs First Move and View From Afar with his own group, The Larry Steen World Jazz Ensemble.

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