Starving Artists (Tips, Problems, How to Stop Being One)

A “starving artist” is an individual who gives up their material well-being and financial security in order to pursue an artistic career. Music is a competitive field in which most people give up because of the stress and let-downs they experience.

Artists have historically struggled with their finances, social circumstances, and even health. However, the 21st century is providing some different outcomes in terms of how sustainable life as an artist can be.

Luckily, we no longer have to rely on external resources to make our fortune.

This article focuses on musicians, but much of the thoughts here apply to almost any art form.

Musicians no longer need to sign for a major record label to “make it or break it.” The new music industry, shaped by the Internet, allows independent artists to thrive.

On the other hand, the saturation of the market and the devaluation of musical products, courtesy of the big digital platforms we now use to listen to our favorite songs, make it harder and harder for artists to make a decent living without having to turn to another job.

Common Myths About Starving Artists

Life as an artist has always been a fascinating and controversial topic. People who are not personally involved in such a lifestyle often don’t understand what goes on in the typical day of an artist. As a result, a lot of myths still circulate.

A resisting myth sees artists as lazy people. Many people still think that making art is not a real job, and that artists are simply ‘wasters’ that are out of touch with reality.

Art requires a lot of hard work. Almost every 21st-century artist also needs to take care of managing and promoting their work if they want to make it a career.

Quite frankly, many employees in other lines of work couldn’t bear the amount of work that many artists have to face today.

Another myth sees art as an unproductive endeavor. Yes, good music can be soul-relieving, but does it make any good to the economy?

Spoiler alert: it does! Think about how many people, not just artists, are employed to work at festivals or in music companies. Think about all the music venues relying on the work of musicians to make some profit.

The list could go on and on, but you get this: art generates value.

There are so many more misconceptions about art and artists it would be impossible to list them all. Some of these myths, however, generate because it is true that being an artist can be problematic on different levels. Let’s see which ones.

Problems Starving Artists Face

The first struggle we face as artists is a financial one. The nature of our job is so flimsy and unpredictable that we often cannot rely on a steady income.

Some months are great, some months are just about fine, while some others are really tough. However, bills and rent are there to be paid, despite our successes and failures.

Living with this burden of uncertainty can be damaging to a lot of people. As a result, artists often develop mental health issues, such as depression and anxiety.

Another aspect that affects their mental health is the feeling of being in constant competition, ready to be judged by everyone about everything.

As for music specifically, there are also problems within the market, with less revenue available through the traditional sales channels and an over-saturation of platforms such as YouTube, Spotify, and iTunes.

In other words, there are more and more musicians putting their music out every day, but there are fewer and fewer chances to stand out in the crowd.

Live performances, on the other hand, are not always a sustainable source of income, as quite a lot of venues either don’t pay performers or pay them very little.

Lastly, despite the strength of social media, without pre-existing connections, it is still very hard to get in touch with the right people. These are the people that could help with artist development and other related tasks.

Tips for a Sustainable Lifestyle as an Artist

Before analyzing a few solutions related to the business aspect of music, let’s figure out how artists can improve their lifestyles as human beings.

Despite many other people, artists cannot rely on a given routine to develop self-discipline and have some sort of mental order.

Therefore, as a first step, artists need to come up with a personal working routine to follow if they want to be consistent and have more chances to stop starving.

Artists also must take care of their mental health, asking for professional help if needed or simply nurturing friendships and family relationships.

Last but not least, to avoid a financial wreck, artists should save as much money as possible. Of course, it may be hard to find a balance as it is essential to invest money to grow as an artist, but having a few savings to rely on in hard times can make all the difference.

How to Stop Being a Starving Artist

Now let’s see how starving artists can actively shape their careers and enhance their chances of making it.

Let’s start from an important aspect: they should always maintain their integrity.

21st-century fans can smell falseness from miles and miles away. Social networks made it all about authenticity, connection, and community. Therefore artists need to be always true to themselves and their tribe.

Most importantly, they need to change their mindset. They no longer have to consider themselves struggling artists, but flourishing entrepreneurs. Instead of looking for record deals or great numbers on Spotify, they should develop their career as a business would do: find the right niche and work to serve it day by day.

Another aspect to consider is how many income streams they can generate through their art. As the old saying goes, never put all your eggs in one basket. A lot of musicians have no idea of how many streams of income they can generate: from live performances to royalties, from music teaching to freelancing, the list can be quite long.

With the right balance between a sustainable lifestyle, both on a physical and a psychological level, and a business-oriented approach, starving artists can successfully become thriving artists.


Being a starving artist can be very frustrating, especially because there are so many misconceptions about their lives. They must deal with a heavy financial burden and the constant fear of not being able to pay the rent at the end of the month.

However, having an unpredictable lifestyle comes with a few perks as well: artists have the opportunity to grow creatively, pay more attention to their mental health, and value self-discipline.

As for solutions related to the business aspect of music, artists must come up with a personal working routine to develop consistency, be careful about what they spend money on, save as much money as possible, and get in touch with the right people through social media.

Brian Clark

Brian Clark

I’ve been a writer with Musician Wave for six years, turning my 17-year journey as a multi-instrumentalist and music producer into insightful news, tutorials, reviews, and features.

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