Creating Healthy Boundaries

By Guest Author

Posted by Sandra-Lee Layden, award-winning Toronto-based music and portrait photographer

Working in the music industry and creating boundaries can be extremely difficult. Especially if you’re self-employed– you’re your own boss, employee, HR, accounting and so much more. Learning how to say no, drawing a line in the sand, or even just being honest with your clients, friends, and family can create animosity at times. There was a hot minute when it seemed like everyone’s motto was ‘Sleep when you’re dead’—and there was a constant push to always be hustling. Thankfully, people started to realize that burn out wasn’t that attractive, or conducive to happiness and we’re slowly becoming more respectful of working at your own pace.

For many in the music industry there is no such thing as a 9-5; weekends are never off limits, and people expect a response instantly. However, by setting expectations with your work hours and the things you are capable of, or flexible on, you can create a healthy working relationship with your clients. Don’t tell someone you can finish a project in 24 hours if you know it typically takes 72. Obviously, there are times that you can go above and beyond, and you have to work a little more than usual—but don’t make it a habit. 

It’s important to remember to take a break, schedule a day off, and stick to it. This is really friggin’ hard, and I know it. More than once I’ve popped into the office just to quickly edit something for a client, and then a whole day disappears. Just because someone has hired you, doesn’t mean they own your personal time. Burn out isn’t great for your mental health and can create negative self thoughts. You can’t pour from an empty cup.

It’s easy to say yes to every project that comes along, and accept every gig that’s offered— sometimes the work comes in waves, a constant income can never be guaranteed. You really need to be honest with yourself about what physically, and mentally, you can and cannot do. Choose to work on projects that fit your criteria – say no to gigs that you hate, say no to working with people you don’t work well with. Burning out doing a project you dislike will cause you to resent the task at hand, and it can become even harder to complete. Be honest with yourself and your clients, if something is out of your capabilities, instead of struggling and resenting. Know your limits, pay attention to how you feel, give yourself permission to set boundaries.

By saying no, it gives you the ability to say yes to the projects that give you life and inspire you. You’re then free and able to accept jobs that help you grow as a person and a creative. 

You are your own person, and while it’s okay to ask for help—it’s not okay when people take that trust and confidence and use it against you. Being hired for a role does not mean they can overstep and try to control other aspects of your life and career. Open and clear communication is helpful, but there’s always times when these relationships are no longer beneficial. It’s okay to end these relationships if you start to feel uncomfortable and lines are being crossed, but it’s important to be clear in communicating what your limits and stopping points are.

Creating boundaries helps keep a healthy relationship with your career, friends, and family. It’s paramount for your mental wellbeing, and overall happiness.


Do you need support? The Unison Fund provides free and confidential counselling services for registered Canadian music-makers and their dependant family in need of support. Call 1-855-9UNISON to access our free counselling services available 24 hours a day, 7 days a week.

Counselling & Health Solutions supported by RBC Foundation