How to deal with Depression as a jobbing musician

How to deal with Depression as a Jobbing Musician

In November of 2015, I took myself to the Docs to find out if I was suffering with depression. I’d always known that something was wrong - all the way back to my teens in fact and when the job I was working in brought me down to the point of being unable to function, something had to be done.

Sadly, the way that the music industry functions makes it doubly difficult to exist in if you suffer with depression - a condition whereby your brain chemistry is completely fucked up and therefore preventing a person from being able to manage the rainbow of emotions that musicians go through every day in the pursuit of maintaining any kind of basic income.

So far, I’ve managed to make a living out of music since 18 in various ways with only 5 years or so in full time employment teaching at, and eventually running, a music college. I came back out to full time musician status after wondering why I was desk-jobbing when all of my passions, education and experience were tied up with music.

It was an exciting time: a career plan based around agenting for cruise ships and 2 full time bands with some studio work, course material writing, Pro Tools training and what-not on the side as and when the opportunities arise. So far, everything is running on the right track and going in the right direction.
But - every day brings it’s own challenges and whilst having to manage impossible people and fierce odds - you’ve also got an internal battle raging between feelings and logic.

So this blog is mainly for me, in the eternal quest for cognitive realignment, but maybe it’ll give others some clarity of thought too.

1.
Tell yourself “It’ll work out”.

This actually isn’t the first thing, but it also is the first thing. Every day there’ll be knock backs, set backs, re-scheduling, re-organising... basically a whole load of doing shit again and you absolutely have to keep reminding yourself that what you’re doing will work out, even though every day it feels like your world is about to crumble or implode on itself. But, you can’t convince yourself it’ll work out without a solid plan in place. So while you have to continue to have confidence that it’s going in the right direction, and you have to keep telling yourself so, you have to know what direction it is that you’re taking yourself in.

And this leads to

1.1.
Have a Plan

Simply put - if you don’t know what your goal is, you’ve no idea what you’re striving for. With so many avenues in the music industry, it’s very easy to see potential everywhere and to become sidetracked away from your ultimate goal. My ultimate goal was a 4 fold plan based around 4 income streams:

• Band Recruitment and Management for a new Agency - this is supposed to provide me with my base income. The money that I can bank on each month that will be pay my basic house and living bills. I’d attend to this job 9-5 each day and it’s flexible enough that I can attend to it when needed, but when there is no work to be done, I can focus on other activities such as writing, recording, practicing.... or even personal time.

• Upper level function band - this is going to provide me with my musical release and give me a decent monthly income from doing the thing I love most - performing. It would have me practicing and performing each week, allowing me to develop as a musician and a performer. I didn’t want it to be a basic, run off the mill function band - it needs to have a slick performance, great marketing and turn into a band that clients ‘want’, not a band that has to fight for attention. After years of playing in pubs for £50 - I also wanted to achieve a per gig fee that was appropriate to the quality of the band, and not just ‘what we could get’.

• Top level Tribute band to Dire Straits - this was to provide me with some mid week gigs in theatres and venues whilst stretching my guitar ability and allowing me to play the music that I love most - Knopfler tunes. As with the function band, it wasn’t going to be a run off the mill, half arsed, band that just goes out to play approximations of Dire Straits songs and call itself a ‘tribute’ - it’s a full on sound-a-like and a true ‘tribute’ to one of the greatest bands of all time. A band that the most die hard fan would come away from thinking ‘Wow - that was outstanding’.
The income would be appropriate to the level of the band also, with no pubs, no clubs and no “£50 a night gigs” for 7 hours work and travel.

Both of these bands would top up my income from the Cruise Agency and provide me with a realistic equivalent to a professional full time income.

• Recording studio and other opportunities - with my studio at home, I’ve been working consistently with song writers and local artists and as this work could dry up at any moment, or I might not have any clients, I didn’t want to rely on it. So studio work has just been a “as and when” gig, when the enquiries come. Thankfully, it’s been pretty consistent.
Other opportunities covers the other activities that appear such as writing course material for colleges and Universities, Pro Tools training, the Colour Records record and development label and any other small scale projects that I get asked about. These don’t divert my attention from my main activities for too long and they provide me with a nice little top up to my monthly income as and when they arise, but as with the studio, I don’t need to depend on it.

This plan gives me focus to what I need to achieve every day to keep my bills paid and me feeling like I’m achieving what I want to achieve. This also leaves little room for anxieties that can arise from not knowing what the hell I’m doing with my life.

2.
Have a backup plan and accept it’ll be a reality some day

Dedicating your full time work to music is risky. There’s hundreds of people like you doing it. Some are pro’s, many do it as a hobby but still exist in your industry taking your work. As such, many relent and resign themselves to getting a full-time job and keeping music as a hobby, in turn taking the work of the full time guys.
If I ever get fed up of the industry, or it doesn’t work out for me, I have an idea of where I can go to find work. As an adult with considerable skills and experiences, confidence is high that I’d be able to find work in a number of industries. Plus the opportunities to re-train into a new career path are plentiful. I already know where I’d start, should I find my self in that position. This actually gives me some comfort that if I can’t make music work, I’m not going to end up on the street and not able to earn.

3. Cut out the negative influences

This is the point at which things start to become hard. A lot of music is a ‘mental game’. You have to remain positive and focused and you need to achieve to feel like your plans are going in the right direction for you.

Any musical job is largely team-driven. Even working in a Duo means that you’re working with one other person. Trios mean 2 other people, etc. The more people involved, the harder it becomes, especially if the thing they’re involved in with you isn’t the primary focus in their life. Everyone has to be working towards the same goal with the same vigour for the project to become 100% successful. Boat analogies work well here: if you have 5 people pulling a boat in the same direction, it’ll arrive at it’s destination with minimal effort, with everyone happy in knowing that they’d worked together to get it to where they want it.

But what happens if 3 members are pulling the boat in one direction, and 2 others pulling it in another direction? Depending on the alternative directions, it might not arrive at it’s desired destination or arrive anywhere at all.
Any what happens if 2 members are pulling, but they other 3 are sat on the deck doing something else? It’ll take more work by the 2 pulling and resentment creeps in, making any kind of success bitter-sweet.

Do you ever wonder why some bands make it and others don’t? Every time I look at a genuine band that have achieved a commercial success - Kings of Leon for example - I think “there’s 4 people that have worked their asses off together to get to where they are”.
Any band, project or business is like that.

I find that anything or anyone that holds up progress on my projects really flairs up my depression. I have to work really hard to think rationally when people can’t or won’t make themselves available for those activities that are essential to furthering the progress of a band or project.

If you’re involved with people who aren’t pulling their weight, or working against your vision for your band (every project has to have a primary vision, and has to be driven by a project manager of some sort), then they need to go. That one guy that keeps cancelling rehearsals, or won’t make themselves available for rehearsals, or is constantly late... any action that shows that they aren’t 100% on board with the project - they need to go.

The one good thing about a music based ‘job’ is that employment law doesn’t count. In a regular job, there are tons of hoops that a manager needs to jump through before they can fire the ‘lazy guy’. In music, if your drummer doesn’t pull his weight - fire him and get another. If the vocalist constantly turns up not knowing her words, and it affects the bands produce - bring another in. There will be loads lining up waiting to take his/her place.

Let go of anyone who is going to hold you or your project back. There are hundreds of people out there waiting to jump into a spot in a successful band, or a project that has the potential to be fantastic. So don’t waste your time with ‘dead wood’.

Sadly, you’re never going to be completely trouble free and sometimes the perfect musician for your project will come with their flaws or baggage. But the more you can reduce the problems, the easier time you’ll have.

4.
Stop taking social media seriously

The way that people portray their lives on social media is drastically different to how their lives are actually playing out in real life.

You’re likely going to do the same thing - post about amazing gigs, the studio session you’re working on, the high level label that’s taken you one, etc. Reading these stories by other people can have a real negative effect on those with depression, because you’re seeing people being ‘successful’ around you and you instantly compare your successes to theirs, which brings you down. Even though you want to be happy for them, you’re secretly resentful.

The term for this is “Twitter-Envy” and it’s a real thing.