February 5, 2017

Effectively dealing with frustration in the music industry

Emo warning – this is going to be a mildly personal post….it won’t be a long one though!

In a slightly different vein to my last few posts, this is less about becoming a session musician, and more about making note of something I’ve recently realised. Since I’m a heart-on-my-sleeve kind of guy, I thought I’d share my thoughts as a record of my current journey (not just my past one!) and hope that it helps other musicians too.

Possibly slightly on the controversial side, but I want to talk about how bloody frustrating the music industry can be sometimes. Before I start though, I should point out that this isn’t a rant, and it’s not some sort of sub-contextual, subtly pointing the finger at someone post either – i’m just not that socially complex (ask my wife), this nothing more than sharing a recent change in perspective.

I used to think, for years, that I was the only one who would get called for a gig and then a few weeks before it was due to start I’d find out that someone else had been called for it instead, or that I was the only one who would be hanging around with A-listers in rooftop bars in LA one week – and then working on a building site to pay my bills the next, or even that I was the only one who had to explain to people looking to hire me why “experience” wouldn’t put food on my table (all true stories). Well, if you ever feel like that or have felt like that in the past, then at least now you know you’re not the only one! Actually, the more I chat to musicians who on the outside look like they have it all together, the more I realise that we all feel the same (at least for the company I hold anyway) – frustrated! Fortunate and #blessed (obvs), but also, at times, very frustrated!

This industry can come across as brutally cold at times and that leads to feeling kicked to the side, like you’re not really getting anywhere and like everyone else is progressing ahead of you. Even just the feeling of coming off tour and going back to normal life can feel like the brakes have slammed on so hard that you start thinking you’ve got no future in music – I felt like that just a few weeks ago, it was only 2 days after coming back from a tour in Japan that I found myself telling Emma how I’m ready to call it quits and I don’t feel like i’m getting anywhere…2 DAYS!!!!

It’s a slippery slope thinking these kind of thoughts, you can get in your own head and believe things that really aren’t true – you start comparing yourself to others (or what you see of others) and get that feeling of being at the bottom of the class, or being slowest in the race. Speaking from my own experience, these thoughts seriously inhibit my ability, my social life, my home life and most of all, my inner contentment. So here are a couple of things that I’ve started doing or training myself to think in order to combat this frustration of feeling like you’re trying to run through treacle!

Don’t check your socials to start your day

I got myself into a really bad habit of waking up, grabbing my phone and checking my instagram and facebook feeds to see what’s going on with the world. I’m sure I’m not alone, and I’m fully aware of the fact that I spend way too much time staring at a screen in general anyway! In particular though, I think it’s a really bad way to start the day – essentially I’m looking at what other people are doing, and whether I’m consciously thinking it or not, I’m comparing myself to them – this is how I’ve chosen to start my day, to see if my life compares well to what my friends or colleagues are doing.

It sounds like a really small change, but in order to keep control over your thoughts it’s really not a good idea to start your day in this way. So I’ve made a rule for myself, first thing I do is ignore my phone and go and make a coffee – have a chat with my wife, chuck socks at my daughters head (or some other sort of gesture to show her who is the boss in the house…since i’m outnumbered!), have a shower and think about the day ahead and what I want to achieve…then, I’ll check my socials. I mean, I’m trying to keep this routine, but it’s surprising how it’s become second nature to just pick up my phone and mindlessly scroll!

For me it’s been a great way to cementing what is really important and lasting, rather than to eye up where I think I fall on the scale of success…which doesn’t even exist!

Get some perspective

It’s really easy to loose a bit of perspective when you spend all your day in the thick of it. This story is a bit vague and possibly embellished since I can’t remember all the details…but it is still true!! 3 of my best friends are doctors, I remember one of my friends, on her first shift as a doctor was rushed off her feet and at least one of her patients died…or got very sick…like I said, can’t remember the details, but I do remember the sense of perspective it gave me. Let’s say you make a bum note on a live broadcast…well, nobody died. Or you learnt the wrong version of a song for a first dance and there is no signal to download the right version…nobody dies – you get the gist! Perspective is a great way of realising that the world won’t end if you don’t manage to do something.

I really enjoy mountain climbing – so I always make a point to go away and climb, or swim in a lake, or do something outdoors that makes me realise that the world won’t end because of my problems…no one will die.

Stop chasing ghosts – pursue things that are real

Recently I’ve used the phrase “chasing a ghost” probably about 4 times a week…i’ve never really used it before, but all of a sudden it seems really fitting for my current mindset. What I mean by it is, are you chasing something that is even real? Think about what you are aiming for – is it fame? popularity? to be the best bassist in the world? To be rich? All of these have popped into my head at some point as something I want to achieve, but here’s the thing – none of those things are real, tangible things – you’ll never reach the end of those goals, it’s like trying to reach the end of a rainbow, and this for me is where a lot of my frustration with being in the music industry comes from – it’s not actually the industry, it’s me! I’m the one setting goals that can’t ever be reached…not because they’re too ambitious, but because there is no endpoint or way of knowing when I’ve reached them.

Although I have been really conscious to make goals this year that are actually measurable – I know that I also strive for things that will never be attained – and it’s important to cut yourself away from this way of thinking. It’s not a bad thing to say you want to be the best at your craft – but it’s such a vague goal that if you don’t have a way of measuring it you’ll get frustrated. Set goals that can be measured – you want to play on a number one album – that would show you’re pretty damn good at your craft, or you want to start doing drum clinics and get booked for one per month – again, that would suggest you’re well on the way to being the best at your craft. I don’t necessarily agree with the goal of being the best at something, partly because it’s so vague, but you see my point – make tangible goals that you could tick off a list once it’s done rather than chasing things that aren’t real!

Know what defines you

Here’s a very honest fact about me – I like being seen to do well. It makes me feel good when people look at my instagram and leave fire emojis, or comment that I’m smashing life. I think to an extent we all do. My problem is that I have recently let that define me, and as a result I became very frustrated when I’m not getting fire emojis or comments on how well I’m doing. So what’s the solution – put up more pics, record more videos? Nope, it’s to change perspective – I guess this point is similar to my last, but chasing after status is not a real thing.

Last year I had a gig with an amazing artist called Matt Wills – check out his music, he’s incredibly talented. The gig isn’t a situation – it’s got a rocky/electro edge to it, plectrum vibes, solid grooves, that kind of gig (picture for this post is from that gig FYI). We played an amazing headline show and afterwards a younger guy came up to me and said, “you’re Sam Skirrow right” (feeling great about myself) I said yes and asked how he found the show, he replied “it was good…you didn’t really go in as much as I was expecting you to…”. Ouch…that comment stung my pride a bit! May as well said that I sucked – although that wasn’t the tone of the comment at all – that’s what I heard! But here is the thing – I was doing my job, and I played what was right for the gig – blazing all over it would have made me look great, but made the gig sound crap. But since I love it when people see how good am – all it takes is a comment like that to make me feel like I’ll never be a good musician, why? Because I was defining myself by what other people thought of me, not what I thought of me – which is that I had done a great job!

So, although it’s a bit of a deep topic for a Sunday evening, I think this is a personal question most creatives should ask themselves – what are you chasing after and what defines you. Be honest too – don’t be ashamed of what you find out about yourself, because ultimately, confronting the answer to this, making sure you are chasing after something tangible and you are defined by solid facts rather than fleeting comments will make you a better player and make you more employable.

I know the tone of this post is a lot deeper than what I’d usually chat about – mainly it’s because I want to make a not of what I’ve been thinking recently and also because it’s my blog so I’ll write what I want. Would love to hear people’s thoughts – I know i’m not the only frustrated musician in the world so let’s get a conversation going!

Until next time!!