Building and maintaining a successful career in music is a notoriously demanding and difficult task. Read any credible book about life in the music business, and you’ll come across countless stories lifted from the front lines, cautionary tales involving a massive range of challenges that have led, it seems almost inevitably, to someone’s downfall. Many of those issues have become timeless, persisting even as decades pass, genres come and go, and scenes rise and fall into the history books; others are more modern, the topic of debates that are taking place today and will continue tomorrow.
The list of potential stumbling blocks may be formidable, but in the end it mostly boils down to stress – and since this April is Stress Awareness Month, it’s the perfect time to think about how to anticipate, acknowledge, and overcome this universally human experience. In this two-part blog series, we will consider the above and also look at how you can equip yourself with an up-to-date set of stress management skills, and succeed in the face of adversity.
When considering why bands break up and so many superstars have passed away in tragic circumstances, we often focus on the most recent events in question, such as that final altercation (Oasis) or the loss of an irreplaceable bandmate (Nirvana frontman Kurt Cobain). However, as countless biographies and autobiographies immediately reveal, there’s much more to every story than you might think. Such pivotal incidents are certainly important, for obvious reasons, but as onlookers and fans we frequently forget that the list of stresses a musician must cope with begins at a much earlier stage.
From the day a person chooses their instrument and starts to play, stress can easily accumulate. An aspiring musician will almost certainly encounter technique-related difficulties that must (and can) be overcome through dedicated and focused practice, and insecurities can easily come into play when instrumentalists and songwriters wonder how to define a “proper” musician; how to judge and compare oneself against other performers; and how to calculate the odds of achieving success in an extremely competitive industry. Writing and performing music is an incredibly rewarding activity – but the less readily acknowledged and highly stressful side must also be addressed at the earliest possible opportunity, especially when aspiring to a life spent navigating a landscape that is both endlessly exciting, and extremely unpredictable.
Beyond their initial practice sessions, first bands, earliest gigs, and the establishment of a musical style and identity, musicians start to gain confidence and seriously consider taking things as far as they can go. At this point, an active and mindful awareness of stress and its effects becomes just as important as practising scales, rudiments, and shredding. Without preparation, education, and a high-quality support network, it’s all too easy to fall prey to limiting beliefs, fictional and negative stories we tell ourselves that are based on, but do not fully reflect, reality. The sooner we start preparing, the greater our chances of achieving our dreams, although it’s never too late to commit to a reliable and stable way of moving forward.
Change is the only constant in the creative industries, and new opportunities and challenges arise every time the music business evolves. Today, the record industry is rapidly recovering from a well-publicised decline, and is predicted to continue to expand in the future – and thanks to the availability of affordable digital recording and computer technology, it’s easier than ever to create a track and make it available online. Videos with viral potential can be filmed and uploaded to YouTube using only a smartphone; social media platforms enable direct band-to-fan connections; and digital music stores and streaming platforms connect us to so much music that it would take many lifetimes to listen to it all. Due to the above developments, both collaboration and competition are on the rise, and it’s possible for up-and-coming bands and artists to feel overwhelmed as a result. At ACM, we’re completely committed to supporting students throughout this process, ensuring that they find their unique voice and are able to build a long-lasting and sustainable career.
Professional creative musicians live a cyclical life spent writing, recording, releasing, and promoting their songs, videos, EPs, albums, and other products. As bands continue to pursue their dreams, they must manage their relationships with each other while recruiting a skilled and passionate team, pairing up with a suitable record label and negotiating a fair deal, playing live and touring consistently, and dealing with pressure that increases in intensity as they advance to each new level of success. Throughout it all, stress maintains a persistent presence.
Ultimately, many bands and artists are able to achieve significant commercial and critical success. The glamorous and exhilarating side of superstardom has been well-documented – but behind the scenes, things are not necessarily as they seem. The cases of prominent musicians like Chris Cornell, Chester Bennington, Avicii, and others have made headlines across the world in recent years, and highlight the fact that stress can wreak havoc in the minds of even the most accomplished talents. Nonetheless, such tragic situations are by no means inevitable and can be prevented, for example through the help of specialist organisations such as Mark Richardson’s Music Support. Again, the sooner we act the better. If any ACM students are in need of assistance regarding their mental wellbeing, we advise using the ‘Help’ button on myACM to access specialist support from our award winning student services team.
In Part 2, we will explore a range of ways to overcome adversity and transform stress into your own personal set of superpowers – but for now, it’s important to bear in mind that no matter what your current situation might be, you are not alone. Listen to some of the most iconic songs of all time, consider their subject matter, and remember that above all else, those tracks have brought excitement, happiness, relief, and joy to millions of people across the world. They were written – and have been embraced, adored, respected, and cherished – for a very good reason.
If you’d like to learn more about how we can help kick-start your music career, why not come along to one of ACM’s Open Days.