opinion Opinion March 26, 2020

The music industry in isolation: A (kind of) good news story (I hope)

The music industry in isolation: A (kind of) good news story (I hope)

Amongst the inundation of news there was one headline stuck with me, ‘Coronavirus offers a blank page for a new beginning’. It was an interview with Dutch trend forecaster Lidewij Edelkoort. Overwhelmed with the news intake that day, I didn’t click on the article at the time but the headline had a lasting impact.

When I have occasionally experienced a dose of panic this past fortnight, I remind myself that this is a blank page and we can only focus on what we have control over. This is a reset, under circumstances beyond our control.

Like many in the music industry, prior to the outbreak, I was experiencing a long-lasting case of burnout caused by an unsustainable workload over the course of several years. I wasn’t the only one, several people I work with were too.

Right now my own burnout is a concept which feels insignificant in the greater scheme of things, as what I place value on is shifting daily. I was asked to make this a good news story, so I am going to share with you the positive thoughts, realisations and experiences I’ve had over the past few weeks since I’ve been self-isolating.

After two weeks of isolation, it’s been easy for me to pinpoint that the pace of the music industry (as I’ve experienced it) was too much. I have been a full-time music manager for three years, and prior to that I worked in creative agencies on advertising campaigns. In my first job in advertising, I had a boss that told me, “You’ll get thrown in the deep end and you’ll either sink or you’ll swim.”

I liked this challenge. I remember describing myself as metaphorically treading water for a year or so, but then I got the hang of it. I knew that it sometimes required early mornings, late nights, all-nighters, weekend work, keeping a level head in stressful situations and eventually I thrived in it. I learned to work efficiently to the best of my ability and remain patient. I had almost a decade of training to keep up with what I thought would be the fastest-paced industry I’d ever work in.

The pace of the music business is faster. In my experience, it’s been harder because there is less money, less support, fewer resources and added responsibility. Yes, we are looking after the success of campaigns, a release is a campaign, a tour is a campaign. But at the core of it we are looking after people. Because we don’t have a greater sense of protection that a company or a salary offers, every member of my team feels a sense of responsibility to look after one another. We have to tread a careful line of being professionally minded, whilst also being human, caring and supportive.

This stems from the lack of structure, all we have is one another and we need a healthy team in order to be successful. When I dealt the news to our team that 25+ shows had been cancelled over the coming months, I felt helpless for those who rely on shows to sustain their careers. This is why we started a Facebook Fundraiser for Support Act to provide short-term crisis relief to Australian artists, crew and music workers affected by the pandemic. If unable to donate, at least it’s something floating around our feeds to remind us that there is help out there.

In terms of the pace, my inbox is generally drowning with people ‘following up’ because they haven’t received a response from an email sent that morning, offers will ‘expire’ if you don’t attend to them quickly, there’s a collective sense of hurry from others that always makes you feel like you’re falling behind. As soon as you confirm something, there is an immediate demand for ‘assets’ and ‘content’ and ‘social media support.’

When things go well, it’s difficult to celebrate because, naturally, the workload increases. Even when you’re nailing every deadline, the feeling like you’re falling behind is unproductive.

This past week, everything has slowed down to a normal pace. Despite a state of uncertainty and collective empathy, I’d like us to try and focus on the positives, and in doing so, find hope:

Now is the prime time to focus on healthier habits

The music industry is known to foster unhealthy habits, there is a general lack of self-care. This stems from the unnatural pace and the false belief that if you keep working you will eventually be able to focus on yourself. Many people develop vices that go hand-in-hand with the job, sometimes this is overconsumption, sometimes underconsumption. Within my friends and circles, we all experience a lack of balance. While the workload has slowed down and gatherings have been cancelled, use this forced break as a means to focus and take better care for yourself and your patterns.

Find your balance as best you can, use this time to finally start breaking unhealthy habits and creating healthier habits. It’s not about putting pressure on yourself, but finding something you love doing. Start the online yoga course, read, watch the documentaries and shows you’ve been putting off, cook, cut down on unhealthy things in your life, practise your craft, learn something new, finish that thing you were working on. There are always endless lists (in your head or on paper) in this industry that we’ve put aside for when we finally have time off, focus on something that will benefit you.

Prioritise who you want to invest your time and energy in

Since becoming a manager, I’ve experienced a feeling of letting people down. When you’re overworked and on the road a lot it can be difficult to maintain friendships, birthdays, long-distance text conversations, seeing friends regularly. It’s difficult to think about where we want to be spending our energy when we are incredibly busy and often exhausted. The reward is always the end result; watching people connect to the magic that is music, but we often make sacrifices in the meantime.

Use this time to think about who you want to spend your time and energy on. Who do you care about? Who makes you laugh? Who has always supported you through this thing? Who gets you? Who are the people that teach you new things, about yourself, about the world? Think about your compatibility with society, from a distance.

When touring and working at a fast pace, we’re always in the thick of it, surrounded by people and emails and ongoing conversations. With less work, fewer emails, less accountability for others, use this time to think about who you appreciate the most. Tell them what they mean to you. After many phases of absence, use this time to be present. Thank the people who have helped you most along the way.

Expand your curiosity and find interesting ways to tell stories

Touring is often the biggest source of short-term remuneration for an artist and their team. I love live shows. I love brainstorming the venues and working with our booking agents and talking to the artists I work with about how we’ll facilitate a certain feeling in the room. Without tours and festivals and with the benefit of newfound time, we can think about how we want to curate live shows moving forward.

We can also allow ourselves time to think about how we want to connect with audiences beyond live shows. How do we tell stories to our audience? How can we find interesting ways to release music? How can we continue to support our teams without live shows? How do you want to connect? This also applies to roles outside of the artist themselves. Now can be time to find your voice and tell your story.

I’d like to hear more stories from managers, booking agents, crew, production companies, travel agents, merch sellers, writers, techs, venues. We often work in silos, I think we’d all benefit from sharing our stories to strengthen our community.

Learn how to budget better

In such a fast-paced and high-risk environment, it’s not such a bad thing to force your finances to stay as still as possible momentarily. If we’re spending less, it allows us to focus on what we really need. Prior to this, a lot of us were focusing on our carbon footprint and trying to find more sustainable ways to tour.

Perhaps this blank page is about alleviating the pressure around touring and travelling and instead of saving for the next tour or album, perhaps we need to be saving to just stand still for a moment each year. To write. Appreciate. Reflect. Plan. Strategise. Converse. Think. Do we need to travel as much as we do? Let’s think about the positive environmental impact this break will have. Despite the circumstance, we can try to appreciate living simply.

Figure out what you stand for

When we are taught to believe ‘the show must go on’ under any circumstance, we practice it. In this case, the show simply can’t go on. Use this time to work out what your values are. How do you want to change the way you work moving forward? What are you scribbling on your blank page? Work out what you appreciate during your time off. Maybe even write it down so you remember it when things pick up again.

When we don’t have control over the bigger picture, we are forced to find positives and meaning in what we do have control over. Help our most vulnerable communities both within and outside of music. Value yourself more. Plan the way you want to work accordingly, as opposed to being governed by the business. Sketch out your ideal working scenario and share it with your team if they’re open to it, it might spark ideas to make everyone’s jobs easier moving forward.

Remind yourself why you’re proud to work in this industry

When our sound engineer told us about how he lost all of his impending income for the coming months, we decided to start this Facebook Fundraiser to raise awareness about this issue and donate funds to Australian music industry workers who need it most. Our highly skilled and experienced friends and colleagues expressed their own personal and financial difficulties to us. Our sound engineer was the first person to donate to the fundraiser, followed by a string of local musicians and music industry workers. We should be proud of our communal generosity in a crisis.

It is heartwarming (and a bit cute) when the people directly affected are the first to reach into their pockets. Our industry always comes together to action change, we have the skills, creativity, capability and platforms to make tiny changes. For the most part, we are a generous industry, built on community and micro-support systems that we’ve created globally. We are primed to deal with a lack of structure, financial instability, working in isolation and feeling distant from our loved ones.

Let’s help those who aren’t so used to it and give them tips we’ve learned over the years. Check-in on your friends who aren’t used to this. We’re lucky to have each other.

This situation is shining a light on conditions within our industry that must change

Most industries are now understanding the constant state of instability many of us experience daily. Several highly skilled workers in our industry are facing temporary unemployment. We are voicing it online. We are rallying to help one another. We are voicing it to our friends and family. We are voicing it to the government.

People outside of our industry are now understanding the difficulties many music industry workers face. This is a cause for change.

Let’s continue to support one another and voice the value of each and every person in this extraordinary community of ours. You are seen and you are heard. Try to thrive in learning your own personal strength in a time where it is most needed.

If you or someone you know requires help, please contact Support Act on 1800 959 500 or text the Lifeline helpline on 0477 13 11 14.

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