It’s been a few months since my last article. I had set myself the task of writing one a month but in the end I just couldn’t keep it up. The trouble is that once you stop, it can be hard to get going again – whether that’s writing articles, going to the gym, practicing or whatever.
This article seemed like a good way to break the ice and start again for the new year. It contains some reasons why I wasn’t able to keep going and, by recognising them, why I’m ok with not beating myself up about it. Sometimes things get too much and a break is necessary. As long as we don’t lose focus in the long run and start again when we can, it’s fine. If we don’t start again, that’s also fine – as long as we don’t persist with the guilty delusion that we SHOULD start again. The only person who really decides whether something is worth doing is you.
7 reasons you need a holiday
- No regular office hours. As a self employed musician you’re used to being at work 24 hours a day. You’re not actually “at work” of course, but in a perpetual state of readiness. The phone might ring at any hour and need an immediate response – the same being true of email, facebook messages, twitter etc. You know that if you wait too long to respond you might lose a gig, a new pupil or a workshop. You also know that if you don’t take that opportunity, somebody else will. And if that person does a good job they will probably be offered the next gig too. Now you’re in a position where by not responding fast enough, you’ll lose two gigs, or two referrals… So you daren’t ever switch off, just in case.
- You’re your own agent. If you’re not actively dealing with an enquiry (or doing your tax return) then you’re spending time trying to generate work. This can mean lots of time on social media, going to gigs or jam sessions, organising rehearsals, contacting other musicians to discuss future projects, organising recordings and/or tours and so on. This can be hard to judge. Do too little and you may not generate enough work to pay the bills, but beyond a certain point you can over commit or start to annoy people as an ‘over-hustler’. The regularlity of keeping this up, following up phone calls and messages, can provide a constant low level drain on your energy levels while you try to juggle all the other essential areas.
- You’re your own publicist. Very closely related to being your own agent but where that one is about generating work, the publicist role is about showing that you are worth working with. It’s not possible to gig all the time, you can’t always have just put out an album or a new book – the easiest way of demonstrating your wares – so you need ways of keep yourself visible in between these more obvious moments. On the whole this is the fun bit of making sure that the phone continues to ring – writing articles, composing, meeting up with friends for a jam – and will inevitably lessen once the next tour starts, the next album actually comes out and so on. But now you’ve spent all your time between the more obvious parts of your job too and you find you forgot to rest.
- You’re your own roadie. Travelling can be really exhausting, whether you’re the one driving or not. Postural options are limited leading to aches and pains. There’s loading your gear in and out of cars, theatres, pubs, hotels while negotiating kitchens, flights of stairs, narrow lifts, crowds of people standing in the way… And finally hanging around at airports, hotels or theatres which is often draining too as you hold your body and mind in a state of readiness for the next thing. Although it might seem like just the opposite you really get very little time to genuinely unwind.
- Gigs! Although your actual playing time is probably somewhere between one and three hours you can usually add at least three hours to that once you factor in setup time, hanging about, interval and breakdown time. The interval is not really time off of course as there’s often no green room. Having no where else to go you could either wait in the packed bar, where you might spend the entire duration queuing for a drink, wait on the bandstand or go outside with the smokers. Whichever option you go for you are essentially waiting to start playing again, which means you get no mental or physical downtime in this situation either.
- Practice. Although being the best isn’t everything it’s still a factor. Periodically someone new will appear in your area and you will probably lose some gigs to the novelty of the new arrival. If gigs are the only time you practice then you might lose them permanently if you don’t continue to put at least some time in here. If you aren’t finding ways to reinforce or explore good posture / movement during this time this is also going to contribute to the reasons you will need to take some time off. Your awareness of your own habits is going to play a big part in how beneficial your practice is to you. If your practice time tends to involve pushing you to the physical limit you might want to reconsider the way you are approaching it.
- Poor dietary habits. Late at night it’s virtually impossible to buy anything healthy and you’re usually exhausted from the combination of travelling and gigging. This can have the knock on effect of missing breakfast in the event of an early rehearsal, recording or departure the following day, because your need for sleep is more immediate. This is bound to have an effect on your general health and energy levels over a long period.
7 ways to make the most of your holiday when you get there
Ideally you need to get away from home. If you stay in your familiar environment then you are likely to do much the same things as every day. Staying away from home is great, leaving the country even better.
Be on holiday long enough for the automatic stresses to cease – take as long as you realistically can. It takes a while for the Pavlovian responses to ease (checking the time, social media, your phone, responding immediately to every enquiry) for me this is about 5 or 6 days so I’m not really starting to unwind properly until the 7th day. Be aware of them and aim to gradually wean yourself off them entirely for the duration of your holiday. Our minds need to learn to rest as much as our bodies. How can you do that?
- Allocate a specific time to check your phone for texts. This is hard because we tend to carry our phones with us all the time. If you can cope try turning it off or leaving it behind when you go out for the day.
- Don’t answer the phone directly – set up voicemail to ask people to text or email.
- Let go of the day to day annoyances, tell people that you are away and will be back on the case when you return unless it’s genuinely urgent.
- Stop participating in social media with a view to stop using it altogether while you are away. None of those conversations ultimately matter, no one will miss you for a couple of weeks. It’s a great networking tool and it’s good to maintain relationships but it’s also part of your day to day life which is preventing you from really relaxing.
- When you do need to respond to people while away, keep your answers simple. Use closed answers that don’t invite further conversation. Try to limit yourself to diary checks if possible. None of this is to be rude but it’s too easy to get drawn into dialogue that could easily wait until you get back. This may be your only chance to properly unwind for a long time.
- Eat when you are hungry. You are on holiday, no longer confined to mid afternoons and post midnight feeds so take advantage of it, go for the healthier options when they appeal.
- Practice Alexander Technique, Yoga, Pilates or anything else that works for you to make the most of your physical relaxation. It’s hard to recognise physical tension until you experience your body without it and that is not something that can be swiftly achieved.
Last thing I remember, I was running for the door. I had to find the passage back to the place I was before.
“Relax, ” said the night man, “We are programmed to receive. You can check-out any time you like, but you can never leave! “
– Henley / Frey / Felder (Hotel California)