I have been penning a letter about detaching from the pressures of the music industry for the past few years, but I didn’t consciously start to detach until I recently went to London. Right now I have the most clarity I’ve had since I became a full time music manager last year.
I was awarded a Creative Victoria grant in partnership with the Association of Artist Managers to base myself in London and surround myself with the brilliant minds of the managers at Everybody’s Management. This trip was life changing in ways I did not expect.
My hour commute to work meant that I was finally allowing myself time to listen to albums again. In my first few weeks I had Mastersystem’s album ‘Dance Music’ on repeat. Mastersystem are a band of two sets of brothers – Scott Hutchison and Grant Hutchison (Frightened Rabbit) and Justin Lockey (Editors) and James Lockey (Minor Victories). For me, this was a fresh injection of Scott Hutchison’s profound lyricism with a musical nostalgia that reminded me of my teenage years listening to Nirvana’s ‘From The Muddy Banks Of The Wishkah.’
Whenever I’ve been asked what inspires me to work in music, my answer has always been the same: I want people to connect to music in the way that I connect to Frightened Rabbit. First hearing Frightened Rabbit was like making a new adult friend, you don’t consciously realise you have room for anything new, and then this drawer opens and it’s empty and that’s where Frightened Rabbit goes and you close the drawer and it stays with you forever.
As a self-deprecating hopeless romantic, I related to Frightened Rabbit lyrics as though they were my own experiences, as I know many other fans do too. Mastersystem was different, I felt I’d grown up with an artist. There is a sense of relatable exhaustion laced throughout the album and the first track ‘Proper Home’ grabbed me with these lyrics:
A bunch of disenfranchised souls
Coming back to what we know
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We realise we need a proper home
Watch Scott Hutchison perform ‘Proper Home’ at the Rough Trade Record Store Day this year:
I’m not in the spotlight in the way musicians are, I’m not in the spotlight at all and yet I still experience the unsettling lifestyle that comes with touring. It’s a strange sense of being everywhere and nowhere at once. It’s unintentionally detaching from people you love due to distance. It’s a forced selfishness.
Finding any sense of balance on the road can be difficult. In a business that is built on the foundation of sensitive souls, the lifestyle and lack of structure that then surrounds the job only seems to fuel this anxiety. This song spoke to me and is a reminder of the importance of home.
I saw Mastersystem play the album live at Oslo in Hackney. Exactly a week later Scott lost his battle with depression. There was a unified force of grief from friends and fans throughout the world. Scott’s words gave people hope, his honesty encouraged honesty and he was publicly open about his emotional struggles in a way that allowed others to openly express their own pain.
He was a glimmer of hope. For a moment there I wondered if this business was for me. Something had changed forever.
In a business that is built on the foundation of sensitive souls, the lifestyle and lack of structure that then surrounds the job only seems to fuel this anxiety.
I listened to every Frightened Rabbit and Mastersystem record a few times over. I tried to remind myself of all the early influences that encouraged me to pursue a career in music. I watched interviews with Kurt Cobain. I listened to ‘Abel’ by The National on repeat.
Watch the clip for The National’s track ‘Abel’ below:
I was uplifted by listening to the artists I work with and artists that I have previously worked with. These were all personal reminders of why working in the arts is special and why I bent over backwards and made so many personal sacrifices to get here.
I became a manager because I have a burning desire to help people reach their full potential, for me there is no better feeling than knowing that your skill set can positively affect someone’s confidence, career and life. I like ensuring talented people know they’re talented – music and beyond. Creativity is often coupled with deep insecurity.
First and foremost, I work as a manager because I want audiences to connect in the way I connect. I want music to be a helpful dose of therapy for complex, chaotic minds. I want to help artists reach those people.
A week after Scott’s passing, his brother Grant tweeted “Don’t ever think there isn’t someone out there who wants to listen to what you have to say.”
From this moment something changed in me and my first and foremost focus became about mental health. To see Grant campaigning for kindness and encouraging people to speak up during an unfathomable loss was something I wanted to subscribe to. I didn’t want to walk away from music, I wanted to help encourage change and search for practical solutions.
During my time in London, I had lengthy conversations about the fact the music I am most connected to is intrinsically tied to complex thought patterns. The music I find interesting often comes from a dark place, talent is often honed by people who enjoy being alone.
From this moment something changed in me and my first and foremost focus became about mental health.
In my many conversations about this, I’ve learned that writing music is often therapeutic for people who are prone to depression and anxiety. It’s a form of self expression and therapy. In my experience, the most complex lyrics are often brought to life from a dark place.
In this business, all you ever dream of is building an audience but no one tells musicians the truth about what happens when you do experience a level of success. Introverted people are suddenly expected to be extroverted. Fans and industry alike will demand your energy.
It becomes more and more difficult to anticipate what the future is going to look like; what tomorrow is going to look like. Your inbox explodes. Your office is a pub. You can experience imposter syndrome, you become so used to the struggle that quick success feels unnatural and unwarranted.
If you are an empathetic person, you start to feel guilty about not having the time or capacity to respond to everyone. People talk at you. People tell you their deepest, darkest. People try to tell you how you should feel.
You want to be accessible but if you’re too accessible people will take too much from you. Expressing deep-seated emotions on a stage to an audience of strangers looks exhausting. Touring is exhausting and can be unhealthy. I only experience a small portion of these struggles as a manager but the artist (if vaguely fragile) might experience all of these things at once.
You want to be accessible but if you’re too accessible people will take too much from you.
And then your friends punch you on the arm and say “You’re killing it!” What does that even mean? I spent the last year saying thanks to people who told me that I was killing it. My inner monologue was saying “I’m really very tired”.
I was tired of having to convince people to trust me. I’ve been called an old soul my whole life and then suddenly I was “too young” to know what to do. I don’t want to play by the rules or follow a template, I want to trust my instinct and when you’re starting out that’s difficult to justify to those demanding explanations behind your natural way of thinking. I have a clear instinctive direction but for years I had no evidence to back my decisions up. It was tiring.
I was tired of working seven days a week for next to nothing. I became selfish and I let good things and good people pass me by because it was the only way I would be able to forge a career in this business. I forced myself to stay focused and by doing so I missed a lot of important life things.
I felt immense levels of guilt because I wasn’t enjoying management in the way I always thought I would when I was trying to break out of a 9-5. People are constantly telling you how they think you should feel; you should feel lucky and happy and privileged. With that comes an inability to discuss how you’re actually feeling, in part because you don’t want to let people down and because it sounds silly.
Comparatively, working in music shouldn’t be hard. Working in music means you get to travel the world and build a team of like-minded people and go on adventures. It’s not as glamorous as it seems from the outside. For years I was sleeping on couches and earning next to nothing, missing important milestones, working 16 hour days and feeling selfish about my career choice. There was very little reward.
When I started to experience a small level of success as a manager, it was coupled with a fear that I was facilitating careers that could negatively affect an artist’s mental health. That is the last thing I would ever want to be involved in. I only want to bring about positive change. Sadly, while an audience is benefiting, often the artist is suffering.
For years I was sleeping on couches and earning next to nothing, missing important milestones, working 16 hour days and feeling selfish about my career choice. There was very little reward.
When I was in London I decided to talk about these things for the first time. I told everyone I work with that it’s okay to not be okay. It’s good to talk. It’s OK if you don’t want to do music today or you need a break or you don’t want to tour. It’s okay if you changed your mind after we committed to something. If you feel anxious or fragile, talk to me.
There’s no such thing as blurring lines or boundaries, the truth is we are connected humans, we are friends, we are colleagues, we’re like family. We’re complimenting one another’s talent. We’re intertwined.
It’s okay to talk about issues that have nothing to do with music at all. It’s okay to say you don’t want to post something on social media, or you simply won’t meet that deadline. It’s okay if you don’t want to do the thing at all. I’ll back you.
I’ll confidently and boldly back you and I will stand in the way of any person who tries to change your music or your art. The truth is I love all music from the artists I work with and very rarely have constructive criticism. When industry try to give me feedback to relay to the artist, it feels like someone is walking into their bedroom, pulling out their journal and saying, “Rewrite your feelings.” It’s not natural and I boldly refuse to allow it.
It’s okay to talk about issues that have nothing to do with music at all.
I learned to detach in the most healthy way possible. I started to delete the word ‘URGENT’ from subject lines. I started calling people out on bad behaviour. There’s no such thing as HR when you’re a freelancer in the music business.
Twice I’ve come up against angry men, unjustifiably yelling at me through the phone and I’ve calmly told them their behaviour is unacceptable. I started to make room for other people, choose friend’s weddings over shows, cherish my time with tiny relatives.
All I care about is putting mental health first, both in a work context and beyond. My few months in London were some of the most difficult I’ve experienced. I stuck it out because I was surrounded by a community of wonderfully philosophical and like-minded friends and colleagues at Everybody’s Management.
I could openly communicate about how I was feeling and I was supported. It fuelled a fire within me to continue to chase our collective goals, to embrace the business of songs, to appreciate that music should be FUN! I flicked a switch to remove anything toxic, to surround myself with people who lift me up and hopefully I can do the same for them in return.
I started to let people in and open up about the difficulties of this job without regret. I learned to talk and trust and connect. I started to fall in love with music like I did before I associated it with work. I stopped caring about the ‘just following up’ emails, if an artist takes a day or two to respond then leave them be.
Everything can wait. They give so much of themselves already. I won’t project the pressures of this business onto people I work with and care about. They can do things at their own pace and follow their instincts.
If you don’t want to do press interviews on the day of a show, fine – no press. If you don’t want people backstage before or after your show, fine – new policy, sign on the door. It’s okay to sleep in. You worked late. It’s okay to go to the park and read a book, it’ll spark your creativity.
It’s okay to turn your phone off. You sometimes can’t respond to everyone. I won’t make a deadline for your songs, that’s personal stuff unique only to you. All artists are different, but whatever your requests are – it’s okay. You don’t have to do things like everyone else does.
My time spent in London was fantastic from a business perspective – I watched Angie McMahon play her first London show at Royal Albert Hall, support C.W. Stoneking around the UK and Ireland and sell out her first headline show. I was excited to be able to have frequent meetings with our UK/EU booking agents, publishers and distributors.
We received publishing offers and distribution offers, attracted some fantastic label interest and booked in shows for Ainslie Wills, Gretta Ray and Angie McMahon for next month. I spent time with the MMF, getting to know other managers and learning of their struggles, while we all banged our heads together to offer one another solutions.
I saw some of the best gigs I’ve ever seen including Baba Maal at Union Chapel, Mastersystem and LUMP at Oslo, Courtney Barnett at Roundhouse, Brooke Bentham at The Great Escape and several talented Australian artists at The Aussie BBQ.
While this trip was career defining for my business, my main takeaway was philosophical. I cried a lot trying to make sense of what happened. I felt immense grief for all of those who were close to Scott. I talked a lot to other people who work in music about their own personal struggles and what we can do to provide solutions and help each other.
I started to care about myself more, I started to nurture my own creativity and make time and room to let new people in.
While this trip was career defining for my business, my main takeaway was philosophical. I cried a lot trying to make sense of what happened.
Thank you to Creative Victoria and the AAM for providing me with a life changing experience, I will value my time spent living and working and growing in London forever.
Years ago I found myself searching for an article like this, I have a screenshot I took where I was searching “Why working in music is so hard” and my computer was returning almost no results. I hope this article is beneficial to anyone who can relate. You’re not alone. You can detach from the pressures and make a difference too.
Whether you know me or you not, I am always here to talk, I am always here to listen.