Hard Times – Part Three: Personal Challenges

Here is the third and final instalment of my blog about enduring and overcoming “Hard Times”. I didn’t want it all to be from my perspective, so I asked around for some input from friends and colleagues. The following shows my questions in bold, their responses in italics, and my thoughts in plain text. If it sounds like I’m giving advice, please feel free to ignore it. Take what is useful and leave the rest.


• Personal challenges (being away from family / illness etc).

A response to this below in italics:

“It’s really important to be ill when you are ill.  Anyone who doesn’t understand that is mad.  Ditto making time for family.  It’s all possible if you can calmly but assertively discuss what you want.”

I think the important part of this advice is “what you want”. A lot of the time when I am working on a project, everything feels hugely important, and admitting that I am ill or need some time with family seems indulgent, as if my absence would damage the project (of course, everything is usually just fine without me). Being able to say what I want isn’t always easy for me. Although sometimes, as a performer, you just have to get on stage and do the job no matter what state you’re in, in many other cases it is always possible to negotiate what you need. It really helps me to know in advance what my limits are, before demands take their toll. Unfortunately, I generally only learn what my limits are through hard-won experience….

For a touring musician or technician/manager, one of the biggest challenges is being away from loved ones and friends. Being away from your home and daily routine can also be very upsetting for some people. One of my biggest realisations after nearly a decade of touring was that I wasn’t “OK” all of the time when I was on tour; the overriding emotion that I had spent more than ten years masking was that of loneliness. Even though I enjoy the company of my colleagues and friends on the road, I still miss my family and friends back home. There is a sense of powerlessness about not having the choice to just jump on a plane or train and go home when you’re feeling a bit low. Realising this got me halfway to finding a way to cope with the emotion when it arose. I am most guilty of isolating myself on tour, so I try to make an effort to stay connected with band members and crew. There are always opportunities for socialising, or organising a dinner together. On a few recent tours I started a “fit club” with a few of the crew, which involved some stretching and fitness drills etc. Having this outlet made a huge positive impact on my state of mind during those tours.

• Being out of your depth.

Some straightforward advice:

“Take a step back, listen to what others say and support the goal.”

Being out of your depth is an ideal situation for learning new skills. If I’m out of my depth, it generally follows that I am surrounded by other musicians or crew who are more experienced and knowledgeable than me, so it’s the perfect time to swallow my pride and say “I don’t know how to do that, can you show me?” One of my weaknesses is not being able to make that admission of being less than perfect in a work situation.

Here’s another response (in italics):

“I tend to put my head down and get on with it. It doesn’t last long, this feeling – I learned a long time ago I’m a quick study, and I aim to please. It’s usually a case that I think I’m out of my depth but actually I just need to climb up a level. I’ve only had one or two real “imposter moments”, and even then the work stood up. So I don’t worry so much about this anymore.”

As this contributor points out, being out of your depth is the perfect opportunity to level up.

This can be a scary prospect, and in the past I have called on support from other friends and colleagues in the industry to find the courage and confidence to help me through the process. Knowing that I have allies I can call on when I’m feeling overwhelmed is a huge source of strength.

• Feeling undervalued.

“I feel that most days so partly found a way to live with it.”

I have just had a meeting with an artist/producer manager who said that even some of his most successful clients still say this to him. People who have recorded or mixed multi-million selling albums. They still feel undervalued and unsure of themselves. It almost seems like an industry-wide affliction, at all levels of experience and ability.

Here’s another response:

“On the occasions that I’ve felt undervalued whilst working on a project, it almost always means the problem is the client, not me. Either that or the match just isn’t right and you need to walk away. I feel undervalued (in a horribly passive way) when I don’t have work.”

In my experience, we are only ever undervalued by other people because of their ignorance. Sometimes the client just cannot see the quality of your work. There’s nothing you can do about that. But it is dangerous territory, especially when it comes to valuing your time. As a freelancer who sets their own rates and negotiates their own contracts, it can be very confusing to work with one client who agrees to my “top” day rate for one job with no argument, and then work with another client who wants to negotiate me down to under half of my normal rate the next day.

I realise now that much of what adds value to my work is the years of experience already behind me. It’s not necessarily about what I do on the day, but it’s about the decisions I make based on what’s gone before. I don’t need to impress the client, I just need to do what I do. Sometimes my feeling of being undervalued is compounded by the fact that I over-extend myself unnecessarily. Over-working the job will cause resentment when you are not only undervalued for the job you were asked to do, but you were also undervalued for the extra effort you put in.

I am only now just learning to put sensible boundaries on my efforts, especially if I feel that the client may not value my work.

• Having too much work…

Three responses to this situation below:

“Plan-in time off, enjoy it while it’s there, build a financial buffer.”

“Never, ever a problem – the maxim “if you want something done, give it to a busy man” holds true. I quite like it when it’s like this. At end-of-project crunch time, it’s bearable because it’ll pass.  The only thing I’ve done where it was months of sessions without a break taught me never, ever to do it again. I love my job, music is my life…but I still work to live. I’m not prepared to sacrifice my marriage, my peace of mind or my health for the sake of a gig.”

“This can still happen from time to time.  Head down, drink water, eat your greens, sleep well and try and enjoy what you’re doing (it’s what you chose to do after all, eh?)”

There are a couple of scenarios that are familiar to me with regards to this; one is the dreaded diary clash, and the other is poor time management. An example of the diary clash happens is when a gig is offered to you in the middle of a tour that you have already committed to. As I have said in an earlier blog post, once it’s in the diary, it stays in the diary. Although it can be painful turning down a gig that you might see as more prestigious than the one you’re already committed to, in the long run I think it’s better to be known as someone that honours commitments rather than someone who chases glory above all else…

When I am not on the road, and mostly doing a variety of jobs in the studio, I do struggle to manage my time effectively. As a touring musician, I’m used to meeting challenges head on and trying to find a speedy solution (generally the same day). As I do more studio-based work, I’m understanding more and more that jobs aren’t always started and finished in one day. Sounds obvious, but it was surprising for me to find out how much I needed to shift my preconceptions around work when moving between the two worlds.

• In Conclusion

Something useful that I have learnt from hearing other people talk about being freelance and running your own business is that our business is based on relationships, so the more we can build those relationships, the healthier our business will be.For me, the most dangerous thing is to only think of my clients as an inconvenient obstacle between my work and my income. If I treat my clients as part of an ongoing project (my career), then I can share with them my success and prosperity.

I’ve been working in music for nearly twenty years now, and it’s amazing how much I still have to learn about operating as a freelancer in the music industry. I do quite a variety of jobs, and I find that all of these principles apply, regardless of the actual details of the job.

I hope that you have found some of this useful, and, as always, I look forward to hearing from you. I’ve already had some very interesting feedback and some great suggestions for further reading and future subjects I could write on.

Thanks for reading.


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