My Name is Bruce John Dickinson and I’m lucky enough to have enjoyed a long career in both music and music education which started in the late 80s with a band called Little Angels, and I’ve set up several music colleges over the years, the latest and greatest being WaterBear - The College of Music in Brighton. I’m not a doctor or a mental health professional but I feel qualified, through personal experience, to put down some thoughts about the big fat ‘elephant in the room’ in the music industry. That ‘elephant’ being mental health. My feeling is that most creatives are dealing with varying degrees of chronic anxiety and bouts of depression. I’d like to share my story of personal struggle and how I made a few changes that had dramatic results in all aspects of my life.
I used to be an Olympic-standard stress head. I worried myself to the ground through trying to control every aspect of my work life and ended up with chronic insomnia, repetitive thoughts, anxiety and depression which went on for a couple of decades. That’s a long time to not have any sleep. But happily, after some research and work on myself, I have almost completely turned it around. Only took until I was 50 years old…
So today I want to explain how I found happiness, became much more effective at work, got more done (with less effort) and became much nicer to be around. I hope this is useful to anyone else struggling with the same issues and leads you to figuring this stuff out earlier! I promise you life can be easier and you can be happier. And it’s closer than you think right now.
The first step in my change was to accept responsibility for the way I felt. Even at my worst, I could see that some people I worked with could cope better than me with the same situations. I had to conclude that my experience of reality was defined by my thoughts, rather than the other way around.
I had gleaned a small, but critical, level of self-awareness which was enough to kick-start a series of events that were to have a huge effect on my mental and physical wellbeing. And then I read the ‘Power of Now’ by Eckhart Tolle. Eckhart is a modern-day philosopher and spiritual leader. Now I’m not religious in the conventional sense, but then neither is he, and I could really relate to the book. One particular Eckhart quote stopped me dead and changed my life forever. The line was:
Of course. So obvious and yet it had never occurred to me that the entity that was really ‘me’ was not the thoughts, but the quiet observer of the thoughts. The penny dropped and I suddenly realised that all the happy stable people around me with robust mental health were different to me in that they understood this. They watched their thoughts go by and took less notice of them than I did.
I asked myself - what is this depression? The answer came ‘It’s just thoughts, running away with themselves’. I reasoned maybe it is possible that I can control them, and that perhaps to focus on the positive or negative aspects of life is a choice. A day to day choice. Perhaps even to worry or not is a choice.
I questioned my wife on this- she’s a natural buddha who has achieved some kind of easy enlightenment. She embodies calm and acceptance. I learned that people like her allow thoughts to come and go, and sometimes have no thoughts at all. They don’t take the narrative in the head so seriously, accept situations without attaching a value judgement, and have less attachment to fixed ideas on how the future should be.
My mind was blown. I realised that my problem was that I believed the self-manufactured disaster hype in my head to such a degree that I had developed chronic repetitive thoughts that never stopped, even in my sleep. The resulting adrenaline and effect of unrelenting stress on my body was deeply unpleasant, disabling and threated my long-term health.
However now I had a lifeline to do something about it. I found out that many dynamic high achievers had the ability to switch off their thoughts and simply trust that whatever life had dealt them, they would cope with it. ‘The Lord will provide’ as the bible would say. I used to think the world was a super dangerous place, because that was my focus. I started to appreciate how much in my life was actually working just fine.
Of course, people have known this for thousands of years, and this thinking is the basis for nearly all religions. You just have to go a long way back and unpick a few centuries of branding and unhelpful metaphor, to get to the source of what people like Buddha, Jesus, Allah were saying. They just wanted us to chill out and be nice to each other.
I realised our experience of life is 100% about how we feel and think inside. Not 99%, not 50%, but 100%. What you think about magnifies. Your thoughts become your reality. If you go to the park looking for dog poo – that’s what you’ll find. You’ll miss the butterflies and bird song. But it’s the same park.
So, I had to sort my thinking out.
Trust me, it’s not too hard. I learnt everything I needed to know from Eckhart Tolle, and Tao Te Ching (or ‘The Book of the Way’ written by Laozi in 600 BC). There’s nothing new here. I listened to lectures on YouTube from everyone from Alan Watts, to Wayne Dyer to Krishnamurti, and it became clear that everyone was telling me the same thing in different ways.
I stopped asking myself ‘How can I ‘get better’ from depression?’ - that implies a judgement. Life is made up of little and big problems and depression is one of them. All problems and challenges are there to teach. No one gets wise without suffering. That is its purpose. We don’t need to label it as ‘bad’. But we can move to become more peaceful and happier if we choose to. We can make a change.
When is the time to make a change? Well, you decide. No one else can do this for you. Step one is making a commitment to changing and taking responsibility for how we feel. That’s what I did three years ago, and life has got better and better ever since.
The key to finding stillness and calm is exactly where you’d expect to find it: in mediation or mindfulness. My experience is this really works, and it changes the way your brain is wired. The more you do the better it gets. This is how you begin to be able cope. You just keep on keeping on whatever the weather. I know my brain is different because now I can sleep, and I wake up thankful.
And if our thoughts define our reality, then we should take deep care over what we choose to think about.
I now believe that your past is like the wake of a boat - it can’t drive the boat, so no point staring at it. Face the front, be mindful. Your thoughts drive the engine of the moment (reality) into the future which will always come to you. You don’t have to think too hard about steering. Follow the tide - go with it. There is no effort needed.
All we have is the present moment. The past and the future are entirely illusory. If this sounds like hippy nonsense, then check out what Einstein and Stephen Hawking have to say about the nature of time. The quantum physics guys are pointing in the same direction as Jesus and Buddha, they are just using different metaphors to signpost the same thing.
It was helpful for me to drill down into the absolute fundamental heart of the issue and this is it: Everything boils down to two things - fear or acceptance. Love being another word for acceptance, as is unity, stillness, nothingness. You can feel it when you sit quietly and look at the sea. Some people call it God. It doesn’t matter what you call it, life is infinitely better when you have it and much worse if you don’t.
It’s the same with thoughts.
Fear = attachments, labelling, judgements and guilt
Acceptance = surrender and peace
Ironically, surrender is one of the most powerful actions you can do.
Eckhart says “Don't look for peace. Don't look for any other state than the one you are in now; otherwise, you will set up inner conflict and unconscious resistance. Forgive yourself for not being at peace. The moment you completely accept your non-peace, your non-peace becomes transmuted into peace. Anything you accept fully will get you there, will take you into peace. This is the miracle of surrender”
Taking this on board doesn’t mean you will lose your edge and stop wanting to achieve things. You might well be less concerned about the outcome, and you might well achieve more and be more effective as a result. But that’s not the goal, it’s just a side effect.
The work you do here will benefit not just you, but your colleagues, friends, family, community, your industry and the world. Calm spreads. The world needs more of it.
If you’re looking for a place to start, try Eckhart’s amazing book ‘The Power of Now’, and I promise if that resonates with you, the other teachings will find you. When you’re ready to hear this the message will come, and nothing will be quite the same again.
This is certainly the most uncertain time I can remember in my lifetime. But where there is change there is opportunity as well as challenges. These are super exciting times and there is so much to do, but only if you have the mindset and the resilience to cope with this uncertainty and the confidence to take some risks trying out new ways of doing things.
I suggest the best thing you can do for yourself, your industry and the world right now is get your head in a good place. Positivity spreads, but so does negativity. Look around you. You’ll see people that remain upbeat, highly effective and happy in the most extreme and difficult situations and you’ll see others who get stressed easily and can’t cope with even minor things going wrong. This little blog has been about getting in the right mind set for success however you want to define that.
That’s all I have to say except good luck with everything you do in the future and it’s been a great privilege to share this time with you today.
Blisters, calluses, headstock injuries and electric shocks. They don't tell you about all of this when you walk into the music store to buy your first guitar, all wide-eyed and hopeful, do they? However, if you’ve decided that music is your calling, does it put you off?
Music is a labour of love. We put an immense number of hours into practicing, music production and promotion but you don’t always reap the rewards straight away. So, you must ensure you are in it for the long run both physically and mentally.
Despite the positive impact music can have on us – guitars, basses, drums and even some forms of singing can take their toll on the body. They are not natural pursuits. Music is an invention. Instruments are man-made. And in some respects, they are out to get you.
Okay, maybe that’s a bit OTT. However, there are many an instrumental horror story - drummers who’ve had operations due to RSI rendering their wrists useless for 6 months, the overeager guitarist who broke their singer's jawbone with their headstock. And at its extreme; check out what happened to Curtis Mayfield.
For your pleasure, we’ve whipped around the college to find some horror stories, and lessons that will save you the pain.
'The worst injury I've sustained from playing the guitar is a prolapsed disc in my neck. It comes from years of headbanging night after night whilst being on stage. It was so bad that I remember being on tour with a neck brace. Despite this, I was still going on stage and headbanging night after night.
I really noticed this at 27 when the wear and tear finally gave way. Basically, you have disks in your neck, and when it bulges an inner disk pushes through and can cause weakness on an outer disk. This can press on nerves which, in my case, affected my left arm.
The damage got quite severe and recalibrated my pain threshold. My arm was so weak that I couldn't open a door. For ten years I couldn't really lift my arm over 90 degrees and suffered from pins and needles and numb fingers. Weirdly this did not affect my playing. I was, however, in chronic pain.
From this, I learnt that everything in life has a proper technique. Even headbanging like Angus Young has an appropriate method.
It was too late for me to go back and change years being on the road. However, I wanted to minimise any further problems. I enlisted the help of a professional that gave me tips for posture, which definitely helped my working life going forward.
If you are in a rock or metal band, this injury could be waiting for you, and my advice is to study 'headbanging technique'. Angus Young got away with it. However, there are many casualties on the road. Check the fluidity of your motion and try to understand your physiology. If, like me, you have long back and rigid skeleton – you are more prone to injuries.
Also, consider your instrument. For me, telecasters and acoustics really set it off however a Strat with that contour is no problem. Leo Fender, as ever, was way ahead of his time.
You must be mindful with what you eat on tour. A lousy food decision completely devastated me during a gig.
While on the road we often ate venue provided food, this is running the gauntlet. After one show, the food provided was questionable to say the least. Despite my gut feeling, I went ahead and ate it.
This turned out to be an awful decision, and the next day was spent throwing up. This negative effect of this was pressurised as the band was playing a sold-out 500 cap show that evening. I thought I could manage it, and so we played the gig.
Throughout the set, I fought waves of nausea, and I almost made it. I was about to rush away from the drumkit and say hello to the porcelain when the crowd & singer called for an encore. It was a terrible situation.
We started to play the encore, and I couldn't maintain. I vomited over my drumkit three times during the song. It was not pretty, especially as every time I hit the kit; I had an unfortunate reminder of last night's mistake. Despite how disgusting this was - it could have been much worse. I could have ended up in hospital.
In addition to being careful with what you eat, you need to be mindful of how you lift gear. I've seen too many injuries where musicians have misjudged the weight of their equipment. This always leads to pulled muscles and can even lead to permanent damage.
You need to protect the gig. It's easy to forget that while on the road, you are a performing asset. If you go down for any reason, it can mean pulling tours, losing money and at the worse lead to hospital trips. Tour casualties happen, and at their extremes can be fatal.
Be mindful of this, protect yourself, your band and your career.
It is crucial to maintain good vocal health, full stop. As a vocalist, our instrument is internal. Consequently, the way we treat our body has a direct impact on how we perform, sound and develop.
You need a proper breathing technique and daily practice. You need to be aware of any tensions in your body. Having a familiar knowledge of your unique instrument are just some of the ways that maintain a healthy and robust voice.
Vocalists are at risk of multiple injuries if good vocal practice isn’t followed. I’m sure you have heard of nodules, the damage that can affect the strongest of singers if vocal health is not maintained. Other potential risks are polyps, ulcers and one-sided paralysis. A strong vocal warm-up, daily practice and the continuing growth of knowledge of your instrument are the best ways to steer clear of any harm coming to your voice.
Having a mentor and vocal coach who you can check in with from time to time is also a great way to develop your skill but also have someone to feedback on how you are working and help to improve your techniques further.
Instruments are unwieldy beasts, whether it's a bass or an internal instrument like your voice. When we engage in the repeated activity of practice, it may not feel like it, but we are asking a lot from our body. Over time this repeated activity can lead to RSI, tendonitis and carpal tunnel syndrome.
If you want a career in music and as an instrumentalist, ‘economy of movement’ is a must. Ask yourself ‘what is the most natural way of achieving an unnatural thing?’
Luckily for you, many musicians have had the same struggle. Dr.Randall Kertz is a physician who specialises in injury prevention for musicians and bass players. You’ll also find a wealth of information on the Alexander Technique – check out this link for a comprehensive guide. This method will help you build good habits. Which in turn will help ensure a lifelong career in music.
During this time of isolation, it’s important to consider how’s best to maintain and nurture your mental wellbeing. Now’s the time you can really instil some good future practices.
There’s a lot of uncertainty about what the future holds, and when we lack that sense of control and predictability, we can quickly resort to feeling anxious and panicked. This is completely understandable. So, what we can do is make our lives that little bit more predictable by giving it some structure.
As soon as you come to a place of acceptance that what’s going on is largely out of your control (other than following government guidelines), the easier it is to adjust to your new reality. Then you can start over and begin building a new 'normal'.
It’s also important to be kind to yourself. If you’re not motivated or feeling a bit overwhelmed, that’s okay. Don’t try to snap yourself out it, because it’ll creep back in at another time. Go through the motions – your mind and body are trying to adjust so you’ll naturally feel more tired and unsettled. We’re bombarded with images and videos of people being super creative and productive recently... that doesn’t mean you need to be too. Take your time.
So, where do you start?
You’re not living your everyday life right now so spend a bit of time trying to construct a new routine. Whether you’re working from home or you have some time off:
Get ready in the morning. As comforting as it is wearing your pyjamas all day, chances are it doesn’t make you particularly productive. This doesn’t mean you need to get your occasion wear out, but spend the same time you normally would getting ready. Consider waking up at your usual time too, then once you’re ready you’ll be in the right mindset for the day ahead.
If you’re working from home, try to only work your normal working hours and have a dedicated workspace. It’s important for your ‘working’ area and ‘resting’ area to be kept apart to help keep a good work-life balance.
Take a break – use this time to let the creativity flow. Pick up your instrument or write some lyrics. It doesn’t need to be perfect, just let your brain have a bit of freedom.
If you have colleagues, keep in contact with them – this could help you feel part of a team, giving you a small sense of normality.
If you have any outside space (a garden, balcony) take advantage of this! Fresh air and natural sunlight will do you the world of good and give you that important dose of vitamin D.
A great thing that we can practise during this time is mindfulness. Before diving into the practice, it is useful to consider what is meant by the term;
Mindfulness – “the quality or state of being conscious or aware of something”
But what does that mean? It’s simply the act of appreciating and taking in what is happening in your life at that very moment. What are your thoughts? What can you hear? How is your body feeling?
Breathing techniques can be a great way of calming down our body and mind. A good starting point is breathing in through your nose for 5 counts, holding your breath there for 5 counts, then breathe out through your mouth for 5 counts. Repeat that 5 times when you’re feeling overwhelmed or anxious.
Body scans are another great way of bringing you back to the present moment. Starting with your feet and working your way up to the top of your head, slowly scan every part of your body. You may notice you hold tension in your legs, shoulders and face, let that soften and relax.
Finally, mindfulness can be practised throughout the day. When you’re next making a cuppa, try not to let your mind wander, focus just on the act of making that cup of tea. It may be harder than you think! Also take time to notice your surroundings – the blue sky, the smell of cooking, the sound of the birds.
It’s a well-known fact that exercise releases those happy hormones, endorphins. So if you’re feeling a bit lethargic and low, try and start with an easy 5-10 minutes of movement. This doesn’t mean a full body workout; you can put on your favourite song and dance around to that or run up and down your stairs a few times. Anything to get that heart rate up slightly. If you’re after a more guided workout, modern technology has enabled us to have so much information at our fingertips.
Fitness coach, Joe Wicks, has introduced morning PE lessons on YouTube to keep school children active and healthy, and a new viral challenge has taken over our social media feeds – The Stay at Home Challenge. If you’re more into the idea of strength training, Laura Biceps has put up some exercises you can do at home. Or if you’re after a bit of yoga, Steffy White holds regular online classes. Or for any other type of exercise, guarantee it’s online somewhere!
If online videos aren’t your thing, simply take an hour out of your day to get into nature. Take a walk (keeping a safe distance from others) and stick on a good podcast or album. Or venture out with your housemate or family and check in with how everyone’s day is going.
As a creative, you probably long for the time in the day to play or compose music, right? So, here is your chance. Take up that instrument you’ve wanted to learn, write the EP you’ve been meaning to write or sharpen up on your home recording set up!
You now have the time to reset yourself and come out of autopilot mode. Take advantage of your free time and try to make it beneficial, you could learn something that will set up your future.
The number of live streams that happen daily has massively increased, with musicians and bands still wanting to keep in touch with their fans - so make the most of these. Be part of the community that’s building all around us or build your own!
Now is the time to phone the friend you have been meaning to go for a coffee with or FaceTime a relative that lives far away. Equally, you could even get to know your neighbours better – wish them ‘good morning’ as they pass by. You could argue that we are currently being more social than we ever have been.
Maintaining connection with others, even at times when you don’t really want to, can make you feel more positive. We are all in this together, experiencing the same thing so everyone can relate. Don’t hold back on reaching out if and when you need to.
Remember you are not always going to feel positive enough to talk to everyone on your contacts list or constantly be creative. It is perfectly okay to have some downtime. If you’re living with other people, it’s still important that you have time by yourself to recharge. Allow yourself reflection time on how your day has been and how you’re feeling.
Stay safe, stay positive, stay creative.
This is a fairly difficult blog post for me this week, I would like to talk about something that happened to me back at the tail end of 2015 and I am still learning to deal with it to some degree today.
I had just completed a pretty long European tour, working as stage manager and back-line technician (guitar tech etc). The tour was a pretty impressive package if you are into extreme metal music; it was the ‘Deathcrusher’ Tour featuring Carcass, Obituary, Napalm Death, Voivod and Herod. As you can imagine a pretty noisy and chaotic package of bands. It was a really fun tour; with some standout moments including one of the best shows I think I have ever worked on. However I found it pretty grueling, being stage manager/technician meant that I was first in the venue every day and usually the last out. Making for some insanely long days. Even after long nights of partying and sometimes no sleep at all.
This tour was a particularly hard one for a number of reasons, long hours, I partied harder than I should have, five bands and crews squished into two pretty old and unreliable tour buses and no real personal space or escape. There were some very memorable moments, including playing in France just days after the Bataclan nightclub shooting, where one of my friends who was a merchandise seller lost his life. The tour finally finished up, I came home, hugged my wife and kids, unpacked my suitcase, washed all my black T-Shirts and went straight out on the road with another band ‘Orange Goblin’.
Orange Goblin have always been one of my favourite bands to work with, a bunch of real characters that are always so incredibly grateful for the work I could do for them. The tour was going to be great fun, Bill Steer from Carcass was opening each night with his other project ‘Gentleman’s Pistols’ and my own drummer from Keepers Brew Stu Fisher (Hole, Courtney Love, Ozric Tentacles etc.) was filling in on drums for them. On paper this should have been the best tour ever. However, I was tired, my brain was pretty fried and I hadn’t really accounted for how mentally exhausted I had become.
On the second or third date of the tour we headed to Portsmouth, just down the road from where I live in Southampton, which meant my wife Chrissy was going to be able to come to the show, so I was super excited. The bands sound checked, then we headed over the road for a pint and a roast dinner. This really was turning out to be the perfect day. Before long it was show time, ‘Gentleman’s Pistols’ had finished their set, it was time to clear them off the stage and get ready for Orange Goblin. This is when everything changed. I still have nightmares (literally) about the next hour and a half.
Now for those of you that don’t know Orange Goblins music, they are pretty much rock n roll personified, big loud heavy riffs. In fact I used to joke with Joe the guitarist how his guitar amp setup alone was louder than the whole of Carcass! I turned on his Marshall stack, plugged in his SG and started to line-check. But something was wrong. The tone was dull, quieter than normal and certainly not right! I tried dialling in more bite and top end, but it was no use. I believe (my memory is shaky on some of this) I asked Joe to check his amp and weirdly was told everything was fine and ready to go. So the band walked on stage to the usual thunderous applause and kicked off the set.
The guitar still sounded really dull, no top end at all. Then the drummer’s cymbals seemed to disappear almost completely, I remember this very well, as it really was the strangest experience. One by one all of the instruments started sounding duller and quieter, then … nothing, absolutely nothing, except for a tinnitus type ringing and a general feeling of unease. I couldn’t hear. I was deaf!
Luckily my wife Chrissy was still at the show and was able to drive me home and get me to the hospital, where I was put on quite an extreme dose of steroids to try and repair any damage to my ears as quickly as possible. Audiograms were taken and I was given hearing aids. Within a few days, I could hear enough to converse with people as long as I had my new hearing aids in and was facing the direction of whoever was trying to talk to me. So of course, like an idiot, I went straight back out to finish the tour.
I set up the stage each day, re-strung the guitars, then left the building at stage time to avoid anymore volume, handing over the stage to Ben Bowers who was tour managing and teaching for the opening act, luckily Ben himself is a well seasoned and qualified tech and I knew the band were in good hands.
There was one more night on this tour that I will never forget. We were in Manchester and my very good friend Rob Heilig (incredible tech and engineer) who lived locally came out to grab some tacos and a beer with me. While we were out and about one of my hearing aids managed to fall out, I put on a brave face and just made sure I was pointing my ‘good ear’ (the one still with a hearing aid) towards anyone trying to converse with me.
We wandered back to the venue, where I believe it was Martyn, Orange Goblin’s bass player, standing outside. Martyn asked how we both were and what we up to, I explained that we were looking for my missing hearing aid. Martyn’s face looked rather apprehensive as he pointed to a small bunch of plastic and electronics that were smashed into pieces on the floor by our feet. “It’s not that is it’?” … Of course it was. Up until this point I had dealt with this all seemingly well, I had been fighting away all the negative voices that had been creeping up in my head. However upon seeing this, I lost it, I cried, I walked off and screamed at the absolute hopelessness. This night will probably haunt me for a longtime. This was me at my lowest, I was crushed just like that tiny little audio lifeline that was in pieces on the pavement. Thankfully the tour was over in just a few days, and I returned home to my family broken. As you can imagine, when something like this happens, there were a LOT of hospital appointments, Doctors, audiologists etc., hearing aids followed by new hearing aids, followed by more damn hearing aids.
This is probably a really good point to tell you guys about my daughter Daisy, I have four children, three boys and one girl. At the time Daisy would have been around ten years old. Daisy has hearing complications and has done since she was very little. So much so that she has worn haring aids in both ears now for many years. She lip reads brilliantly and deals with the whole situation amazingly. This was my inspiration to carry on, if my little girl can deal with this stuff everyday, how dare I make a fuss about after just a few weeks. I had always told her it didn’t matter and that she can do anything she wants. If I didn’t try and do the same then I was a huge hypocrite.
It was also at this time that I had also decided to reopen my folder of demo ideas for the new Keepers Brew album. (My own music project that I had just started work on for album number two, ‘Constellation Automation’) I had to find a way to still make music, music makes up so much of who I am, it was unthinkable that I could just stop.
My good friend and great drummer Steve Mitchel had recently started renting a place just a stone throw from my house. We decided that we would set up a little studio in his spare room and see what happened. In the past I had written the first Keepers Brew album on my own at home and then taken it to a commercial studio to polish and produce. I knew however that this time, I needed to work with someone I could trust. We set about finding ways to still be able to write and play music.
I should add, that by this point I had regained a small percentage of my hearing and with the hearing aids and/or my in ear monitors that were tuned to my audiogram to help fill in the missing information, I was able to hear some sounds. Not all sounds but it was no longer just a blanket of silence.
I started out by adding a ‘Subpac’ to my studio rig. A wearable sub speaker that is silent and allows you to feel the bass against your body. For a bass player this was incredible, it felt like I was standing in front of a cranked bass stack. I could feel the punch; this was a very good start!.
The next step was to add some better audio visualisers to my DAW (Logic: Digital Audio Workstation) so I could now feel and see the results of my playing. I was now seeing, feeling and sometimes hearing the bass. This new perception opened up a a new set of issues, none of my current basses were quite doing the trick for me, mostly because they were all so different, I had gotten to a point where I liked to use a different bass, depending on the genre/nature of the track I was playing. However, as I was learning how to trust my body, my eyes and my hearing aids I needed something very different, something balanced and versatile. I wanted to switch from using multiple basses to just the one. One that I could understand through and though and trust to give consistent results. After much deliberation, research and talk with bass designers and builders I purchased an awesome new custom bass from Overwater Basses.
The wonderful people at Eden bass amps sent me a lovely posh preamp unit (World Tour Pro Pre-amp) and I started to build the rig that I use today. With these new tools and the trust I had working with Steve, I began the long and strange process of writing the album.
‘Tune in’ for part two of this blog, in a few weeks, where I go into more detail on my studio/live set-up, my not so gradual hearing recovery and how the mental health fallout from this experience helped me to spiral into some pretty dark times, how I am learning to cope with my mental health issues and what the future holds.
I’m currently sitting here sniffing away, battling yet another cold... I should probably take out shares in Lemsip. And would you believe it, I’ve had about 30 people (today alone) tell me that what I need to do is ‘take a break’. OK, let’s look at the logistics of that for a second. I’m a self-employed singer. I don’t play, I don’t get paid. However, luckily for me I have my fingers in lots of pies and have the advantage of turning my hand to teaching and playing (I am also a musician). But, what about those who have built their whole lives and careers on just their voice?. What about those who sell millions of records and sell out stadiums to adoring fans?. What happens when they get told they HAVE to rest?
In recent news, the legend himself Mr. Ozzy Osborne has yet again postponed, cancelled whole tours due to needing time to recover from pneumonia. Which, might I add, has been labeled the after effects of a ‘rock and roll lifestyle’? Come on guys, the man is about 102 years old. It’s always going to be tricky to get over something like that when you're getting older. Sorry Ozzy, I know you’re actually only 70 (SEVENTY?) And let’s just go back a little… What is this ‘Rock and roll lifestyle’?. Is this now what’s to blame every time a singer cancels a show? Or is this just tabloid propaganda to help kick up a stink, sell newspapers and possibly gig tickets? Let’s blame it on the drink and drugs because that’s far easier than just admitting some artists are exhausted and have worn their voices out.
I’ll be brutally honest, I’ve had my fair share of illness’, vocal recovery time, near death experiences (possibly a slight exaggeration) and I am as about as ‘rock and roll’ as Linda in Lidl’s who works the graveyard shift. The simple truth is, people get sick. People’s immune systems vary, some people don’t value their health and sometimes they do, just a little too late.
Rewinding back to 2 years ago when I had my second bought of laryngitis in a year, I was definitely beginning to make alternative career plans. My voice had all but disappeared, I had a constant cough and I’d lost a whole area of my voice somewhere, who knows where, but let me tell you... for a brief moment in time my unintentional whistle tones rivaled that of Mariah Carey. But it did not sound pretty and I was broken to the point of straining all the intercostal muscles between my rib cage and being hospitalised. All because I didn’t take a break! Vocal damage had well and truly set in and I now needed to seek the help of a professional.
That professional was a realist. She knew she couldn’t take the doctors approach as I was a self-employed singer and this was my life and income at stake. A doctor would suggest complete vocal rest, but a vocal health specialist knows that sometimes that just isn’t possible. You need to stay supple, warm, exercised, hydrated and limber throughout your recovery. It’s tricky to find a balance but your voice is a muscle. And when you stop working that muscle, things start to seize up. You’ve got to keep moving… just very, VERY gently.
So you have a world tour lined up, 30 shows back to back, you’ve rehearsed, screamed, celebrated to within an inch of your life, you do two gigs and BAM, your voice has gone. If you were a guitarist and you broke your hand two shows in could you carry on or would they get in a dep? The truth is, you’d be replaced on a world tour… but you can’t replace the lead singer of a hugely successful international band, can you? The answer is no. You’d have people crying out for refunds left right and center and angry fans taking to social media in uproar. The practical thing to do is to postpone and reschedule your shows for another date when you can give the fans what they really want.
Lets take the recent news of Oli Sykes, cancelling the Bring Me The Horizon tour in order to repair his ruptured vocal cord. "I've ruptured my right vocal chord," he continued, "and I've been told if I don't rest it immediately I'm in serious danger of doing permanent damage." – Oli Sykes. Fans are angry, some sympathetic and some were probably using this tour to decide whether they still even liked BMTH (what with the newer sound and direction the band are taking) but one thing disgruntled fans DO need to remember is NO ONE puts on a huge tour, invests thousands, if not millions into getting it right and promoting it, musicians don’t rehearse for hours a day and they don’t get to show time then turn around and say ‘Naaaah, I’ve got a bit of a sore throat and cant be bothered to gig now’. For someone to finally admit they need to rest, you know things are serious. Even those humble, self-employed ‘Saturday night singers’ don’t like being told to rest. But the reality is if we don’t we set ourselves back months.
It took me four months to recover enough to get back out there and gig the last time I had laryngitis. And I was terrified I’d never be able to sing again. So now when that first sign of a cold creeps in I take that rest. Even just a couple of days, I know my limits and I know the risks of continuing. So I have to weigh up whether I have the necessary recovery time either side of shows and whether its worth the vocal blow out.
Adele, Lindsey Buckingham, Oli Sykes, Ozzy… all of them. They will have been given the ultimatum. ‘Carry on the way you are and you wont have a voice once this tour is over. Or take a break, recover, reschedule. Your fans will still be there.’
My honest advice and Vocal Health Tips For Singers who are struggling right now is:
• Take that break. Even just a day or two. If you can feel the strain kicking in, you need to kick back
• Put yourself first and think about the long-term goals. If you want to have a long and fruitful career, treat your voice with respect now
• Hydrate. Water is everything and yes, we all like a beer or two at a gig, after party, night out… but if you know you have shows coming up, think wisely about what you’re putting into your body. To be the best you must feel the best
• Stop shouting. Sometimes we can’t avoid singing completely, but we are in control of how we use our voices the rest of the time. And if like me, you enjoy a live gig, be mindful of how much your raise your voice over the music to be heard by your mates
• If you are persistently ill, see a doctor. Don’t leave it or rely on throat sprays. Get the medical help you know you need
• Don’t stress. Easily said I know, but the more you worry and panic about your vocal performance the more strain you will feel
• Hum. Keep your voice moving but in a safe way that doesn’t add strain
With the appropriate training and care, all of these symptoms can be prevented. However even classically trained singers can damage their voices due to strain and illness.
• A breathy quality to the voice
• Noisy breathing
• Loss of vocal pitch
• Choking or coughing while swallowing food, drink or saliva
• The need to take frequent breaths while speaking
• Inability to speak loudly
• Loss of your gag reflex
• Ineffective coughing
• Frequent throat clearing
• To help prevent disorders caused by vocal abuse (including vocal cord nodes and polyps, and contact ulcers) you need to learn how to talk without straining your vocal cords.
• To prevent disorders related to acid reflux (including contact ulcers and laryngitis) see your doctor to treat the reflux. Medications can help to control stomach acid. Lifestyle changes also help some people.
• Eating smaller meals to avoid overfilling the stomach
• Not eating or snacking three to four hours before sleeping to make sure all food is well digested before you lie flat
• Raising the head of your bed a few inches to keep your head and upper chest higher than your stomach
• Avoiding alcohol, caffeine, fatty foods, chocolate and peppermint, which may trigger heartburn
• To help prevent vocal cord disorders caused by irritation (including laryngitis and vocal cord polyps), avoid smoking, drinking or inhaling chemical irritants.
For vocal cord disorders resulting from vocal abuse, there are two main treatments:
• For short-term relief, rest your voice. Speak or make sounds only when absolutely necessary. Try not to talk or whisper at all for a couple of days. However humming is great for vocalists, it keeps your vocal cords active without adding strain
For long-term relief, voice therapy. Learn the proper way to speak to avoid straining your vocal cords and seek out the help of a vocal health specialist.
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- Tardigrades are micro creatures, found everywhere on earth.
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- Their resilience and ability to adapt and survive inspires us in everything we do. We love them.