Vol 4, Issue 6: Taking Care of Business AND Yourself!
It’s a mere two days before one of the potentially biggest shows of your entire career: a live performance and radio interview in Times Square, New York City. Your non-refundable flight is scheduled to leave early the next day in the AM. You wake up and your back is completely out of whack. It hurts to move your arm and shoulder (naturally the side with which you strum the guitar). It hurts to move your neck in every direction, other than keeping it stationary to the right side (which makes singing or any bodily motion, as you can imagine, quite difficult). Your chiropractic office is closed and there are no emergency clinics in the area that can deal with your situation. If you snake out of this opportunity, you know you’ll likely never get another one comparable…in other words, “the show”, as they say, “must go on.”
This, my friends, happened to me and can entirely be attributed to an injury I incurred several years ago, during my band days, from trying to carry five guitars simultaneously (we were in a rush!): a combined weight which exceeds my total body mass. Need I also mention, I’m only 26!
So what’s the lesson here? As a creator – an artist of anything – your health is vital as it affects not only your performance, but also your inspiration, motivation, attitude, and overall demeanour. Therefore, I’d like to impart onto you the necessity of taking care of yourself, while taking care of business.
Now, it goes without saying that professional musicianship and healthy living don’t exactly form what one would term the most “natural” of marriages. While the promotion of excesses in stimulation (both sexually and substance-assisted) is something that goes hand-in-hand with the r’n’r image (for better or for worse), life on the road, further, isn’t particularly conducive to optimal functioning.
For starters, especially if you’re touring the States as I primarily do, trying to find inexpensive places to eat that offer nutritious food options…well good luck. Because, in my experience, the typical musician is not that well-equipped navigationally-speaking, time is not a luxury that is on your side when you’re commuting from gig to gig. What this means is that if you find an opportunity to gorge on gas station energy bars and Red Bulls, you’ll likely take it.
The second major health dilemma that the touring artist encounters (ie: lack of sleep) is directly associated with the craft in which we engage. I don’t know how many of you have attended live shows and then attempted to go to bed directly afterwards, but trying to combat the ringing in your ears, not to mention the adrenaline that’s pumping through your veins is no easy feat. Just imagine how much more amplified (pardon the pun) these effects are when you are the one onstage.
Finally, the real killer…stress. From dealing with asshole promoters that try to screw you over, to last minute gig changes, to technical difficulties (which seem to abound!), honestly when you weigh the 45 minutes of euphoria you experience on stage against all of the shit you had to go through in order to get there, it’s doesn’t always seem worthwhile.
It doesn’t take a health expert to tell ya that when you combine the above three factors you end up in a situation where your immune system is weakened creating the perfect opportunity for the common cold (or worse, such as in my case) to take over. While I’ve seen many an instrumentalist “just rock past it”, it’s quite difficult to not sound like a drowning cat when you’re hacking up phlegm and can’t breathe out of your nose. Irrespective of your weapon of choice, I think the vast majority of you’d agree that when you’re feeling unwell, your ideal destination consists of a warm bed, with both Kleenex and a puke bucket on-hand, and a strict IV of chicken noodle soup and Gingerale, as opposed to a smelly touring van. The point?
Life on the road is hard and contrary to popular belief UNglamourous – there’s no need for sugar-coating -- but you can make it harder or easier on yourself by simply knowing what you’re getting into, and preparing accordingly in advance.
If you don’t wish to find yourself with a bad case of the sniffles or having to face the reality that you’ve got a show you must play and you’re currently less than 100% mobile, I recommend you take to heart the following suggestions:
1) Don’t overexert yourself EVER! I don’t care if you’re in a rush. If experience tells me anything, it’s that gigs NEVER start on time, nor do soundchecks. I was told by my chiropractor that had I not started getting adjusted when I did that by the time I was 40, I would have been in a wheelchair. Not cool or very “r’n’r” is it?
2) Pack nutritious snacks whenever possible, and avoid sugary and highly caffeinated drinks at all costs. Water, surprise surprise, can be quite the thirst quencher and there’s nothing like a piece of mango, or pineapple to give you that extra energy kick you need (without the risk of addiction or crashing!)
3) Save your partying for when you’re at home. I know many a musician that likes to celebrate their gig successes by getting trashed directly after. However, considering that there is usually little downtime from show to show, this means you end up in situations where you either have people driving while at least partially intoxicated (VERY illegal and VERY dangerous) or people playing while trying to kick an ugly hangover. Further, alcohol and other “substances” don’t tend to bring out the best or most sound judgement in people. When you’re crammed in a limited area for long stretches on the road, the last thing you need is an excuse to get into a fight.
4) Take shifts driving so that everyone gets a chance for some shut-eye. Further, spread out your gigs and always give yourself extra time (particularly if you’re crossing the border) so you’re never in a rush.
5) Get contracts (backed by the musician’s union to ensure legal protection) for EVERYTHING. You can never be TOO prepared as they say.
6) Plot out your directions well in advance and gain familiarity with your route (check for construction and possible weather threats that may require a change in plans as well); even better, get yourself a GPS.
7) Learn how to cope with adversity. Meditate. Deep breathe. Scream if you have to! Just find some way to deal with it all that doesn’t hurt yourself, your band’s reputation, or others.
8) Don’t pick up random groupies. No, this isn’t your mother speaking, but let’s be real people, sexually transmitted diseases are widespread (including many that have permanent or terminal effects). Moreover, finding out you’ve got a kid from some one night stand is so passé. Finally, it’s frankly dangerous. Being in a foreign locale with a lot of expensive gear on ya makes you an easy mark. There’s nothing wrong with meeting new people, and engaging with your fans, but put some limitations on things - keep your equipment in your pants.