April 8, 2017

Musicians – do you have The Fear?

This should be a pretty short post – it’s just a thought that came into my head the other day so I thought I would share it.

I was out in the French alps last month snowboarding – me and Emma love a good bit of boarding. We went away with 2 other couples, both of whom have little kids (around 9 months old) and we have Maisie who turned 1 back in December. So it’s not your typical lads out on the raz snowboarding holiday – in fact, it was pretty much in bed by 10 vibes…to my shame! Anyway – my bed time has no relevance to this post at all.

A few days in, me and Emma went to the top of a pretty long run. The run was in the shade still so very icy, it was pretty damn steep in parts and in other parts was narrow – but it was bloody fun! Emma was ahead of me for the run, and as I was coming down behind her, I noticed she was struggling a little bit, (I haven’t mentioned to her that I’m writing this, so I’m anticipating some sort of telling off later), she was taking a fair amount of knocks and falls – which on ice is pretty nasty. Don’t get me wrong, Emma is a naturally gifted boarder and normally so relaxed you would think she’s taking a standing nap, so it was pretty strange to see her struggling.

Me being a super helpful, understanding and encouraging husband decided the best way to help Emma get back into her stride was to bomb it past her and shout “don’t get The Fear”. Obviously, I now know that was not even a remotely helpful thing to say to someone considering walking down the mountain.

My point is this though, when you are gifted at something, and you’re rehearsed and well practiced there is only one thing that stops you performing well – you!

I had a great chat with a really well respected sports psychologist last year, she told me that in athletics, generally speaking, there is very little physical difference between the top athletes. Imagine for a minute that in a 10 meter race, every runner has the exact same physical build, skill, speed and technique as Usain Bolt – no difference at all, just a carbon copy – who would win that race? You could argue that they would all come joint first position, but I would argue that the person with the strongest mental ability would win. The one who doesn’t crumble under pressure, or doubt his ability, or question if he is good enough, or become intimidated by the people he is running with – the person who doesn’t have the fear will win the race.

What I love about watching Usain Bolt is not the actual race, but his entire presence before, during and after the race – the guy dominates in every way! I think I’d forget how to even walk if I was stood next to him in an arena!

The same scenario is 100% true of being a musician. There are hundreds of times when we need to demonstrate our ability in order to get a job, and a lot of the time we are compared to or competing with others who want the same job – they might even be better musicians technically or more experienced on paper. So how do you overcome this? Don’t get the fear!

I’m really into looking after my mental wellbeing at the minute and so overcoming this internal dialogue that will tell me I’m no good, or that others are better than me or that I’m going to tarnish my reputation is something I’m really keen on sharing my experience on. This sabotaging dialogue can be crippling and I swear has led to a lot of my friends throwing in the towel.

So here are a few things that I constantly remind myself, on a daily basis, to combat the fear.

  • Don’t treat your job as a competition
    It is true that many people want your job when you are on a gig, and it’s also true that the music industry is a very competitive industry. However, if you view what you are doing as a competition, where you need to get as far ahead of others as you can, then you will spend your career constantly worrying about who is doing better than you.Don’t view what you do as a competition, get into the habit of celebrating the success of other musicians. Support musicians when they are struggling, or if they put themselves out on there. Why? Because nothing bad can come from having this approach. Being a positive and uplifting person goes against the grain of being competitive, and the less you view this industry as a competition, the better peace of mind you will have.
  • Remind yourself what you’ve done and where you’ve come from
    It’s easy to forget how far you’ve come, especially if you’re sat at home with no gigs. But we all have some sort of credit to our name, no matter how small it might sound to others, you will have an achievement you are proud of. Remind yourself of these things, they will make you feel like you have something valid and substantial to bring to a session.
  • Practice…lots
    This one is obvious right? Practice, practice, practice – always be on your game, because when you get called in last minute for something, you want to be ready. I always feel great walking into a session when I know I’ve been consistently practicing, because confidence in my ability gives me mental confidence too. I love this saying;

    Always be ready, so you don’t have to get ready

  • “Fonfidence”
    Fonfidence is a made up word (whaaaa!?). It means Fake Confidence…get it! Sounds really lame now I’ve written it down, but I’m going to stick with it. There are a lot of times when I’ve had to really put myself out there. I’m good at faking confidence – that is, forcing myself to walk up to people and strike up a conversation, or forcing myself to walk up on stage at a jam night and start playing, or forcing myself to be in playing situations that really push me. Faking confidence has been a really big part of becoming a session musician, because in actual fact, I only really fake the first 10 seconds – once I’ve pushed myself into these situations I find that I am actually confident and had just built up a bunch of crap in my head about what could go wrong…I had the fear!

Right, this post has become something much longer than intended, but I really love to talk about my mindset and what has and continues to work for me as a session musician. We’re always encouraged to look after our physical health, but it’s so important to look for a good life balance and look after your mental (and spiritual) health too…and on that note I’m going to go and listen to some whale noises, light up some incense and meditate! Actually that’s not true, i’m going to sit and watch Big Bang Theory.

Let me know what you think – always love hearing from you guys.