Touring: A Threat to Your Emotional Health?

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Perils of life on the road can include the not-so-obvious things too.

Stories of artists self-destructing on tour are legion. From Hank Williams’ last ride in the back of that Caddy to Morphine frontman Mark Sandman’s fatal onstage collapse in Italy, it’s a truism that life on the road is fraught with danger. Some of those dangers, though, come in forms that don’t get the press garnered by the more notorious events that topple touring musicians.

Take depression. Though the glitzy life of the road warrior may look like thrills a minute to the uninitiated, according to the non-profit Help Musicians UK, more than 60% of musicians suffer from depression and other psychological trouble, with 71% of the respondents pinpointing touring as particularly troublesome.

That’s not exactly surprising according to Isabella Goldie of the Mental Health Foundation. “Drinking in moderation, avoiding drugs, getting sufficient amounts of sleep, and having a support base of close friends and family nearby. These are the bonds that help keep you grounded ... It’s no surprise that some musicians struggle.”

Personal relationships can take a beating too. Being on the road not only physically distances you from your friends and family; it has its own unique demands that the folks back home may not relate to. Young stars often fall victim to this one. They’re out on the road while their peers are in class, going to the Friday night game—suddenly living  very distant lives.

The hurry up and wait syndrome that afflicts touring takes its toll too. Actual performances only occupy a tiny fraction of your time—most of it is spent in buses, vans, planes and taxis—and lots and lots of sitting around and waiting. In a recent Guardian article, Grammy-nominated producer Mat Zo notes,“It’s easy to let your mind and body slip into decay, even for a person with a healthy emotional state. For those with anxiety, hotel rooms are like prison cells.”

Seasoned road warriors try to combat the decay Mat Zo talks about by staying intellectually and musically engaged during downtime. A good portable recording/DAW rig can help you stay productive and emotionally grounded.

Being off the road brings its own set of challenges. Suddenly, life is not so thrilling. The stress and chaos of touring abruptly switches into the mundane sameness of ordinary life in which the cat’s litter box needs changing and the leaves need raking. The adrenaline tolerance you built up on the road suddenly finds itself starved and you get cranky with your life at home and with the people around you.

What do you do to stay emotionally healthy on the road? Tell us what works for you below.


# Floyd Perkins 2015-11-03 07:39
Easiest answer? Bring bikes.

Once soundcheck and load-in is done, you can explore the city you're playing in: meet people, go sightseeing or go resupply.

Getting cardio during the day will make singing, playing, drumming all seem effortless. Being out in the sun will make sleeping after the gig easier, too.

Anxiety and depression can be alleviated if not completely erased by the endorphins released, extra energy burned off, and just sweating out the bad shit.

Some of my best touring memories involve the bicycles- record shopping on 9 mile in Detroit, riding around Fenway and the Charles River in Boston, going to Little Five Points in Atlanta.

Put em on the roof of the van, make space in the trailer, or just buy a hitch rack. A cheap mountain bike with road tires or Wal Mart BMX will do.

Plus, they make you skinnier. What rock musician wouldn't benefit from being skinnier?

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