When I left the band Maroon 5 in 2006 due to chronic injuries rendering me unable to perform, I could barely wrap my head around what was happening to me, let alone understand what had caused it. I knew I had chronic pain in my right shoulder and that my nerves were refusing to coordinate drumming, but I couldn’t fully recognize the extent to which my mental health (or lack thereof) had greatly contributed to the breakdown. Deep-down I had a feeling that something more substantial was happening to me: that I had been rocked to my very core by the lifestyle of a touring musician. But the public discourse around these things was pretty much non-existent at that time, so I felt very alone in my suffering.
Now, finally, a comprehensive resource for understanding the unique challenges that touring professionals face is offering solutions specific to the lifestyle of performers and production crew alike. The new book “Touring and Mental Health: The Music Industry Manual” (Omnibus Press) is a godsend to artists and crew who find themselves in the position I was in 20 years ago.
As a performer who succumbed to the travails of touring, I wish I had access to this kind of supportive material back then. The 600-page encyclopedia on all things related to self-care for a touring person extensively covers every conceivable challenge you will experience on tour, including relationship strain (both on the road and back home); anxiety, depression and crisis management; chronic stress, addiction and eating disorders; physical, sexual and nutritional health; and the preparation and recovery involved in peak performance, media readiness and post-tour letdown.
“Touring and Mental Health” is the brainchild of former tour booker/manager turned psychotherapist Tamsin Embleton, MA, MBACP, who in 2018 organized a team of former industry professionals now mental health counselors called the Music Industry Therapist Collective (of which I have recently become a member). As an extension to providing this unique counseling resource for artists and industry workers, Embleton has been gathering research which has led to the publishing of an easily digestible, layman’s terms, clinical manual, designed to help touring people prepare for all the glories and trials of life on the road.
Embleton describes the touring lifestyle as an “accumulative stress experience,” which can be a “triple threat” to one’s health, due to its profound effects on the physical, psychological and relational elements of self-care. Embleton’s book aims to dispel some of more the romantic notions of life as a touring performer and educate artists about the difficult realities this lifestyle presents. Many people entering the field of performance are attracted to the highs associated with creativity, performance or stardom, but they may be unprepared for the challenges that come with it. Beyond informing the public, Embleton’s book offers specific solutions to these very common eventualities.
One of many successful artists interviewed for the book, Radiohead drummer Phil Selway endorsed the project by saying, “I wish this book had been around when I first started touring. Touring and Mental Health can really help us all navigate the darker moments and the bumps in the road out on tour. The insights, wisdom and strategies from the mental health and medical experts, the tour crew, and musicians in this book are invaluable. It should be the first thing we all pack when we head out on the road.”
The manual contains chapters written by psychotherapists, psychologists, coaches, medical professionals, and academics, several of whom worked in the music industry for many years. By combining the knowledge of these specialists in their respective fields with the first-hand experience of many artists and touring professionals interviewed for the book, Embleton has created a uniquely specific set of data, descriptions and solutions relevant to the problems presented by the touring lifestyle.
One of the most challenging aspects of touring life is trying to find balance within an inherently unbalanced lifestyle. As a mental health professional now, I often tell my clients the answer to their problems lies in the balance between extremes, both in terms of mindset and behavior. But traveling non-stop, performing every day, and often compromising the essentials of self-care is a pattern of living which continuously threatens one’s ability to find that crucial balance point. This reality makes it imperative for artists and crew to understand the nature of these demands and to prioritize their self-care to an even higher degree.
Embleton emphasizes in her book that touring can be a physical and psychological roller coaster, going back and forth between periods of chronic stress and moments of boredom or disconnection. Add to that the expectations of public perception, which can distort one’s sense of self (both aggrandizing and diminishing), the shifting dynamics within the tour group, and the stresses and strains placed on relationships with loved ones back home, and touring people often find themselves coping in unhealthy ways, which can exacerbate problems and further diminish physical and mental health. Finding healthier stress relief and communicating feelings can go a long way in creating more adaptive coping mechanisms.
Embleton’s book goes beyond the individual, to challenge the systemic issues that greatly affect the experience of touring people. The author/editor admits that before she went on tour as a tour manager, she was sending people on the road as a booker thinking she knew what the lifestyle was all about. But the realities feel a little different when you’re living them as opposed to just laying them out on an itinerary. Embleton believes the people who design these tours — bookers, promoters, managers, etc. — should know exactly what touring is all about: what it adds and what it takes away. Understanding it from the inside can help to inform the choices in planning of schedule intensity, routing, and health risk assessment. Embleton hopes the information presented in this book will lead to a culture shift in the industry, which can facilitate better prevention and response to mental health issues.
Touring and Mental Health: The Music Industry Manual has been supported by Live Nation from its inception, and the live music giant recently purchased 3,000 copies of the book to place in dressing rooms in venues around the world. Embleton is hoping that the book will become an industry standard and essential reading for anyone directly or indirectly involved with the touring industry.
Ryan Dusick is an Associate Marriage and Family Therapist, the founding drummer of Maroon 5, a mental health advocate, and the author of “Harder to Breathe: A Memoir of Making Maroon 5, Losing It All, and Finding Recovery” (BenBella Books), which is available in stores now.
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