A MUSICIAN'S SURVIVAL GUIDE FOR DEPRESSION, BY SAM MACHIN (ARCAEON)
I’m Sam, I play guitar and write music for the band Arcaeon. We are a small, independent metal band from Reading, UK. Over the space of the last year or so I have been writing the music for Arcaeon's debut album - during this time, my mental health took a serious turn for the worse and I ended up leaving myself in a situation where I felt like I had no escape. Thankfully, I turned it around and I can safely say I am healed and happy!
I'm going to list some important points on how I managed to get out of my incredibly poor mental health. See what I'm saying here as guidelines and not concrete rules - experiences are very situation based and everyone is different! If you or someone you know suffers from depression or has low self esteem, then I hope you can take a positive message from this.
Rest and take breaks - it takes as long as it takes!
I would often stay up for 2 days straight writing music, meaning that I would end up sleeping the days away and have a completely broken sleeping pattern. It's so easy to forget to rest when you are creating, especially if you're putting a lot of pressure on yourself (more on that later...). Make sure you set yourself designated rest times and stop and wind down times so you don't burn yourself out and feel the negative effects of that later.
“People will forget about us/me/our music if I don't work constantly!”
I'm going to give you some harsh reality here, because you need to put everything into perspective if you are a musician, especially an independent one or one who is only just starting out. It's more than likely that most people don’t even know who you are or what your music is. As well as that, expecting that you'll be able to suit the expectations of every single fan of your genre is next to impossible! The most important thing is holding onto what you make, cherishing it and not rushing it. Take time to make what you make wonderful and don’t be pressured into making music when you don’t want to or don’t feel like it, especially if you are supporting yourself with a paying job. Which leads me to...
Yes, the root of all evil and all that jazz. Musicians who are trying to make a name for themselves often end up working on a minus salary when everything adds up at the end of the month. The costs of being in a recording or gigging band can quickly get out of control if you're not smart. Don’t get loans for expensive equipment you cant afford, don’t try and solely base your income on music and don’t fall into the trap of spending money on services and materials you do not need. Learn to prioritise your own money aside from band money and avoid overdrafts and finance agreements at all costs!
You have your entire life to do this!
Okay, so its more 'time' again, but I would relate to what I went through for a good 4 years, feeling as if I wasn’t where I wanted to be with music and life in general, feeling like everyone else was doing great things, seeing photos of friends playing to massive audiences and the huge collection of best moments that is social media just purging the self confidence from your mind. What is, just is. Work towards what you want, by all means, but remember that you have your entire life to be able to fit great things into it. I know people who have taken several years off of music to return to it and are smashing it!
Personal connections are important!
The people you share experiences with are so important, especially when it comes to group decision making, direction and what your art will be like. The same goes hand in hand with the way you appreciate life and yourself. A diplomatic approach to tense situations is so worth-wile, so surround yourself with people who are open, but fair. Trustworthy, supportive friends/bandmates make a huge difference to musicians. If someone is a bad influence or a problem maker, rather than solver, then it should be addressed. I have witnessed and played a part in the sad situation of leaving a friend behind rather than helping them and it is worth saying - be sure to be that supportive, mediating friend too if you can, but remember - being able to disagree well is far more advantageous than agreeing with something badly.
Drugs & Alcohol can be dangerous!
Hoooo boy. I cannot even begin to count how many times I have made up for a bad set or a sad time by getting blackout drunk - it's a terrible habit and, thankfully, one I have weaned myself off of. If you are on anti-depressants like myself, alcohol can have a really bad effect, causing problems with memory and nerve damage. Stay as far away as possible from hard drugs like crack or heroin - I have lost friends to these drugs and it is often too difficult for people who already carry such low self-esteem to get out of the vicious cycle they can put you in.
Your place in this world:
Most people I know who have issues with low self-esteem or depression are incredibly intelligent and have a very realistic and analytical way of perceiving life. While it can feel like a curse to have to 'feel' so much and be so receptive of challenges or problems, it is worth remembering that this is also a good quality. It allows you to make bonds and connections with other people who have the same perception of life as you do and it does give you a good advantage when it comes to problem solving. Social media can be a real time waster and a catalyst to those depressing feelings, especially to those already susceptible to feeling low. We live in a time where there is more information available than any library in history on our phones and a lot of it is still difficult to validate. Your place in this world is that of being perceptive and realistic, so reach out for what is actually real whenever possible and make what you do reach out for something that's beautiful and memorable.
Effectively Coping with Change
This doesn't come easy. You can't just become a butterfly by spreading your wings. Allow yourself to be the sad caterpillar in the cocoon first! I spent the majority of last year in bed, way more time than I did writing the record. I needed it - I can honestly say I did need to just be ill for that time and do nothing for a bit (I did keep myself entertained by playing games too!). Sometimes change can just come by letting it happen when it happens and that change will come when you least expect it. Medication is scary - there are tonnes of horror stories about it making you worse to begin with and for the most part that is actually true. I went through nearly every kind of anti-depressant before I stuck with one that worked. I am now on that medication daily and it has helped me in many aspects of my life, a big one being my motivation to get up and do things.
Don't let go of The Day Job!
As mentioned previously, it's very difficult to make money from doing music, especially early on in your career. Great music is everywhere, but you will often find that it doesn't pay the bills. Get a day job, but most importantly get one that you like. I was bullied out of one job last year for being quiet and introverted, and have been miserable in some others due to it just being horrible work I didn’t care about and hated getting up in the morning for. It's so easy to say that's just a symptom of a lazy attitude but believe me, when you have been threatened by drug addicts in a toy shop for the 5th time for having to stop them stealing Lego for minimum wage, you quickly begin to realise that you can do better. Find something where you like the people and you find the job easy, where the customers tend to be nice people and you feel good about what you do. Use the money to treat yourself first for your hard work before using any for your projects.
Okay, this might be a bit of a shock. Selfish, you say? Yes. Do this for you. The changes you want to make, do them for yourself, not anyone else. Make the music you want to make for you. Not a label. Not an audience. You. Look after yourself over trying to meet the expectations of others. There are so many 'others' out there, but there is only one you, and you only have one chance at being a person. The probability of you even reading this is astronomically small, let alone you being alive. Make that life yours and do your best to endure what may stop you from doing so. It took me 4 years to find actual happiness. Becoming an adult for me isn’t about washing your own clothes - it's about loving and respecting yourself enough to be independent happily.
I hope this reaches out, inspires and guides anyone who is in need of it. Thank you so much for reading!
Words by Sam Machin
Follow Sam's band Arcaeon on:
Facebook - @arcaeonuk Instagram - @arcaeon
Listen to Arcaeon's latest track "Dataism" here: