Help Musicians UK: A guide to healthy gigging

Our friends at Help Musicians UK give us their essential advice on how to gig healthily...
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Help Musicians UK is the leading independent charity in the UK for professional musicians of all genres, providing support for those just starting out, right through to retirement and beyond.

We want a world where musicians thrive. One of the ways we seek to achieve that is through advocating for healthier experiences for artists, whether that be on tour, gigging, or backstage.  

In 2016, we commissioned the biggest known study into the working conditions of musicians and music industry workers.

Our research found that anti-social working hours, isolation, pressures on relationships, and the highs and lows of performing are just a few of the factors that can build up and negatively impact the health and welfare of gigging musicians."

That’s why Help Musicians UK launched a campaign to support healthy backstage experiences for artists during Independent Venue Week (IVW) this week.

‘Live Music, Help Musicians’ has provided every one of the participating 230+ grassroots music venues around the country with ‘healthy venue packs’, which include ACS quality hearing protection and information about the health and welfare support available for artists who might be struggling. Later this year, we will be piloting an accredited Mental Health First Aid Training session with venue owners, staff and promoters to aid them in identifying, helping and supporting those with mental health struggles, and we’ll also be conducting a nationwide grassroots music venue research initiative to find out more about the complex health and welfare needs of artists who work in this area of the industry.

But for now, what are some measures that you can take yourself, as an artist, to look after yourself while gigging?

We’ve put together some ideas and resources around what you can do next time you have a gig coming up.

Don’t skip your warm-up

Warming-up isn’t just an activity that world-class athletes do before a race or game – any physical activity needs to start with a warm-up, and that includes music performance.

Here are some warm-up exercises BAPAM has put together specifically with musicians in mind.  

Wear earplugs

Research shows that musicians suffer noise-induced hearing loss more than the general population.

Not only is noise-induced hearing loss entirely avoidable, but, once it’s happened, it’s currently irreparable. Modern science is yet to find a way to reverse the damage."

That’s why it’s crucial you take proactive steps to protect your ears from incurable conditions such as tinnitus

One step you can take is to always wear hearing protection when you’re playing music. It’s actually a myth that earplugs will detract from the experience of playing or listening to music - attenuating plugs actually improve the sound of live music.

Professional musicians can access ACS hearing protection (and more) through our Musicians’ Hearing Health Scheme. If you don’t qualify for the scheme, then we’d recommend applying through Musicians’ Hearing Services instead.

Know your limits with alcohol

As BAPAM points out, everyone is different when it comes to whether their alcohol use is problematic or not, but there are some clear signs that it might be having a negative impact on you: anxiety, feeling overwhelmed or having a shorter fuse than usual are a few of the factors that could indicate you might need to rethink the way you drink.

If you think you need to cut down on alcohol at gigs (or in general), keeping a weekly drinking diary and having a daily cut-off point where you move to water are a few possible ways you can do this. Check out more steps you can take here.  

Eat well before and after the gig

The live music performance lifestyle isn’t often conducive to good eating habits – late nights, long periods of being away from home, greasy pub food… Understandably, this scenario can’t always be completely avoided, but if it’s for multiple nights in a row, it can really impact how you feel both physically and mentally.

The best way to manage this is to be organised – ideally, have a nourishing meal before you leave home, but if you know you won’t get a chance to eat properly before the gig, have a small healthy snack before you go on stage and a light meal after the gig. If you eat too much too late, it might impact your sleeping. For more nutrition tips, check out this guide on sensible eating for performers.

Don’t forget about your mental health

Finally, it’s critical that you take steps to protect your mental health pre and post gig. Through our own research, we know that mental health issues such as depression, anxiety and panic attacks are disproportionately high in the music industry, and live performance can be a factor in causing or exacerbating these issues.

Mental health issues manifest in different ways for everyone – you might need help managing performance anxiety, or perhaps it’s the post-show comedown that you find particularly rough on your mental wellbeing." 

Whatever you struggle with, Music Minds Matter is an around-the-clock helpline and email service that’s always there for you to talk to – it doesn’t have to be a crisis, and it doesn’t have to be about music. You’ll speak to a trained advisor who understands the challenges of working in the music industry, and they’ll be able to offer you emotional support, information, guidance and signposting to additional services that may be of help to you. Make sure you also look at BAPAM’s factsheet for psychological self-care for some general tips on keeping mentally healthy.

For more health tips and resources to help keep you ‘match fit’ before your next gig, check out our musicians’ health page on our website.

If you are struggling right now, you can contact Music Minds Matter on 0808 802 8008 or email MMM@helpmusicians.org.uk

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by Ximena Smith, Help Musicians UK
January 29, 2019
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