How new musicians can become more resilient

The Real Human's Kristy Kurowski tells us how musicians can increase resilience in 2019...
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How can musicians and artists be more resilient when it comes to their music industry careers? 

The concept of resilience and how you develop a more resilient mindset is a big topic for the music industry, particularly as artists, thought leaders and commentators become more vocal about protecting mental health. 

Kristy Kurowski is the founder of The Real Human, an online community aimed at creating a support network for musicians by sharing stories, tools and advice. Kristy's experience is as a part-time professional musician as well as coach and qualified leadership development consultant. She's released albums, recorded vocal top lines, performed live at venues from Glastonbury to the Olympic Stadium in Seville and much more but as she says, it's never been plain sailing. Kristy has also experienced the flip side of industry success, writing music that's never been used or playing gigs to almost no one. 

It's these experiences that inspired her research into the idea of resilience so, to mark 2019's World Mental Health Day, we caught up with her for her top advice on how emerging musicians can become more resilient in today's music industry... 

Could you explain a little about resilience from your perspective? What does it mean to you? 

In its simplest terms, resilience means getting back up or recovering quickly when you’ve been knocked down, then feeling even stronger than before. It doesn’t mean avoiding failure and it’s not about trying to carry on regardless of how you feel. So it's not about being superhuman!

Resilience is about accepting that failure is an inevitable and essential part of the process, understanding how you react, and building powerful strategies to reflect, learn and recover. This process makes you stronger and more effective at what you do."

How can new musicians enable themselves to be more capable of dealing with changing circumstances? 

I remind myself that 'change is the only constant in life' regularly. Lots of new musicians are also entrepreneurs, managers and promoters managing constant change in their job roles as well as the industry itself.

A lot of the time, you can’t control the change that’s happening all around you but you can control how you react to it. There are some powerful skills you can work on that make life a little easier when you face changing circumstances: 

  • Give yourself permission to feel a little unsettled. Change isn’t comfortable for anyone!
  • Build self-awareness: try to understand ‘why’ you feel unsettled, ‘what’ causes that and decide ‘how’ you can give yourself what you need to reduce the impact of change next time round  
  • Spend time establishing WHY you’re doing this in the first place. Why are you a musician? What’s the ultimate goal? What are you looking to achieve? If you’re crystal clear on your own motivation and goal, then it’s easier to adapt to change and still maintain focus on your goal
  • Build a strong support network. Have the right people around you that can provide you with support, perspective and clarity when you’re in the midst of changing circumstances
  • Stick with your normal routine, eat well and exercise. Not everything needs to change and having small moments that ground you can free up valuable brain power and enable your mind to work at full capacity processing the changes. Mindfulness can be really powerful to bring you back into the moment, focusing on what you CAN control in the here and now

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How important are your support networks in helping you become more resilient? 

Support networks are really important. If you’ve got the right support network, chatting with others can help you vent and make sense of what’s happening, unlock new thought, learn, and come up with a plan for moving forward. Others can also hold you to account.

If you’re an entrepreneur managing your own career in the music industry, then it can be tough holding yourself to account. Having someone else to give you a loving kick up the backside and remind you of the goal can be invaluable."

On a more personal level, your support network can also provide reassurance, reminding you just how amazing / talented you are (in the moments you forget).

The music industry is obviously a very competitive industry and at the start of your career there may be inevitable setbacks. Have you any advice on how you can come back when things don't go according to plan? 

I would say that there will be inevitable setbacks and rejections all the way through your career, not just at the start. The sooner you can ‘reframe’ your perception of setbacks and rejections and become comfortable with these being an invaluable part of the process, the better!

When things don’t go to plan…

Reflect, reflect, reflect. Ask yourself honest questions about the experience and think about what you can do differently next time round. There’s one thing you ALWAYS receive in the midst of setbacks and rejections: feedback. Listen (really listen) to the feedback you’re given no matter how weird it seems at the time and reflect on it honestly, to improve your process. Don’t write off anything you’re told. Sometimes it’s the feedback that’s hardest to hear that provides us with the most value. 

Ask for help! Chat with others, vent, share and learn. We’ve already spoken about the importance of having a strong support network and this is the time you’ll need to call upon them for that loving kick up the backside 

Use healthy coping mechanisms. The coping mechanisms you turn to when things go awry can either help or hinder your progress. They generally fall into 3 categories: unhelpful, temporarily helpful, or helpful. Review your coping strategies and focus on the helpful ones.

Remind yourself WHY you’re doing this in the first place. Go back to the original reason and goal you set yourself, then start to look at other ways you could go about achieving that goal. There’s never just one single road to a destination, there are always different routes you can take to get to the same place.

Come up with a plan to progress forward and take action. Just one step at a time is all you need to get started again... You may still feel a little bruised but that’s okay, allow yourself to feel bruised and just take the next step. 

And how can you teach yourself to realise/accept failure is part of your musical career? 

Lady Gaga was dropped by her record label Def Jam after three months and Jay Z couldn’t get a label to sign him in the first place. Elvis Presley was kicked out of a famous concert hall, being told he should stick to his day job (truck driving) and Jimi Hendrix was booed off stage in an early performance. Jarvis Cocker took 13 years to get noticed with Pulp. Failure is not only inevitable, it’s important.

Thomas J Watson said: “If you want to increase your success rate, double your failure rate” and nowhere is this truer than when you’re working in the notoriously difficult music industry. So change how you view failure in relation to your music career." 

You don’t receive the feedback you need to develop and grow when everything’s going well. You receive the useful feedback when the going gets tough. When I fail, I learn. In all honesty, it never gets more comfortable, I always feel bruised when something goes wrong. But now I allow myself to feel bruised and KNOW that I’ll learn something valuable anyway. If I take something away from the failure, then I know that it’s been a good thing.

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Photo credit: Charlie Raven Photography

How important is reflection when it comes to developing your resilience? 

So important! I believe that reflective practice is one of the most underrated skills that a musician can learn, at any stage in their career. I’ve mentioned reflection as the first thing to do when things don’t go according to plan (above).

To be able to learn from a tricky setback or failure in your career and develop as a result, it’s essential that you know how to reflect and review. The process I adopt for reflection is to ask myself certain questions: what happened? Who was there? How did I feel? How does this fit with my previous experiences? What can I conclude? What can I learn from this experience? What will I do differently next time? What support might I need? 

This process of reflection can turn a tricky setback into a really valuable learning experience. 

Have you any more tips or advice for those starting out on a career in the music industry? 

Spend some time getting to know YOU (eg. your values, needs, strengths, weaknesses, motivation, emotions and purpose). If you really know and understand yourself when embarking on a music career, it can make a huge difference to your wellbeing AND the sustainability of your music career. 

When you spend time learning about yourself, you start to understand how you react to pressure, know what pushes your buttons, and understand the measures you need to put in place to protect your own physical and mental wellbeing." 

As a result of this, self-aware musicians create more, achieve big goals, get more gigs, collaborate effectively, have a wide network, feel motivated and are fulfilled by their projects. What’s not to love?!

Visit therealhuman.co.uk to find out more. You can also connect with her on Instagram and Facebook

Photo by Oleg Magni from Pexels

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by Jim Ottewill
October 10, 2019
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