I’m Talking With the Girl in the Mirror: When ‘Looks’ Pressure Hits.

You Are What You Are

I start writing this blog on a Sunday afternoon when I’ve got no make up on, my hair’s dirty and scrunched up and I’m hungover as hell. I needed to blow off some steam and it got a little silly when one glass of wine turned in to several bottles and a naughty chinese takeaway (I ate a full starter box to myself, oh dear). I end up sitting in a nightie on the sofa at 3.30pm having watched 3/4 of ‘Kinky Boots’ (great movie!) and questioning my life choices.

I woke up just before 6am feeling really rough, having managed about 4 hours of broken sleep. Being unable to get back to sleep, I got up and tried to sort myself out. I still went to the gym for my strength training session despite wanting to do anything but that. This felt puke worthy to be honest whilst hungover, but it’s a routine session with my trainer I cannot and will not bail on. Besides, I know I’ve done this to myself so I just have to suck it up and I get on with it apologetically to my trainer (sorry again Tom if you’re reading this!). It goes ok (I always love my sessions) though my sumo form needs some work, and on the way back I meet with friends and my other half in town for a quick recovery coffee, and get home to film videos for my Youtube channel and my new segment ‘Songs from the Pink Dressing Gown‘.

I set up to record quickly when I get back, because I’m taking a full day off tomorrow (hooray!!) and this has got to be done as soon as possible. I’ve had little working-from-home time this week as I’ve worked 5 days at my day job to cover teaching hours, and also because I needed a few more pennies for the album mastering. This means I’ve not really devoted the time I needed to learn a new cover this week for my bi-weekly segment, so I need to do that, film it and get it uploading before lunch time on the same day to allow for the crap upload speed to Youtube and allow time for editing too.

…So I don’t change out of my gym clothes when I get back. I stretch out on my mat in the front room (I’ve been doing this ritually to help try to prevent an injury and help my body in general), grab a guitar, my laptop and my phone and I chuck on the dressing gown on over my clothes and I get it done.

Gross, you’re probably thinking… yeah, me too. But to be honest,  I really didn’t want to have to take off my makeup, wash my hair, restyle it and get dressed again properly when I need time to learn the song and also do some stretches. I didn’t sweat too much and I also want to have a long bath in the afternoon with a copy of Vogue to read and then get in my comfies because after all, it’s Sunday! (Most people have that off right?!) So I film them first, batty hair and bizarre outfit galore; then I edit and upload them and go get myself sorted out.

…Then after I start to upload the videos I can feel myself getting in to a weird mood and a going a bit too ‘in my head’, to the point when Kyle comes home later and I’m writing this blog, that I’m sitting there in tears and questioning the whole ‘Songs from the Pink Dressing Gown’ segment.

Some context: I’ve cut down my drinking quite significantly recently to help with my mental state as well as physical health; I realised that when I get a hangover it can trigger my anxiety attacks and my mood can spiral pretty badly (something to do with it’s downer effect and my no time-wasting-perfectionist tendencies I think). I know that the fact I’m being so emotional probably has to do with the hangover, but I’ve also been significantly increasing the amount I post on social media too and I think that’s got something to do with it, too.

The recent uptake in my posting has been quite organic, as I’ve been having a gym/self confidence journey, as well as just having a quite a bit more to say recently about my music. I pretty frequently post ‘real talk’ things, like the daily creative independent life struggles, or showing my zits, stretch marks, bruises and mad hair in the hope it makes other people feel ‘normal’ and like ‘Hey, me too!’. But, for all it may come off that I’m confident, I don’t always practice what I preach… and in this moment where I’m crying and writing this blog, I’m feeling really insecure, uncomfortable in my skin and questioning whether the entire segment is just a really stupid idea.

A few years ago, when I was making my first music video for ‘Home’ in Burnley where I’m from, we were filming inside at a local bar, there was snow on the ground and the kick heater we had kept shorting the equipment. I had my trusty pink dressing gown with me for outfit changes and I ended up sticking it on between takes to keep warm. I took a daft picture in it outside on the car park before driving home in it. I stuck the picture up on social media and the pink fluffy dressing gown became a bit of a laugh. I tend to sit in an evening wearing it if I’m writing or working on something, and I realised that a lot of my social media snippets feature me wearing it. So when my Dad and a couple of other people in my Facebook Group started laughing about it I realised I could make something of it and push myself to really focus on getting some new Youtube content.

I am, and always try to be, authentically me. Daftness is very much a personality trait. I’m clumsy and dorky and sweary and silly. I say stupid things, I take the piss out myself a lot (self depreciation is a good defense!) and I want everyone to feel at ease around me. The Youtube segment is a natural example of me just being me, as well as all the Insta and FB stories I’ve been doing a lot of. But that doesn’t mean I’m immune to feeling truly rotten about myself.

Since starting lifting at the gym and investing in myself again physically and mentally, I’ve found my confidence has improved and my perspective of my body has changed. I’m really proud of the strength gains I’m making; my body hasn’t always been the healthiest over the years so it’s been good to push myself to counter those problems and do everything I can to take care of myself. But I still feel self conscious. I never really feel ‘sexy’ and in fact I’m really not keen to push this in my music; it’s just not me. Don’t get me wrong, I’m no prude. But I do wonder how girls just seem to swan around looking like gazelles or curvy queens with their perfect hair, tummies, clear skin, unbruised legs and goddess like moves, whilst I’m over there looking and acting like a tall ginger ginny spinny on rollerskates. I’ve grown up feeling ‘big’, battling hormonal acne all over my body, with red hair and being in to things others weren’t really in to.  It’s a cliche but I’ve always felt a bit weird. Even at 26 now, I hardly know what to wear on stage, I’m awkward when it comes to photo shoots and watching myself back on video often makes me cringe.

I wonder if other women and men in music particularly feel like this… and I wonder how many of them are keen not to have the sole focus be on their image too. Don’t get me wrong it’s part of it, and we all love to look and feel great, but I’d so much rather someone told me I have great lyrics and harmonic structures, than, to put it crudely, compliment my tits (Note: this has happened several times). There’s such a pressure to look and be perfect in the industry, that when you’re not that, you don’t feel you fit the mould and if someone doesn’t ‘get’ you… well you can just feel yourself and your ego starting to fall apart. I’ve always lived by the mantra of plowing my own path… but it’s natural to look at the girl or guy with 10,000 followers and wonder what you’re doing wrong. (Ah that famous dark side of social media!)

…The truth is nothing’s wrong. I know this deep down. Everything is subjective. Everyone is different. I’m just trying to have fun with the Youtube video, my shows, my writing… and I’m trying make something good in this world, which I often feel is just too bloody miserable (top tip: stop watching the news!).

So, I’m talking to the girl in the mirror and I’m trying to show her she’s worthy of her place in the world, but it’s a process. And if you’re feeling like this today too, I’m with you and I’m sending you a hug.

X

B&W Pink Dressing Gown.jpg

 

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Getting Your House in Order: Why the Boring Stuff Matters…

So… It’s been a really busy couple of weeks. I’ve been out playing every weekend, done a ton of travelling and driving in my car to and from these gigs… (side note: it overheated and got ran in to on the way to a gig …it’s been an adventure!). In between these gigs I’ve been working, teaching little ones, getting to the gym when I can, and also trying to catch up at home on all the things I need to do for myself as an independent musician. I’m also just trying to be a normal human who needs to spend time with loved ones and to do the laundry and shopping…

In reality, days off haven’t been really happening… I don’t mind doing little bits every day as it all contributes to my overall goals, and I’ve been really enjoying the ‘work’ at the moment, but I am aware this will wane at some point, so I’m planning on taking next Monday off completely (no emails, social or anything) and heading for a day of shopping in Kingston (did someone say a big LUSH stock up shop?! YESSSSS!)

Until then, there’s a lot to do… and a lot of it is boring, but very necessary. As always it’s about putting in the hard work now for a pay off later. Unfortunately as an independent, with an ever changing market to adapt to, it’s no longer acceptable to just be creative. In a world where we can do it all, it’s expected that we should. Business and organisation smarts are as fundamentally important as the creativity now; this is why I’m a huge advocate of personal development and just learning as much as possible about everything you can. Knowledge is power, after all, and the more you can do for yourself, the better.

…Anyway, back to this week. I’ve been getting my house in order and working through a bunch of boring stuff I needed to do. The first being catching up on my accounts and receipts. I needed to go through everything from the weekends, input the receipts and amounts in to a spreadsheet for my accounts and make sure I have a record of everything correctly. I also needed to check my mileage for each journey and calculate the petrol expense. It’s mundane. I hate every second of doing this, trust me. But I do it because when I put in my tax return every year, I don’t want the stress of running around my flat and cleaning out my car for soggy trampled receipts trying to find out what I spent in a service station at 11pm, 6 months ago. If you don’t do this already and you’re earning from your music I really suggest you just start now. Simply make a list of what you’re spending and what’s coming in. It doesn’t need to be complicated. Grab a shoe box… shove all your receipts in it at least so they’re in one place when you need them. If you can afford to, get an accountant for the end of the year, but help them help you by doing the leg work now. Trust me, you don’t wanna fuck with the man so just sort it now.

I’ve been doing my best to keep on top of my emails for the last few weeks too, but there’s been some stuff I couldn’t do whilst I was away, so I’ve been working to catch up and respond where possible to anything immediate. I often feel overwhelmed by my inbox, I’m not going to lie. It doesn’t help that it’s a monster that I feed by not always taking my own advice and deleting stuff, then ending up with 800 emails in my inbox to sort through… but I’m learning. My biggest advice to anyone who struggles with this is to answer anything urgent straight away, or send a holding reply if necessary, file the emails by subject as soon as they’re answered in to folders and delete anything unnecessary as you go. Please don’t procrastinate, forget to reply and then find in a week an opportunity is gone because you didn’t answer quick enough (I’ve been there several times) and keep a record of your booking conversations particularly (this covers your arse if you ever get in to an argument about money too).

Because I’ve been out live a lot, there’s PRS Gigs & Clubs Claims to do too. As an independent this is a super important source of income for me. If you’re a UK songwriter playing out live, PRS is basically gonna chuck money at you for this, so don’t throw it down the drain. Sign up today! It’s £50 out of your first set of royalties (so you’re paying nothing up front!) and for every set list you take the time to submit you’re earning a share of around £5 a set list split between the writers of the material you submit (different for festivals). If you’re out playing a lot, I recommend scheduling a block of time in a day once a month where you catch up on this. Otherwise it takes forever to remember what you played and when, you get bored and you won’t fill them in and get paid. And before you complain £50 is too much… just 10 original gigs and your in profit. Do it now!

Saying that though… to get paid, you have to have registered your material in the first place. I cannot stress this enough if you’re a writer: REGISTER YOUR SONGS. It is not cool to be ‘underground’ and not earn from your music. It’s money in your pocket! You just need a song title, the duration if you have it (you can register demos without this on PRS so there’s really no excuse!) and the writer(s) name if you’ve been co-writing too (top top: get their name, PRS number and the split agreed at the session in writing if possible.) Then, when your music is played on radio… kerrrr-ching!

Furthermore, if you play on your material, or others recorded music, and/or you own your rights to your sound recordings and are self releasing, you need to be registered with PPL too. 

To explain: there are two copyrights within a recording; the writing rights and the sound recording rights). In the UK, PRS deal with songwriting rights, and PPL with the sound recording rights, though the two do communicate with each other and especially with MCPS too (the UK’s mechanical rights society).

For PPL, you need to register as two separate entities if you are both a rights holder (you own your sound recordings and self release/license them) and you are a musical performer. As a performer, if you sang and played guitar on a record… then when the recorded version is played, you’re owed a performance royalty for those actions. KERCHING. Furthermore if others have played on it too, they should also be paid and remunerated accordingly, so make sure you add your drummer and bassist etc to the registrations if you are the one registering them. (Side note: if you’re on someone else’s recording as a session player etc, you can just submit a claim to be added to it, but they should really do this for you. As always though, not everyone else is reliable so keep the control and make sure you are getting what you’re owed!)

If you are rights holder, you will be given an ISRC starter code by PPL which is unique to you. You then finish this yourself with the year of release and a number (PPL has advice on this on their site) and assign to each track accordingly. ISRC codes can be embedded in a master (hey Metadata this is why you’re so important!) and this enables radio and anywhere that plays your recorded track to track who the sound recording belongs to and gets you paid accordingly. So if you are writing and releasing your own material… DOUBLE KERCHING!  I highly recommend you use a spreadsheet (I’ve given a little example below) to make sure you know what’s been given what. Then if you ever need to license anything too, you have all the information handy. I do the below for everything I release, and I also have a list of PRS registrations too.Screen Shot 2018-07-10 at 16.22.06.png

Anyway… at snooze point I will say, this is just the tip of the iceberg and leave it there. My point is, if you don’t do the work, you don’t get paid, you might get screwed and you could lose out on something you didn’t need to pay for. In the long term a little work* (*ok a lot of work in little chunks), will pay off so I recommend starting today. Make spreadsheets and organisation your friends, and it’ll free up time for you later on when you’d rather be making music. It’ll also help bring in the dough! I hate it, but I do it because I love everything else.

With that, I’m finishing writing this today. My album masters have arrived (SO SO SO EXCITED). This is the culmination of more than a year of work and it’s a big relief  – I actually cried listening to it whilst writing this (probably why it took me all day).

No matter what anyone says now, I know I’m really proud of this record. It’s eccentric and honest and me.

And it’s all registered properly too.

(I hope.)

X

 

How many hats!? Taking control of the to-do…

You Can't Do Or Be Everything

Something I seem to have frequent conversations about with my partner (also a musician) and my self employed friends is the number of hats we wear on a daily basis.

It’s something I really struggle with. Too much work, not enough time.

It’s 11.37pm when I start writing this, I’m wired after a weekend of gigs and over 12 hours of driving to and fro… and my body clock has shifted back to night owl time, which is not going to work with a day job and a routine to stick too. I’m meant to be at the gym tomorrow morning for a session and I normally wake at 7am for it – eeek. Having been a bad sleeper all my life  I’ve worked really hard to get in to some kind of normal routine for myself, but still I often find myself up at 3am doing chores or reading or wandering about watching bad TV trying to get myself back off to sleep. Rather than waking up at 3am though, getting up and then nodding back off, I’m now in the routine of going to bed at that time after gigs and a bit of partying after on Saturday. Hmm, need to reset this somehow!

Whilst I try to wind down I realise I need to reset by maybe an hour or two rather than trying to sleep 3 hours earlier than I want to and getting frustrated. My brain needs an outlet, so I start writing this blog…

Today, I realise, I’ve worn a lot of hats. Before 2pm I have been a songwriter, singer, videographer and video editor, social media butterfly; manager, booker and emailer extraordinaire (Zzzzz), stock and book keeper/accountant and business woman; a distributer, packing orders then taking them to the post office myself and stopping off at the bank too. Not to mention I’ve met friends for a coffee, done the Wilko stock up on cleaning and home stuff, put away a food shop that was delivered, cleaned the bathroom, cooked dinner, ironed, done some washing and sorted out some issues with my landlord to do with my flat. I still have a load of merch to put away tomorrow and I need to call the garage about my car as someone ran in to the back of it at the weekend before my gig (minor annoyance and damage). Right now I feel buzzed because my body clock is messed up, but I am normally exhausted at this point. I have days where I feel I can do everything and I’m super productive… but mostly I just can’t… and it feels like wading through mud.

I shouldn’t try to, and cannot do, everything – I am slowly learning.

It’s taken me a long while to get to the point of understanding that when you inhabit many roles in your job it’s important to take time out for yourself. I loathe the words ‘self-care’ but I understand the meaning behind it. For me, as a perfectionist and an anxious self conscious person, I crave the validation for my downtime; every minute must be earned, accounted for and ‘useful’.  I know this isn’t healthy so I’m working on it every day as part of my self development; it’s quite the battle on some days.

An important step for me in allowing myself to take time and feel in control is to regularly lay out what I actually do on paper; a sort of ever-changing map of myself. In doing so, I try to see what I am doing, or not doing more often than not! The truth is, I’m spread too thin, but for now I simply have to put the work in, because no one else will do it for me. I ask for help where I can, but most of the time, the buck stops with me.

Making daily to-do lists helps, though I can often over fill it and fret about the unticked boxes waiting for me the next day… I’m learning to pick the most important tasks and just do those before others… it’s easy to procrastinate on small tasks like housework that could actually wait, when you’re feeling overwhelmed and exhausted by the big tasks!

As well as having larger goals, setting small routine scheduled tasks with reachable deadlines, or doing tasks that reoccur weekly, bi weekly or monthly seems to help me feel more in control and validated… and it helps when the next  strange and unpredictable thing such as a last minute gig or meeting or event comes in that from one week to the next, which previously I could find utterly anxiety inducing and just too much. I also seem to understand now that trying to be creative and administrative are too completely separate head spaces and cycles, and should be treated as such… they should also be divided clearly in some way where possible… whether that be in workspace or schedule, or simply by taking time out in the day to meditate and reset before the so called ‘flip’ between the two.

I’m also learning I need to stop punishing myself on days where I work my day job for achieving ‘nothing’… and realising that I can get more done on a day when I’m at home and I’m able to be a bit kinder to myself.

…As I finish writing this, I’m proud that I took time out of my day today to break and meet friends, and tomorrow after a few tasks, I will be taking a few hours out and teaching myself to make samosas for the first time (though I couldn’t resist boiling the potatoes ahead of time to be efficient… *sigh!*). Cooking, socialising, meditation, exercise and reading and TV seem to help me escape from my head a little bit so I’m learning to more of these, and I’m trying to keep mindful  that I don’t have to always drive myself like a mule… because often when I do, I’m at my least happy and therefore productive. A kinder balance between work and life is the goal and should be for everyone. After all, life is for living.

 

 

 

Fear of Failure is the Fear of Trying.

You Are A Work In Progress

When I first had the idea of starting this blog, I registered the name straight away. Then fear struck.

For about a year and a half (probably more!) I’ve been writing small posts, then deleting them over and over and not sharing anything for fear or what would happen. I had a classic case of imposter syndrome; why would I have anything valuable to say? Would anyone care? Why was I qualified to write anything?

The truth is I really enjoy writing, as well as making music, but I’ve never felt like I could write anything to a level where anyone may be interested. I am not an author; merely a voice like many others. I had a blog before on my old website, and it fell by the wayside as I lost my confidence more and more in almost every area of my life; my music, my health, my relationship with myself and others.

For me, songwriting has always been about sharing. When I was going through the hardest patches of my young life, I found solace in the songs of others and in writing my own. Much like these songs, I hoped this blog would provide the ‘I’m not alone’ feeling to other independent musicians, and shed some light for people who love music about what really goes on behind the scenes for independents.

…But I’ve been stalling. Making excuses about writing content. Unsure of how it would be received. Telling myself there’s no point. And I realised I was afraid of failing and in doing so had become afraid of trying anything new.

As a perfectionist, I find any endeavour where I am unsure of the outcome and my own abilities, painfully anxiety inducing… which is excellent when you choose a creative career where nothing is certain and abilities are measured subjectively!

I recently started getting back in to fitness after over a decade’s break thanks to knee surgery, other health issues, including an endometriosis diagnosis and loss of confidence in my body. I’ve really struggled with myself mentally (as well as sometimes physically in the gym). The trainer I work with reminded me that most of the time, being in the gym is about failure and figuring out what works for you. I remember at one point, in a bout of frustration at myself during a session, he said to me that: “You’re not meant to be good at it to begin with”. Such simple words, but it made me realise how limited I’ve made myself because I wanted to be good at everything all the time. I didn’t even want to try if I couldn’t do it well.

And the simple truth is no one is good at everything, and the things we do choose to pursue take a long time to excel in, if we ever get there at all. At the start of anything, you suck. It’s that simple. But the love takes over, and you better in it every day. If you value what you’re doing for yourself and others, then the hard work, struggle and fear must be overcome.

It’s also worth realising that whilst there are certain objective markers for success in areas (getting your vocal in tune, your squat form right or selling a 100,000 records – I can dream!), that most of the values we define ‘success’ by, are subjective. We are constantly comparing ourselves to others (and especially to their ‘greatest hits’ on social media!). These are people who themselves are on a nutty and winding path filled with bouts of luck and enormous amounts of unvalidated work too.

For me, as a self employed and therefore self motivating person, I’m finding setting small goals and taking smaller, quantifiable actions most days helps. I find getting the balance of time in life hard, and the amount of roles to inhabit as an independent is often overwhelming. But, it can be as simple as sending one email out, writing a to-do list for the week or month, or sitting down for 5 minutes to write during a busy day where you’re working your day job. It all contributes to the bigger picture. A massive reminder too, that you cannot do everything. No one can. Ask for help or find someone to talk to. That’s not failure. It’s called support.

An example for myself of taking a small action, has been recently starting to resend my newsletter and making time to schedule it every month. I put the deadline in to a calendar app, and when I get 30 minutes, I finish and schedule it ahead of time so it’s done. I always feel great about once I’ve completed it. In truth, I was really inspired by my friend Dave Arcari, who to me has always been such an example of a truly hard working independent musician. I stopped sending out a monthly newsletter and updating my shop because I thought no one cared what I had to say anymore, but in making myself restart this year, and also taking the time to invest in new merchandise and a new shop, I’ve seen a resurgence in sales and more people coming to gigs, because they’re aware of them. In short, I tried, and it paid off, despite how scared I was and a slight financial risk too.

The truth is, the creative pursuit is life long and projects come and go, and it can be hard to see what you’re working for overall, other than the love of it. I have new challenges every day, and so will you. No matter how hard it feels at time, there’s always a tiny step you can take each day to help you along your way. The real failure is in never trying to begin with.

And an end note in case this blog has hit a nerve… it’s a cliche but the real end goal is to enjoy life. Never lose sight of that. If you’re not enjoying life or your career anymore, and trying has become too much to bear or no longer feels worth it, then take a look at why that might be, ask for help from those around you, and ask yourself if your values have changed. There’s nothing wrong with that. As painful as it might be, don’t give up hope and remember there’s always a way in life. X

 

The Rejection Business

The Rejection Business.jpg

Hi – I’m Lucy and I’m an independent musician living just outside of London.

I’ve been working as a gigging artist and songwriter for over 10 years now professionally (whatever that word means… I get paid!)

I wanted to write this blog as a place of honesty about the reality of life as an independent, female musician in her twenties, struggling with making sense of the world paying her rent ,and making her career work… the same way any other person does but with that added creative pressure!

There’ll be a mix of stuff in here; honest posts about the mental and physical struggles, the fantastic joys of the job, and maybe a few advice tips too.

It’s taken me a while to start posting on here, out of fear of writing the wrong thing. But I’m here now and I’m trying.

I hope you enjoy reading the rambles.

Lx