Op-Ed: Cayley Spivey (of Small Talks) On Musicians’ Mental Health

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Cayley Spivey of the band Small Talks wrote an eloquent piece about the mental strain of working as a touring musician. Take a read below and keep it in mind next time you see your favorite bands on tour.

Even before the recent happenings with Small Talks, (our drummer and bassist stepping away from the band because of mental and physical health issues), the topic of mental health and musicians have been weighing heavily on me, after (most recently) Chester Bennington‘s suicide and all the others before him. I wonder why no one has spoken up in a loud way about the tie between musicians and poor mental health. I’m gonna get into detail with this, because a lot of people don’t understand why musicians suffer while chasing a career in what they love.

As a musician, you spend all of your time risking things and giving up the comfort of a normal lifestyle to chase a career that you don’t know will ever actually take off.

You give up time with family and loved ones putting stress on your relationships, this is why your favorite DIY band guy/girl is single, or in and out of relationships. Imagine being half way across the country and getting a phone call someone in your family passed away while you were gone? Neck Deep’s Ben Barlow’s father passed away while his band was on Warped Tour.

You disappear every other month to travel in a van and do 5 hours or more drives every day for shows that can sometimes get you $20 or less to survive on tour, playing to 3 people, sometimes just the other bands on the bill. Other times you get shows making you $200 or more to big crowds that know you.

You often stay with strangers every night on dirty floors (mostly) or party houses after just being in dirty venues and eating crap cheap fast food for days on end. Your back hurts, your head hurts, you’re weak, you’re tired all the time. You take a ton of vitamins if you’re smart, (and if you can afford it). Oh and also, tonight you have a show that you have to put 100% of your energy/emotion into for people who may or may not listen/watch you.

You live with a constant worry that whatever you’ve already given up or done isn’t enough, that you will never make enough money to live, and you live with society’s judgement because before your band makes it you’re basically seen as a jobless kid who didn’t go to college and nothing more to them.

You spend any money you make right back into funding the band: gas for the van, printing new merch, replacing or upgrading equipment, paying for recording time for your next album. So you’re constantly broke, but you also are constantly busy, so you never have time to work. What job that doesn’t require a college degree, also hires someone who’s never in town?

So when you are home, and you’re supposed to be spending time with your family and resting your body, you’re not doing that. You’re finding odd jobs or anywhere that will hire you so you have money to eat next month when you leave again.

On top of all of this, if you get something good going with your band, then you’ll feel the pressure of what’s next? Okay you played a really cool festival, or opened for a huge band, or got signed, but what’s your next move? Because what you’ve done still isn’t enough, and you aren’t about to take off from one lucky moment.

And this is just the general surface of it all, and yet, I wouldn’t change what I do because I love all of it, even the struggles. It’s all passion, if you’re wondering why musicians keep doing this? If everything is so “terrible” why keep it up? Why push yourself? Passion.

There is nothing else in this world that will satisfy me besides this, I want to make music. People tell you to find a job that makes you happy so you never work a day in your life, and that’s what music is to me.

The come up is the hardest part, but you still see successful artists who made their dreams come true ending their lives, so I’m convinced the pressures won’t fade even with financial success.

I want more people to start talking about this, I want there to be ways to handle the pressures. I want there to be a huge focus on the mental health of touring musicians from therapists and physiologists. But how can anyone help if they don’t understand why or how bad the problem is? If most people never hear about the mental strain of a musicians life because the glamorous life of rock stars is the only thing they see, how will they know we need help?

You tell someone about a depressed artist and they put it off to the fact they’re an artist. Artists are just prone to feeling more, they’ll say. Talk to a therapist or someone capable of truly helping and ask them what a musician’s lifestyle is like, they’d probably first think of a rich megastar with no real financial problems. I wanna see something get better, so I started talking. If you’re an artist, you should too.

If you read this and you aren’t an artist, maybe you’ll be more inspired to buy a shirt next time you like a band, to ask them how they’re doing, offer to pay for their next meal, bring snacks or waters to the show, anything you can to help make it easier even just truly listening as they pour their soul out on stage.

A world without music would be so sad, why don’t we make it easier for musicians to just be?

– Cayley Spivey

Editor’s Note – While all music discussion and reviews are opinion, Op-Ed articles are meant to be a place where our contributors can express their own views and ideas. All stances taken in Op-Ed articles are the opinions of the author and are not meant to represent the opinions of The Alternative. We hope that through these pieces we will be able to open up a discussion on a number of issues.