Self-care can be challenging for anyone, let alone an artist on tour, with musicians on the road often facing compromised health, both mental and physical. Here we hear from eleven major touring artists on how they safe guard their headspace while on tour.
Guest post from AWAL
It’s too easy to let what matters most slip away.
Self-care, hard enough as is, can prove particularly difficult for the creators among us. Stats speak for themselves. 50-plus percent of musicians experience compromised mental health symptoms. Depending on your source, that figure creeps toward 75 percent. Late-night sessions, competitive isolation, imposter syndrome, foggy paths forward, constant comparisons, pressure to do more than *just* music, it all takes a toll.
Tour life brings additional complexity. Unless you’re hop-skotching from city to city in private jets (and even then, it’s not all smiles, never is), shared realities arise. Hectic schedules inhibit exercise routines and chip away at personal quiet. Days tumble over as time zones shift. Afterparties eat away at morning sunshine. Long treks in sprinters and buses all but guarantee late-night drive thru habits. Road travels bring the highest highs and lowest lows, and little things compound, for better and for worse.
Fortunately, easy adjustments help bring balance to a side of music that’s anything but. Keep scrolling for words of wisdom from eleven AWAL artists.
- Aly&AJ, Sister pop duo who’ve already toured the world over and have upcoming summer shows across the US & EU.
- Angie McMahon, Aussie singer-songwriter performing at UK/EU festivals all summer.
- R3HAB, seasoned electronic music road warrior with upcoming summer shows across Asia, US, & EU.
- Delaney Jane, Juno Award recipient and dance club mainstay.
- Ariana and the Rose, international stage vet with a Warped Tour cameo coming in July.
- Jay Warren, budding R&B artist who just wrapped up his We Came to Play tour with JTM.
- Gretta Ray, Triple J Unearthed winner who supported Mumford & Sons on tour.
- BAUM, LA-based pop singer flipped Sofar Sounds performance into additional shows.
- Mothica, Oklahoma artist who's covered all the big US cities, from LA to NY and everything in-between.
- Jesse Saint John, in-demand songwriter / artist who just finished a run of shows in LA
- Kira Kosarin, a radio-bound R&B artist with UK concert dates around the corner.
“For us, it’s extremely important to stay mentally healthy on the road. Aly and I have a long family history involving depression and anxiety and being away from home for long periods of time can elevate the feeling of loneliness. Engaging with our fans is truly something that keeps us feeling uplifted.
"We also pray before every show. I (AJ) practice transcendental meditation, along with our lead guitar player which helps keep me balanced. And on days off, we try and stimulate ourselves physically as much as we can. Whether that’s yoga, Pilates or just taking a hike. Reading a great book or enjoying a day at the spa is another way for us to find some peace and quiet.”
"I'm still learning self care on the road, it's hard to keep routines with all the moving around. So far — I pack exercise clothes, so at least I can stretch or do a bit of yoga every morning, even if there's no time for other exercises. Drink heaps of water. Get as much alone time as possible, write stuff down, and recharge with noise cancelling headphones on.
"I'm trying to keep open lines of communication with all my tour friends, so we know what each other needs and is feeling. Then vitamins.. magnesium powder mixed with water, every morning, which really helps with energy levels, and mushroom supplements or armaforce for my immune system, and vitamin C, and sometimes a Turmeric supplement which helps with anxiety. And sometimes you forget you haven't been outside all day, or you finally do a poo, then everything is a little easier."
"Don't forget to take time for yourself and do the things you enjoy, and especially remember to eat right and exercise. And understand that it can always help to open up to people you really trust about what you are feeling."
"Life is fucking hard. Bottom line. Whether you’re a touring singer/songwriter or you’re working 12 hour days at Starbucks, we’re all just humans trying to find balance. There are the obvious things you can do to better the overall quality of your life like drink lots of water, eat healthy, get enough sleep and take your vitamins, but we all know that doesn’t always happen. For me, the best thing I’ve incorporated into my daily routine is exercise. I know, it’s not the most fun while you’re doing it but it’s SO GOOD IN SO MANY WAYS. It literally sends happy hormones through your body. For me it’s a way to release tension, anger and stress, sweat and detox, keep my heart healthy and happy, but most importantly it gets me OUT OF MY HEAD and INTO MY BODY. What does that really mean though?
It means being present. I strongly believe that that is the key to finding peace, gratitude, fulfillment, longevity… and what does that all equate to, really? Inner contentment. I say contentment and not happiness, because we’re not meant to be happy/high all the time, we’re meant to be balanced, to be content, to flow like water through life. I know I sound like a total hippie but I strongly believe practicing mindfulness as we get older is the most important thing we can do, both for our own mental health but also for our loved ones. I’m no stranger to anxiety and depression - I’m used to experiencing the highest highs and the lowest lows. I know what it’s like to feel like you’re stuck at the bottom of a black, muddy hole, with no idea how to get yourself out of it.
You can see the light at the top, like a sliver cut through a cloth in the sky, but in those moments its always easier to shut the world out than reach out and ask for help. I think it’s important, especially if you, too, experience these downward spirals - to have at least one person you can call, one person you consider your safety net. I have a best friend who I call “The Soul Whisperer” (no joke) and he’s brought me out of my own darkness so many times that he’s probably made friends with it by now… (haha). Either way, eventually I needed to recognize the darkness within me, accept it, but not let it control my life, my relationship with others or my relationship with myself."
Ariana and the Rose
"When I’m on the road for a long time and I’m touring my biggest thing and my biggest luxury is getting to be alone — that self-care moment of taking an hour or two to be by myself. Whether that means reading a book somewhere or staying in a hotel, I think it can be really hard sometimes to say, ‘I’m going to give myself a minute to breath and be by myself and check-in' and that’s actually really important because it's basic self care we all need. I’m also a queen of a good face mask. An indulgent night-in — bottle of wine, face mask on, watching a T.V. show — always helps to bring me right back to life."
"I have three things that help me to stay in good mental health while on the road. The first is keeping in touch with family and friends on a regular basis. Second, creating a team that allows me to do my best work. I’m not ridiculously organized, so having a manager that is helps my mental state so much. I can just focus on having a great show. Lastly, it’s remembering that my day job is making and performing music! Anything after that feels like gravy."
"Being 'on the road' is a relatively new thing for me, but I'm gradually learning how important it is to really soak up where you are in the world, and to be present in that place and grateful for the fact that you get to pursue your passion for music outside of your hometown. Resting up, eating well and taking care of my voice are inevitably the things I will always prioritize, but I think in the past I've found that the 'work' factor of touring can be so consuming, that when I'm not on stage I find that I'm not very creative or productive with my time.
However, after being on tour with Gang of Youths in North America last December, I recognized how much more energized and inspired I felt when I got out of my hotel room or Airbnb and actually did some proper exploring in between shows. It kept me stimulated and excited about traveling quickly between states. I was on the other side of the world getting to play my songs to brand new audiences, I should be totally thriving! It's definitely tempting to wade in the exhaustion of touring, but I personally found that my mental state was much more positive when I put down my phone, rugged up and really relished in seeing the world around me."
"In my experience on the road, which has been limited, I’ve learned a lot about what I need to do for myself. Touring is sort of like entering a time warp and you need to try to make it seem as normal as possible. It’s tough when you’re constantly surrounded by people and getting that stimulation 24/7, so I think it’s important to have things from home like a journal, favorite book, etc. and make an effort to be alone and check in with yourself at some point everyday."
"Alone Time. My only experience with tour was a three week, independently booked road trip from New York to Oklahoma. Most venues were small, and didn’t always accommodate dressing rooms with mirrors. I learned that applying makeup in the van while the band set up their gear was one of the only times I’d have to myself. This ritual of applying my own makeup helped to calm me down before each show.
Have fun! You have to roll with the punches. Our van broke down in the middle of a storm, and we had to cancel one show because they could only provide a toy drum kit suited for a 9 year old. Being the only girl in a car full of five boys, we got into some ridiculous and gross conversations because we didn’t take ourselves too seriously. On our off day, I took everyone bowling or we would go to local thrift shops. Performing is such a little percentage of your time on the road so take advantage of the down time. Ask locals! Bring disposable cameras.
Sleep! My mom always carries a neck pillow when we travel and now I know why. My band and I would trade for the “best” sleeping accommodations, whether that be a shared bed or an uncomfortable couch. This way everyone felt like they were being treated equally during the tour. When you’re on a budget, you can’t expect a hotel quality nights sleep but if you have headphones or a nice pillow, you can make it work anywhere."
Jesse Saint John
"Completely shutting out all noise, even for 5 minutes, some call it meditating but it’s important to just focus on clearing your head completely. Then when you’re back in your day, make sure to try to focus on the tasks just in front of you, minute by minute, work on what’s in your control & let go of what isn’t. Sometimes thinking too far ahead or too far back can be so daunting that it locks you up."
"For me, staying sane on the road comes down to two things: what I bring, and what I do. I always bring a survival kit of a pocket speaker and candle that smells like home, so when I’m in a strange hotel room or green room and feeling uprooted and disoriented, I can light it and play music and close my eyes and sort of feel like I’m home. I also try to work out every day, which for me is essential in combatting anxiety, even if it’s just a quick hotel room workout before a show. It’s all about finding the things that keep you grounded at home, and then prioritizing them while on the road."
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