Progressive rock band Vespera are in the process of gearing up to release a full length record in 2018, and have released two stellar singles to give fans an insight into their sound. With plenty of excitement and time to process what will be coming up for the quartet, New Noise Magazine asked Jonathan Wolfe, mastermind of Vespera, to provide a clear look at staying composed mentally within the creative industry. There are plenty of great points provided, all necessary for trying to provide oneself with the best mental health.
The world of music is an amazing place to be. I can’t tell you how much joy it brings me to be involved with it on a daily basis. Music has the strength to inspire and connect so many people, and has helped me heal during turbulent times. I remember when I was a child, staring up at the walls of my house as it burned to the ground. The only thing that kept me calm was my portable cassette player. As time went on, I continued to use music as a form of therapy. Some days, I’d lock myself in solitude for hours and allow myself to get completely lost in music. Other days, I’d get my thoughts and feelings out through making music. Eventually I realized that’s what ultimately brought me the most joy. Unfortunately, all good things bring their fair share of negativity and that’s what I’m here to talk to you about.
As some of you may know, I’ve had a tempestuous relationship with music and certain people in the industry. I’ll be the first to admit that with zero shame. I’ll also admit that this turbulence has thrown me off more times than I can count. Some days, I’d just want to quit and disappear. On other days, I’d be full of strength and determination. I so often found myself in a constant state of panic, genuinely trying to live up to the expectations of others. More often than not, my best intentions were met with uninformed, rude, inappropriate responses. After years of watching some of my friends endure the same struggles, I realized that these experiences weren’t unique to me. As a young person entering the music industry, I never would have been able to anticipate how wide-ranging these struggles would be, nor the toll they can take on one’s mental health.
So, how do we navigate this never-ending maze without exhausting ourselves beyond repair? The industry has always acted as a high-speed revolving door, quickly spitting out those who can’t handle the drawbacks and inconveniences that come up over time. Those of us who manage to persist through the initial storm usually end up feeling jaded, bitter and isolated. We become so paranoid and overwhelmed trying to survive that we fail to realize how this mindset can negatively impact our path through the music industry.
Our industry should be an open door for those who are willing to work relentlessly to make their dreams come true; a community of like-minded individuals working together during some of the most challenging years in music. Yet here we are, often fighting amongst each other over their scraps rather than work together to reach new horizons. This type of hostile work environment inevitably takes a toll on our mental health. Eventually, the survivalist mentality can begin to drain you beyond belief and you may end up wanting nothing to do with this industry anymore. Through my years of trial and error working in the industry, I’ve realized a few common-sense ways around all of this, and rather than constantly aggravating myself, I’ve embraced five important rules, learned from mentors and friends, that have helped me make it through difficult times:
It’s not about what happens to you, it’s about how you respond to it
If you haven’t realized it yet, life is a quite the rollercoaster. The music industry is just another rollercoaster within the rollercoaster of life. It’s a thrilling experience, but you’re going to deal with a myriad of personalities, and with people that come from diverse upbringings and socioeconomic backgrounds. How you respond towards the experiences you have on a daily basis greatly influences where you end up. It is your responsibility to never act on impulse and to always approach every situation with the most logical thought process possible. You’re going to get burned in this industry. You will make friends and enemies. There are people that are petty enough to attempt to sabotage you and your work. These situations are inevitable. For this reason, it’s important that no matter the circumstance, you always choose kindness over retribution. Choose to always be tactful, polite, and professional. The moment you lose your composure, you show weakness. Our paths in life need a few twists and turns before they lead us the right way, so when you encounter a problem, focus on nothing more than finding the solution. Every door that closes is an opportunity to avoid mediocrity.
Be altruistic and expect nothing in return
I’ve lost count of how many times I’ve been burned by people who I’ve been nothing but kind and charitable towards. I used to frustrate myself endlessly trying to understand what I ever did to deserve some of the things I’ve endured. At one point you have to realize that the way some people treat you has little to do with you, and much more to do with them. Many of the people you deal with in this industry are selfish by nature. It’s an unfortunate truth, but looking on the bright side, it makes the genuine, kind, and selfless people that much more special. Aim to be one of those people; learn how to be selfless without over-exhausting yourself. Aspire to help whoever you can; give yourself reasonable limitations, and expect nothing in return. If a person is willing to return the favor, make sure to nurture the relationship that you’ve established. If someone decides to use you and keep moving forward without you, that’s their mistake. Life has a funny way of coming back around, so just keep marching forward and help up whoever you can along the way. Be kind not only because it makes you feel good, but because kindness truly goes a long way in this industry.
Don’t put yourself in compromising situations
Simply put, avoid getting yourself into trouble. Don’t make impulsive decisions that can potentially have lasting negative consequences. Our industry can be so fickle and unforgiving. Avoid ending up in situations that can permanently affect your career as a whole. Our industry is a very small world and your reputation often carries more weight than your resume. Don’t make the mistake of letting a temporary lapse in judgement be the reason you don’t succeed. No matter what you’re going through, don’t seek temporary comfort through reckless means. The long term consequences almost always outweigh the short term benefit.
Have friends outside of the industry
I love being wrapped around everything that involves music, but it took me a while to realize just how crucial it is to have some form of separation or disconnection that doesn’t involve solitude. One of the best things I did was to find a good group of people that I connect with outside of music. It’s simple—that kind separation gives you a means to disengage and recharge so that you can return to your work with a refreshed and renewed perspective. In addition to this, I also encourage dating outside of your industry. Granted, we all have our romantic involvements and flings from time to time within the industry, but I’ve found that having that separation helps you avoid potentially running into trouble. Break ups can be messy, and you don’t want that mess to ever spill over into your work life.
Kill your ego
In such a fickle and fleeting industry, your ego is your own worst enemy. No one likes someone who is self-entitled and walks around with a sense of superiority, yet so many of us are forced to endure it. I see it happen all the time; people begin to receive the attention they want, it goes to their head and they begin to isolate themselves from people they don’t deem worth their time. From there, they speak to others in a condescending tone and dismiss those they deem unworthy to the point that they become intolerable and are looked down upon by their peers. From there, the only people that are going to want to approach them are the leeches in the industry. No one is here to discredit your achievements, but you must understand that they do not define you. On the other hand, the consistency of your achievements and the personality you maintain throughout your journey certainly will. Despite our accolades, we should always default towards being respectful and receptive towards others. Positive affirmation is something we should focus on giving to one another, more often than to ourselves. Your ego can kill your opportunities faster than you realize. I’ve found a lot more joy and satisfaction in choosing humility and altruism as my driving force.
Admittedly, it has taken me over a decade to accept these truths, and that doesn’t mean that my days are full of sunshine and rainbows. Even at my current state, I find myself constantly hearing that inner voice that keeps me on my toes. Over the past few years of working in the industry, I’ve continued to learn, develop, and grow as a person. As a result, I’ve noticed that the struggles of the industry have become much easier to navigate, despite being just as prevalent as before. Thinking back on how I was even just three years ago, I realize how much more at peace I am now. The wisdom we gain through our trials and tribulations should always help build us into a stronger version of ourselves. Ultimately, don’t let your struggles ever tear you apart. Always remember that you control your own fate and if there is a will, there always has to be a way.
– Jonathan Wolfe