Tuesday, 2 April 2019

Real Talk

Hello again everyone.

I’m going to be serious for once. This is a post I’ve been thinking about writing for a while now. I want to talk to you about mental health and about making mistakes. Both of these things are not spoken about much, so I’m going to tell you a personal story in the hope that it will help one or two people.

In 2005/06, I started working as a freelance composer. It was scary, but exactly what I wanted to do, and my parents had always said, “If you don’t try you’ll never know. You don’t want to end up regretting not trying.” My stance on it was, if it doesn’t work out, I’ll do something else.

Fast forward to 2014. I’d had nine years of non-stop work on big shows like Planet Earth, The Sarah Jane Adventures, and Wizards vs Aliens. I was, by some measure, a success. I had managed to make a decent living doing what I loved. What luck! But…

I was tired. Working very hard had drained me. I wasn’t in the best place, so I decided that I would take a few months off to relax and get myself in better mental shape. I was lucky that I could afford to do so. But that’s what I’d worked so hard for, right? I enjoyed those few months, so I decided to extend them a little so that I could work on writing my first album (The Forest, which was released much later). I hadn’t written music just for the sake of it for nine years; it was going to be fun. And it was.

Here is the mistake: “Time off”. I put it in quotation marks because I was working; I just wasn’t getting paid directly for it. I hate it when people say creatives “aren’t working” because they’re not currently under contract (I could do an entire post just on how wrong that perception is). Yes, I’d just had a few months of swanning about in my underwear, binge-watching Buffy the Vampire Slayer and Angel, but now I was back to work. Working as hard as anyone else does to create a good product that I could sell.

Five years later and I have worked very little in film and television since. I have been incredibly productive – I have written and released three albums (and am finishing my fourth), along with a number of production music albums. I have begun writing a musical. I’ve contributed to a book. I’ve been pitching for ads. I’ve been trying to network to get jobs. I’ve been attached to three projects that have fallen through (which is soul-destroying). I haven’t stopped working. I just haven’t had very many commissions.

What I should have done is kept working, because in this industry, you have to be busy to be seen. I wasn’t busy. I wasn’t seen. Now people have forgotten the work I have done and who I am (not in a “don’t you know who I am?” way – just, literally, my name doesn’t resonate because it hasn’t been seen or heard in the right circles for a long time). So in 2016, when I started to try and get work again, nobody wanted to hire me. It was like starting my career all over again.

While all of this was going on, unseen by me, my relationship started to have trouble. The beginnings of a breakdown in communication: small and seemingly insignificant at first, but which would eventually (spoiler alert) decay into a breakup. I’m not going to go into great detail out of respect for my partner’s privacy (and my own) but, after a 15-year relationship, I ended it. The hardest decision of my life. It was taken because my mental health (both due to work – or lack thereof – and the relationship) was at its lowest. I was depressed. Drinking a bottle of wine every night. No, let’s be honest. More than. Starting at 6pm. Then 5pm. Then 4pm… It was a real problem. There were times when I was suicidal. My physical health declined, too. I was broken and trying to numb myself. Eventually, I had no option but to change the cycle, or I’d probably have drunk myself into an early grave…

Mistakes happen. You can regret them but, ultimately, you have to deal with them. I am dealing with mine. I moved to Manchester. I have had to start my career from scratch – again. It’s still an uphill struggle to get work, but that will change. I know I’m good at what I do and I know that the right thing will turn up soon.

I have a new partner who loves me like crazy and I love him twice as much as that. I’m barely even a social drinker these days. I'm happier than I have been for longer than I can remember. I still have bad days. There are still times when I think I’ll never get hired again. There are still times that I don’t think I have any talent, that I’m not good enough. But that’s okay. It’s okay to not be okay all the time.

We live in a world where happy faces doing exciting things greet us daily on social media. Where everyone in the world is constantly having fun… and it’s a massive lie. I am guilty of the same thing. The majority of my social media posts are positive, silly, or of fun stuff I’m doing. And there’s nothing wrong with that. Who wants to see a constant stream of misery? But maybe, like this blog, we should all be peppering our “public image” with the odd not-so-fun thing. Real life is hard and full of struggle. It’s also fun and full of love. We should remember both of these things, because if we believe one or the other is the only way it should be, it can only lead to bad things.

Much love,

Sam


P.S. Any directors/producers/execs looking for a composer? 😉

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