The Dry Spell.
The Dry Spell. God, it sends shivers down your spine doesn't it. That awful, terrifying, miserable feeling you get when the playing opportunities are a little bit sparse. When you question whether you'll ever get booked again, or how long it's going to take for someone to offer you a trial. The kinda fog that seeps into your mind and makes you question all the decisions you made leading up to this moment.
It feels really isolating- and it's because no one talks about it. It's no surprise, no one wants to shout from the rooftops that work has dried up and it looks like that might be the case for the foreseeable! Of course, it's quite often not true, and all of a sudden you find yourself in the thick of a project or a series of rehearsals and concerts, wondering when you'll have some time off to get your nails done or have a lie in. Catch 22 really.
I've recently found myself in this place. It feels proper scary just sharing that. But this isn't the first time i've been in this place in the cycle so I know that it passes, but jeeeeez when you're in the middle of it? Man it feels like the end of the world! So the reason i'm sharing this and pulling on my brave pants is because I'm 99% sure that someone who reads this will need to hear some truth to help them clamber their way out of it.
So what do I do when I get stuck in the 'game over, never gonna work again' place? A few things, which have varied effects in each situation;
1. Feel it. Be miserable about it, whinge a bit, question why you started. Being in such a vulnerable place allows you the chance to reconnect with your 'whys', and being able to do that is the most important part of anything we do on a daily basis. It's too easy to allow yourself to get swept up in earning a living and ticking off the predicted progressions throughout life, and so although it doesn't feel comforting, when you're feeling low about not getting the work you want it forces you to reconnect. Work out why you started, and if you still trust in your 'why'.
2. Reach out to people. Tell people how you feel, ask people for work, to collaborate, for advice. Everyone has felt it. Trust me- i've reached out and asked, and people who have successful playing careers have all felt it and often still do. Having the confirmation that it's normal and that you're not failing does wonders, so communicate with others. It's intimidating for sure – I've sent emails or texts and then hidden my phone or turned my laptop off for hours because I felt so embarrassed for asking for help! But give yourself a stern talking to and make yourself do it – you'll never regret it.
3. Enjoy the time you have to yourself. This is a hard one – highly driven people struggle to relax and enjoy leisure time because they feel like they always have to be achieving something to succeed. I'm not saying swan around like a lady of leisure (although thats bloomin' dreamy) but find joy in whatever you can. Maybe the sunset over the Thames on a walk home from teaching, or the fact that it's lighter in the mornings now, any little thing that can confirm your vitality will boost your mood, and help clear the clouds in your mind.
Ultimately, there's no getting away from the fact that being a freelance musician/creative/anything is hard work and unstable. It's the downside to a career that allows you to travel, to work from home, to avoid an office desk, and it's not something everyone can escape. Some people will be lucky- they'll find that quiet patches are few and far between and wont feel the scary cloudy panic that others might experience. But take it from someone who's been there, but who's also emerged and been crazy busy after a dry spell, it passes. Keep your head and your joy, and talk about it.