Mastering the Hustle: Health and Personal Care in the Music Industry

Mastering the Hustle
Martin Douglas

KEXP, Upstream Music Fest + Summit, MoPOP, and The Recording Academy have partnered together to present Mastering the Hustle: a panel discussion with six annual events, tackling a different topic to help emerging artists make better decisions earlier in their careers. Throughout the series, we’ll be discussing everything from how to get airplay, legal and licensing, healthcare for artists, and promoting your brand.


It’s safe to say the lifestyle of a career musician isn’t always the most conducive to leading a healthy existence. There’s the lack of sleep, the easy access to alcohol and drugs, the dearth in access to personal space, the convenience of fast food, and many other factors leading to a less than favorable quality of physical and mental health. How do you stay healthy when the bulk of your time is spent either in a bar or on the road?

In the ninth installment of the Mastering the Hustle series, a panel of longtime music and healthcare professionals came together to discuss the pitfalls of not leading a healthy lifestyle as a musician and ways to reverse course from the habits which lead to a musician to poor physical and mental health. In a panel moderated by KEXP Morning Show host and Associate Program Director John Richards, Ian Moore of SMASH, MusiCaresErica Krusen, Dr. Brenna Regan of the Bastyr Center for Natural Health and Seattle Nature Care Clinic, Faustine Hudson, drummer of the Maldives, Shallow Lenses, and Planes on Paper discuss their experiences, opinions, and helpful advice regarding health and self-care in an industry where both are largely considered an afterthought.


Moore takes the stage and delves into his history and appreciation for music, referring to it as a salve, an inspiration, and “a conduit for the greatest things in [his] life.” He says, “I feel lucky that I’ve been a musician for thirty years in the music industry still intact.”

He opens his keynote speech noting how we as music fans are particularly drawn to the depth in the pain and suffering of our favorite musicians. “We want to metamorphosize these superheroes who we see funnelling their pain into brilliant, extraordinary art. The thing is, the extraordinary is ordinary. It’s right there in front of you; it’s simply about recognizing it. There’s no special costume to put on, no magical place to travel to, no transformational pill to take. Believe it or not, this is good news, because it’s there for any of us to find. The challenge is in finding the perseverance, faith, and effort to get there.”

Moore stresses the importance of an artist finding their individual voice, which often arrives at an impasse with external forces like society, friends, and our own sense of self. “It can be really unsettling, but remember that our most illuminating moments are born out of self-doubt and uncertainty.” He says his preferred method of survival is energy conservation; focusing on creating the best ninety minutes possible by keeping a low ebb for the twelve hours prior.

Moore lists a few methods he uses for survival on the road and in the studio:

  1. Vulnerability: “It might sound counterintuitive when so much is about preserving your energy and protecting your personal space, but you have to be vulnerable on some level to make art, and building a wall just creates deeper isolation, which will quickly blow up in your face if you do this long enough.”
  2. Exercise: “Very, very uncool in rock and roll circles, most people don’t say they do it, but [is] fundamental to those who live this life. You might be able to get away with partying every night and rolling straight to the show for a while, but that sexy, early-career intro is going to grow into a bloated, depressing mid-period act. Taking this part seriously is the difference between scenesters and artists.”

  3. Food: “I will literally drive two miles out of my way on the front end of a 500-mile drive to get a good cup of coffee. It makes me feel like I’m not a trucker, [but] the reality is a lot closer to that than I want to imagine. Also, you don’t have to eat a bunch of crap; young bands do this when they go on tour. I try to make every meal as special as I can. If you like ethnic food, you can eat for $20 a day like a king. There’s no excuse to eat a bunch of crap fast food; in fact, you can’t eat that and survive. You’re almost guaranteed at a short run of touring, and probably living, on top of that.”
    (Later, in the Q&A section of the panel, the speakers were asked how to eat both nutritiously and inexpensively on the road. Moore expanded on the idea of going to ethnic restaurants by noting they’re often healthier than fast food and the idea that going to a taco truck costs about the same as stopping by McDonald’s. Krusen adds that a good idea would be to buy a cooler and pick up some food from Whole Foods or Trader Joe’s, “so when you get offstage at 11 o’clock at night and nothing’s open except McDonald’s or Taco Bell, you’ve got a cooler full of trail mix and hummus.”)

  4. People: “Like any other relationship, the company you keep is everything. In this case, being in a band is like being in a relationship with a lot of people at the same time, without most of the benefits and a consistently high level of stress [...] I’ve learned to only tour with people I like and trust.”

  5. Self-Care: “To various degrees, all of these things are self-care. But taking care of yourself is paramount on the road.

  6. Drugs and Alcohol: “Rock and roll is married deeply with both, right? There’s no way to divorce one from the other. I’m not going to stand up here and act like I’ve never had a relationship with it. I’ve had some great times, I’ve made some great music, I’ve had some amazing things happen. But I’ve also heard endless empty promises at five o’clock in the morning [...] A tour is a marathon, not a sprint. The party is every single night, and there are few days off. Whatever your norm is, it’s going to be amplified on the road. Normal people can throw down on a Friday and Saturday; in our world, Friday and Saturday is every night.”

  7. Group Mentality: “Lastly, it’s great to be part of a gang, and there is a lot of fun and life in that. But it’s important to keep your sense of self through it all. Groups tend to sway together, and living that close with little personal space, you can easily lose yourself. Have fun with your crew, but keep track of what your goals are.”

On the Road

Richards points out there is a washer, dryer, and shower in KEXP’s green room. “I can tell how long a band has been on the road when they walk in the door.”

Hudson has been touring for fourteen years, and in her extensive journey, she says, “Being on the road, like Ian said, is hard. And it’s hard in all the ways that everyone walking the planet in whatever job they’re doing -- we all have our stuff. And how we cope with our stuff, sometimes we don’t realize that we’re coping.” She described her experience being in an outpatient and rehab program for two years as her awakening from the things she tried to suppress.

“Being on the road,” she says, “there’s no time to ask yourself, ‘What’s going on?’ unless you intentionally take the time.”

Krusen notes in her experience helping musicians is that it’s usually someone close to a musician -- a family member, a manager -- calling on behalf of their well-being, usually regarding “on the surface” matters such as mental health and addiction. But talking to musicians themselves, the matters are more along the lines of isolation, of striving to stay connected.

She goes back to Moore’s note about how we often glorify musicians, saying they’re actually often in a lonely place. She says it generally takes a crisis for them to get to a place where they are actively willing to improve their health.

Foundations of Personal Health

Dr. Regan points to three methods of staying healthy: Sleep, diet, and exercise, all of which are in limited supply to musicians on tour. “When those things are balanced, many chronic diseases or illnesses -- like depression, which musicians are three times as likely to suffer from, according to a UK study -- tend to disappear.”

She adds two more, which are less self-evident but just as important: Having meaningful work (when you are a musician, you are frequently able to access that feeling) and community (people who feel connected to their families or communities have better health outcomes). Also important is spiritual mindfulness; not necessarily religion, but having a solid framework for your decisions.

On the notion Richards points out (the stressors of trying to pay the bills in a city where it is not exactly easy to keep up with the cost of living), Moore feels as though the United States is in a period of transition. Meanwhile, the economy of music sales continues to dwindle, “touring is more expensive than it ever was,” and audiences are distracted by everything else going on.

In the face of these fairly new stressors cropping up, Moore sees a lot of people giving up on music because of a lack of financial opportunity, to be able to simply make a living.

Available Resources for Artists

Moore cites MusiCares as a direct personal resource, and he has many friends who have been helped through the service. “Our goal [in SMASH] is to keep people healthy so that they don’t have to go to Erica.” Hudson later notes she has utilized the services of MusiCares as well.

Says Krusen: “I think one of the reasons the music community calls us and needs us is because most artists don’t have full-time jobs where you’ve got 401Ks or health insurance that comes in. Years ago, we’ve seen a lot of our funding go out toward medical needs.” She refers to MusiCares as “the Red Cross of the [music] industry,” providing help with medical needs, psychotherapy, addiction recovery, basic living expenses, and funeral expenses.

Dr. Regan acknowledges challenges in the world of healthcare right now, the way primary care doctors are “getting squeezed” by the insurance industry, and notes her difficulty in giving a patient what she feels is an adequate amount of time, “knowing that you need to see twenty-four people a day.”

“One of my mentors always says, ‘Your most important job is to attract [a] person to their healing journey.’ And it’s different for everyone. Maybe it’s a conversation about, ‘In ten years you want to keep doing this, because you’re going to be way better at it, and you’re going to have even more to say.”


Says Moore: “Everybody has a different language of what they want [mindfulness] to be, and I think it’s important to recognize that mediation -- for a lot of people, for instance -- is a run. Or listening to a record can be a meditation. I’ve seen so many people do it constructively in different ways. Some people like a constructed meditation where there is a mantra and a place that you go, but for a lot of musicians, a lot of people who I’ve traveled with who are the more centered people I know, they just have a way of getting to it.” Moore also notes he has personally found beekeeping as a means of meditation.

Dr. Regan cites breath control as one of the things at the center of many meditative practices. Underneath that is the notion of completely slowing down, which of course varies from person to person in regards to how they get to that meditative state. Slowing down the breath rate, especially the exhale, is an effective way to active our “rest and relax” response. Practicing a method -- “It’s always a practice,” Dr. Regan says, “because you’re never going to do it perfectly, even if you’ve been doing it forever” -- leads to being able to get into that mindful state easier when you feel yourself getting anxious or depressed.

Key Takeaways:

  • Establish and maintain healthy conventions while on the road, such as getting an adequate amount of sleep, eating healthy foods, and exercising

  • Make sure the company you keep on the road don’t lead you into toxic interpersonal situations

  • Mindfulness is very important in the often chaotic lifestyle of being a touring musician, and engaging in some sort of meditative practice strengthens the foundation of mental health

  • With the world of healthcare being the way it is today, there are valuable resources that can help with addiction recovery, therapy, and medical needs


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