When musicians press pause

I grew-up really connecting with a band called Flyleaf. For my teenage, self-proclaimed emo years, the lyrics and passion of lead singer Lacey Sturm (née Mosley) just hit the right spot at the right time in my life. Naturally, when I heard she was leaving the band back in 2014, to be replaced by another singer, my world turned a blank and I stopped listening to any of their new material. I was genuinely bitter. I blocked them out completely, and continued to rather dust-off their CDs all through my life, than even Google any of their new stuff…

Until the end of last year, that is.

I accidentally came across Sturm’s most recent solo album, Life Screams, and hearing her voice again brought-up all of those old emotions. But they were a lot more nostalgic, and for the first time in my relationship with the old Flyleaf I started feeling a little guilty for turning away so abruptly. When I checked-out a video of her talking about the new album, I also watched a video of her explaining why she decided to leave Flyleaf, and I actually shed a tear. A real-life tear. I had not expected such a spiritual realisation to hit me from listening to someone talk about why they left a band.

Now I’m here, writing this, and I wanted to share some of the things I have come to truly understand as sacrifices musicians make for the sake of their fans, their audiences, and their careers.

Sturm’s case may be a little more extreme than many, and it’s unfortunate that her life-changing experience had to be such a tragic one. However, through talking to my dad about this (he’s a music publisher, just by the way), we discovered that the sacrifices artists sometimes need to make or not make are in fact incredibly humbling.

Being a singer, or a drummer, or a music producer are not 9-to-5 jobs by any measure – I think this isn’t too foreign an idea. And – as my dad rightly said – the music industry today is unrecognisably different in this regard from a couple of decades ago. Where you used to be able to record for a few months in some villa off the coast of America, and then take a few years break travelling, and writing new material, being a musician in this day-and-age requires you to be visible and active all the time. If not, you risk your audience forgetting about you.

This is a consequence of music becoming so disposable. You download an mp3 you like, and when you’re tired of it you delete it. Easy. You don’t need to save-up your change for a vinyl, or even a CD, anymore, and you sure as hell probably won’t have any “collection of music you used to listen to” for your kids to dig through one day. Yeah, maybe a few vintage-lovers are keeping the record industry alive, but the point is this: if you, as an artist, take even a 6 months break, chances are some new-new-on-the-block will have taken your seat, and you’ll have to start all over again.

As a result, being a musician from the 2000s meant an even more “around the clock” commitment, to the point where your social-life and family-life become a hassle. Is that not just sad?

“Oh, hi honey, yeah the band and I really need to finish these last few tracks, and we need to go to the UK for a radio piece to promote the new album. We’ll probably try do a few shows that side while we’re there, before we start the European tour.”

… and is just goes on, and on, and on. Musicians leave their kids behind, their wives, their families, their friends… and they are forced to choose between their careers, and their loved-ones. An unfair choice, when you consider that their careers are keeping their loved-ones going (a catch-22 if ever I’ve seen one).

In Sturm’s case, her breaking-point was when their sound engineer tragically passed-away. He left behind a wife and son, and Sturm was forced to see her own husband and son and ask herself, if this was her last year with her son, how she would spend that year.

“We were on our second album when I got married. And the album was called Memento Mori, which means remember that you are mortal, remember that you will die, and remember that your life is short and precious, and so are the lives around you. For two years, you know, I toured with my husband and it was really amazing, and after those two years we ended up getting pregnant with our son. I recognised that our priorities were going to change even more. That message of “Memento Mori” was really weighing on my heart.”

After touring for 10 years with Flyleaf, Sturm simply couldn’t bear the thought that she might experience her own mortality in the face of only getting a few months at home. She played a final benefit concert with Flyleaf, to help their engineer’s family, and packed her mic away for the next 2 years.

As I mentioned before, such a sudden and emotional realisation is an extreme example, but I was humbled to think how many musicians make that sacrifice regardless. When I think about how much of their lives a musician gives away to their career, I almost want to tell them to stop, that I’ll be OK not hearing an album for a year, and that I’ll remember them when they decide to come back. I’d rather they spend valuable time seeing their children grow, seeing their loved-ones progress, and not leave behind their lives because their audiences – us! – see them as disposable.

I don’t know what I’m asking. I’m not sure that I’m asking anything, actually. But I do think that sparing a thought would be the least we could do, and maybe holding onto a little more humanity. They aren’t just a “.mp3” or “.avi.”

They’re people. With families. And lives.


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