The Emotional Cost Of Being a Touring Musician

Last week one of my greatest musical influences took his own life.

Chester Bennington had been fighting his demons openly, for years. Hybrid Theory wasn’t an album made for shock value, it was a product of pure and painful honesty. The same goes for Linkin Park’s latest album, One More Light. These songs are a very literal cry for help.

We have lost so many to suicide – from the touring veterans of the world to the young talent still finding it’s footing in our local music scene.

Mental illness is a growing issue – and it’s important that we have open conversations about it. The more I thought about it, the more I wanted to openly talk about the emotional toll that being a touring musician can take.

Musicians put their emotions on display. When an artist writes a song – they have the opportunity to be as honest as they would like to be. For many, they go digging up the past. Painful memories can create powerful music. This can include stories of abuse, loss of a loved one, divorce, depression, and so many other things. Playing emotionally charged music every night can take a toll on the mind.

Touring can be an emotional roller coaster. For many young artists, touring sounds like nothing but fun and it truly is enjoyable. When you get to a point though, it can be taxing. The artist interviews I’ve heard describe hardships involving inconsistency financially, stress on relationships/families, and even missing weddings or funerals.

Mix that with a shift from being introverted to extroverted, and back without warning. Musicians spend hours in a van, to arrive at a venue where they must begin socializing and usually continue to socialize for the next 4-6 hours. Then, it’s back in the van. For an uneasy mind, it’s like flipping a light switch on and off without warning. And if we’ve learned anything lately – emotional health is just as important as physical health.

Physical health impacts emotional health. Imagine having A different sleep schedule every day. Sometimes a tight schedule requires a band to drive straight through the night. This leaves the option of staying up all night, or sleeping around a 2am-6am driving shift, after you’ve spent more of your energy performing and meeting fans. The effect on emotional health? It’s hard to be happy when you are sick or exhausted regularly.

Musicians know what they are signing up for – right? Sort of.

I think many expect the physical challenges, but underestimate the emotional ones and the additional impact that your physical health can have on your emotional health. Justin Bieber caught a lot of negative comments for canceling the remainder of his tour. John Mayer came to Justin’s defense tweeeting, “When someone pulls remaining dates of a tour, it means they would have done real damage to themselves if they kept going”.

Chances are, you aren’t a world renowned pop star, but you are just as important. Don’t let any of this be discouraging if you have yet to tour as a musician – just let it be a simple reminder to keep both your physical and mental health in mind on the road. Many of you give it all to the music, just make sure you take care of yourself out there.


Written by David Kleinebreil

Photo by Maelle Ramsay