5 Ways to Keep Your Music Business Functioning When You Are Not

Kat Downs - Sit Kitty Sit - Pyragraph

Photo courtesy of Sit Kitty Sit.

Let’s be honest here, folks. We’re artists. Depression happens. For some of us, a lot; for the lucky few, only once in a while. But in this business we call “show” (or graphic design or photography or belly dancing) the “show” is not going to stop and wait for us during the dark times. And sometimes the dark times can turn into dark weeks or even dark months.

That’s been me. 2015 decided to gang up on me, and when it comes to life outside work I have had one of the most comically bad years I’ve ever even heard of. Like, television bad. Hide-under-the-bed-and-never-come-out bad.

This was one of my rare moments of pure brilliance.

But the “show” wasn’t going to wait for me. The work had to keep on happening anyway. Tours were already scheduled. Deadlines already set. I had to figure out how to function and quick.

It wasn’t always pretty. A lot of stuff did end up falling to the wayside. But at the end of it my band Sit Kitty Sit has had our most successful year to date.

I learned A LOT about how to run my business while managing a raging depression. And in spite of how I came to discover these tools, I’ve continued to use them, depression or not.

Kat Downs - Sit Kitty Sit - Pyragraph

Holy crap, we went to Germany!

So ready or not, here are my top five ways to keep your business functioning when you are not.

1. When you realize you’re fucked, ask for help.

This may sound like a no-brainer, but let me tell you how long I put off asking for help when I knew I was drowning. Embarrassingly long, that’s how long. Embarrassingly long because I was EMBARRASSED that I was depressed. Which basically means I was embarrassed I had the GALL to be human. Whatever, Kat. Get over yourself.

The instant you realize that your artist-self is struggling, tell someone. Be it a friend or a therapist or a complete stranger. Tell someone. Do not for one second think you are going to be able to do this by yourself. “Yourself” is going into hibernation, and that means you are going to need help to keep the business running. And that is perfectly acceptable.

2. Identify your “good,” “bad” and “in-between” days.

This is one of the best things you can do to keep yourself functioning. For me, good days mean it’s a little easier to get out of bed. The morning routine feels comforting, and it’s a little easier for me to be around people. Bad days mean I’m super lethargic, cranky, can’t wake up, everything hurts. In-between days are just kind of “meh.” I can function, but I get tired easily. I can handle people but only for a limited time. This is important because once you know your days you can make a game plan.

3. Make a game plan.

On a good day, get out a blank document and write your game plan. This may take some trial and error; keep the document and edit it as necessary. Refer to it when you wake up and have identified what kind of day you are having, as your brain has a way of letting these things go when you’re not at your best.

Here’s my game plan: On good days I tackle as much music business stuff as I can. Social media, blogging, fan club stuff and emails. All the regular office work that can be really hard to do when you’re under a cloud. I pound through it—quantity over quality.

On in-between days, I do a few music business things that are priorities or can’t wait, otherwise these are my housework/errands/cleaning days. If I finish all that stuff or just run out of energy I will also use these as my reading/research days.

On bad days it’s priority only. Nothing else. If there’s a deadline, I will crawl out of bed just long enough to finish it and send it off. If it’s a show day I will pull myself together to get made up and dressed, then lay back down, then get to the show, get up on stage and blow everyone out of the water, and then go lay back down. Try your best not to beat yourself up on bad days. If you can’t that day, you just can’t. That’s okay.

4. Set up a check-in person.

This was one of my rare moments of pure brilliance. When I realized I was letting too much stuff slide, I called an old work colleague of mine and asked her if we could set up a weekly meeting over Skype.

In our initial meeting, we went over everything that has to do with my business. That included short- and long-term projects, things that were overdue, research I was processing, and stuff I wanted to do that I was nowhere near touching. The whole picture.

Try a new medium, or invent one.

Then she gave me work assignments. With due dates. She helped me figure out the priorities and the time-sensitive things when my brain was too swirly. We kept track of the lists and the assignments using Google Docs and figured out a standing time to video chat every week.

This gave me someone to answer to besides myself. When we met online every Thursday at 2pm, we would go through the list. What had I finished? What hadn’t I? Then there were new priorities, and new assignments. It felt great to see things get crossed off that list. And on top of that, when I would present a completed assignment at our weekly meeting she would smother me in praise! How great is that? It was invaluable for me, and for her. It took about an hour of her time every week while we were on the call and not one thing more. She actually told me she loved how much she was helping me through almost no effort on her part.

5. Create things anyway.

My main medium is music. And guess what wouldn’t come out of me? Yup, music. But that doesn’t mean I just forget being creative—instead I crochet. I write poetry. I write blogs. Try a new medium, or invent one. It doesn’t really matter—you’re not changing jobs here; you’re just keeping the creative path open. You’re letting yourself “make stuff” while your head and your heart are preoccupied with keeping you sane and alive. The rest of it will come back when it’s ready.

So there you have it. Artist-tested, artist-approved. Here’s to a better year ahead!

About Kat Downs

Kat Downs is a musician, artist, teacher, composer and performer originally from Green Bay, WI. She began studying music at the age of 6, continuing on through high school and college earning a BA Degree in Music from St. Norbert College in DePere, WI. Now based out of San Francisco, CA, Kat’s current projects include the powerhouse Hard Piano Rock duo, Sit Kitty Sit, and the goth rock band, Saints of Ruin. She is the staff composer for Wily West Productions, the Music Consultant for Blue Scorpion Dance Theatre and has an exclusive studio of piano and flute students. Best known for her intense piano playing style and exceptional lyrical compositions, Kat tours nationally and has shared the stage with such names as LP, The Memorials, Chris Wyse, En Esch, Mona Mur, Erica Dilanjian, Shannon Curfman, Lennon, Javier Mosley and WASP.

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