A day in the life of the music industry by Lawrence Welling - 013
The start, the middle, the end, and the future.
Ask someone when they’re 31 if they still feel the same about something, anything, as they did when they were 14. I bet you’d get some pretty mixed reactions. At what point does a hobby become a career? At what point are you able to say you’ve given yourself enough of a shot at something to say it is finally done with? Whenever I see a musician ‘quit the game’ all I ever seem to see them talk about is how much they miss it.
A career in music has to be very high up there on the list of ambitions people have reached for but never felt they grasped. Why is music so hard? Why are there so many fucking walls to overcome? Why is it easy for some and impossible for others?
The answer for this is as frustrating as the industry itself.
It’s subjective, it’s complicated, it’s unanswerable.
The only thing you can do is find your own answer, because no one else can do this for you, and if they try it will probably be wrong. One answer I do believe to be universal in this subject however is that ‘progression’ is down to personal perseverance.
Your personal perseverance in music is absolutely down to what you give and what you take from it; what you are happy to put into it, divided by what you are happy to settle for.
As I mentioned before, I am 31 years old, starting in my first band when I was 14, and I’ve not been without a band since for the entire 17 year period. I’m not saying that’s right or wrong, it’s just happened that way. If you try to tell anyone you hold the same values 17 years apart then you sound crazy, and rightly so. People change and develop over time, it’s a necessary part of life, but luckily for me I found one piece of music that would not change, at least not until the 16th year of my involvement in it. Heavy music saved me, like a lot of 14 year olds I was terrible at making friends and was heavily bullied, forced to change schools and gained a lifelong sense of worthlessness, but also a strong inner anger. An anger like that can be hard to deal with and unfortunately a lot of kids end up getting themselves in trouble as a result.
I channelled all this anger into a healthy outlet in bands and I honestly believe it made me love music for exactly what it should be loved for. I wasn’t looking for adulation or fame, the thought of those things were the antithesis of what I wanted, for me being famous or known would mean more bullying. To this day I feel uncomfortable if I feel like someone’s staring at me. I wanted to say the things I couldn’t say in real life but most of all I wanted to have friends. Music offered both these things. I couldn’t find common ground with people normally but with music I had a lot to say. It’s the cheesiest phrase I can think of but heavy music gave me a voice, lifelong friendships and always a direction to head in. The first time I ever played live was a cover of ‘My Own Summer’ by Deftones in front of my entire school, about 300 people. Every other act did nice piano pieces, or acapella pop songs. I was so nervous I could hear my stomach turning. We were very loud, very heavy, very surprising, and people never treated me the same again. I felt like I’d finally shown people there was more to me than the shy geek they saw every day. It was empowering, addictive, and it was the first time I felt like I wasn’t worthless.
Fast forward a few years and I’ve had phones cut off, lost relationships, jobs, homes, countless personal possessions, and in very real terms, supposedly the best years of my life. All given to music. This is the price I’ve paid. If you read back that list I think most people would agree these are all negative things to have endured. Keep a mental bookmark here.
What have I had in return?
I’ve had 3 reputable record deals, major radio play, charting CD sales, major tours and festival slots, endorsements, I’ve made many new friends I’d have otherwise never met. All of this I am hugely grateful for, it is truly an honour to have experienced those things.
Now return to that mental bookmark, because whilst all those incredible musical rewards were happening, all of those bookmarked negatives were also happening at the exact same time. This fucks with your head. It makes you feel like you’re actually going insane. This drug that makes you feel amazing is simultaneously breaking your back. It sounds harsh but this is what separates you from the guy that just quit his band. You found a personal perseverance within yourself and discovered a reason to keep going with the madness. The point at which people decide to remove themselves from it is very important, there’s no shame in doing so, everyone’s limits are different, and we are constantly, sadly, shown examples all the time of people that probably should have removed themselves earlier. I have trodden this line precariously over the years often without realising it. Outside of being a band guy I felt like a worthless piece of shit, but I loved playing live so much, and having this collective ambition within your band to achieve something out of the ordinary made me feel like part of a family. But this can be a slippery slope, you have to be careful of what you deem success. When the outside world treats you like nothing it’s tempting to crave successes based around looking cool or appearing bigger than you are.
Purely as a ‘fuck you’ to those negative people.
Everyone is guilty of this and its easy to slip into. There is nothing wrong with being proud of gaining a guitar endorsement for example, but you can’t let it become the only reason you enjoy succeeding, it must always be a side objective to the primary goal. You must enjoy the real (or surreal, depending which way you look at it) moments of joy onstage This is something that didn’t always work for me, in all honesty whilst I still loved music for the love of playing it, I had started to equate my successes as a sole source of self worth. The better I did with the band the better I felt about myself, and for a time nothing else outside of music was good enough. For something as unstable and uncertain as music this is a risky business. The End I am hugely grateful for every band I’ve been in, but for me Shields was a defining band. I had hugely fallen out with the members of my previous band Prolong The Agony, and I was back to how I felt when I was 14, I felt like I had so little left in life and I was genuinely suicidal.
I’d worked so hard to help PTA get to the point it was at and for many reasons (including my own) it had crumbled around me under its own pressure and weight. With its new record deal the band was being offered more and more opportunities but at the time all I wanted was out, I couldn’t stand feeling torn between the career I’d always wanted (craving the self worth) and the struggle of making something work that, for me at least, just wasn’t. I wanted to blame the others so much at the time because that was easier than admitting it was just me that had changed. With our EP release ‘All We Are’ in the press I was promoting positivity and ‘support your scene’ sentiments but in reality, although I genuinely believed what I was saying, I felt disconnected and like a fraud.
As quickly as PTA left my life, Shields appeared over the horizon.
Shields represented an attractive alternative to this frontman pressure and a fresh start. For many years after it was business as usual, music for the love of music and I continued to get all my self worth from the progression of the band and from playing live. I greatly enjoyed not being the main focus of the band. No one worries about the bassist, you can get up onstage, do your thing, and return to obscurity, perfect. We were doing bigger and better things all the time and we felt unstoppable. Two days after getting home from one of our biggest tours yet, supporting Escape The Fate across Europe, George Christie killed himself. I won’t go down all the routes of how awful this was, because it’s obvious. It was devastating to absolutely everyone involved. I still have panic attacks and nightmares to this day about it. What I will mention about it however is that for the first time ever it totally changed how I felt about music, it changed how we felt about our own band, everything was tainted with death.
So now despite all the good things happening for the band, the positives were now hugely outweighed by the negatives, and once again everything I had helped worked for crumbled just when it was picking up. Your friend dies, your band dies, and your self worth dies with them. Except this time it didn’t feel like it could be solved by simply joining another band because music itself was ruined for me. The final Shields tour was hard, people had been amazing to us, others had been disgusting to us. We experienced every possible reaction the public can give you about suicide. I had experienced loss before but never so publicly and its effects stay with me even now. People gave us love, support, hate, and shame. And ironically we felt this way about ourselves, we loved each other and supported each other in our decision to finish it but I also felt shame about giving up, I felt I’d let down everyone that stood behind the band. I will never forget that empty feeling when we were all sat at Sams home after making the call to our management telling them of our final plans. I felt like the guy I mentioned earlier that just quit his band. And at the time I didn’t know if I’d ever do anything good again with music, which was scary. I wanted to hate George so much for everything his actions had done to myself and my friends. When you’re so conflicted inside, it’s hard to hear when everyone around you does nothing but tell you how great he was. They’re right of course, he was great, so great all it took was his absence for the ‘unstoppable family’ to fall apart.
The end is not the end.
Over time you have to find the love for what you do again. George’s death for me now represents a motivation to keep going, it truly humbles you every single time you feel like moaning about anything trivial. The guys in Prolong The Agony, amongst many others, all reached out to me in the wake of the death and we regained the friendship we lost year’s back, forming a new apply named band ‘Brotherhood’ which was a name intended as a pure enjoyment of being back in each other’s lives. Time does heal and I’m grateful for the recent opportunities to tour again and remember why I love playing live music. The amount of love shown from Shields supporters along the way has also massively helped me to appreciate what we did together again.
In music you never know whats around the corner, so even if you do quit, take time for yourself, that’s ok! Music is not like some balloon you have to keep hold of for fear of it flying away forever, it will always be there for you again when you return!
Don’t let music become your only source of self worth, because if it goes, you’ll lose yourself with it.
Music as an entity is not perfect, if you treat it badly it can hurt you.
You have to find the type of love for it that can’t be taken away, an unconditional love.
Don’t be afraid to invest yourself in other people, if they leave you it will hurt and possibly change you, but at the end if you manage to keep your head above water, rough the storm, you will be stronger for it.
Photography - Nick Pope