When it comes to knowing the pulse of a career in entertainment and as a touring musician, Barry Kerch has a few years of experience to say the least. This week EHS had the pleasure of talking with Shinedown’s drummer Barry Kerch on his personal journey through music. Barry shares with us his insights on maintaining a strong headspace, the importance of relationships in long term band success, managing stress, and views on mental health in the industry.
Having been with Shinedown from the beginning over 15 years ago, Barry has experienced the shifts in the music industry, especially with the impact of technology developments and social media. We asked Barry how he has kept a positive headspace throughout years of changes and if social media has any affect on this for him? Barry tells us self-care/exercise, good communication/relationships with the band, and avoiding negative commentary on social media, keeps things in check for him. He explains that he and other band members often hold each other accountable for keeping routine with exercise and feels he plays a better show when he makes time for it. Barry laughs as he states, “My 30’s caught up with me and I could no longer eat and drink whatever I wanted”. As for bandmate relationships, we can't help but turn to Shinedown’s video for “Enemies”, which plays off the idea of a band meeting gone bad. However, based on our discussion with Barry, we are rest assured there is no chair throwing amongst band members. Barry states they are supportive of one another and it feels more like family. Barry admits they have all experienced ups and downs, including lead singer, Brent Smith’s struggle with substance abuse and inspiring achievement of kicking his drug addiction. Barry reports he feels they became a better band after the making of their third album, Sound of Madness (also being around the time of Smith quitting drugs and band restructure). At EHS we hear a lot about the impact of social media on entertainers, including online feedback and the temptation of comparison. Barry replies to this with “We’re already stuck in our ways”, referring to his personal security in who he is and Shinedown as a band. Barry states “people say things on social media, they would never say in person”. He encourages others to embrace their music and avoid spending too much time reading comments on social media. He tells us in the end you are doing it for yourself and although the feedback can be encouraging, don’t get hung up in negative feedback. Barry state's social media can be positive for some artist as a way to put themselves out there and for fans to have greater connection with artist. However, the negative impact of criticism or online bullying can be detrimental.
We asked Barry if a career in music is what he expected and without hesitation, the response was “no, not at all”. Barry states a big surprise was learning the dynamics of the partnership with record labels. Initially he was unaware of how much influence the labels had on the band and decision making. He talks about there being times you would advocate for certain songs or decisions and times you need to trust the label to call the shots. Barry doesn’t express any animosity when discussing this partnership structure, but rather seems to emphasize a need to be flexible and accepting of the labels ultimate decisions. Barry says a career in entertainment “is work, you have to treat it like a business”. He reports he would often practice 4 hours a day instead of hanging out with friends. His advice being to select days for practice and then slot out a night or two for friends. He stares it is important to find balance and structure time for music. Although it is hard work, Barry shares with us that he is living his dream to be able to do what he loves. When we asked the worst job he ever worked, Barry replied “cold calling people to ask if they wanted Sprint or AT&T”. It seems telemarketing will not be in Barry’s future endeavors!
When it comes to the overall stress of the industry, it appears Barry has adapted a sense of flexibility and humor to handle the various uncertainties. Barry tells us a story about a show Shinedown was headlining in Tampa. Like any musician's nightmare, the power went out and they couldn’t get enough generators working to run all the equipment. Instead of canceling the show, they got a couple of mic's running and played an acoustic show. He says he believes many of the fans thought it was done on purpose and they got a special acoustic show. It seems there is always an opportunity for things to go wrong and this is a prime example of being ready to adapt to the circumstances and diffuse stress. The time off touring when singer Smith decided to take needed personal time was stressful, but Barry reflects “it was important we paused for him to get help”. In an industry of little guaranteed security, the band members also have families at home to consider, adding another layer of potential stress. Barry takes a moment to talk about his daughter and how quickly she is growing up. Although there is the expected stress of being on the road, Barry states he does the best he can and makes use of FaceTime. When talking with Barry, you get the sense that stress and worry take the backseat in his life these days. Perhaps years on the road as an entertainer exposes you to more of life's curveballs, resulting to more instinctual stress management.
Mental health is often a difficult discussion in the entertainment world and we are grateful for Barry and others in the industry who are willing to broach this topic with us. When we asked what changes he would hope to see with mental health and the music industry, Barry stated “I would like to see people willing to talk about it, especially labels”. Barry reported the biggest holdbacks with this that he sees is “the fear of admitting defeat, putting things on hold (touring, music), and being dropped by a label”. Although there may not be any quick fix, it is discussions like this that help move things in that direction. Barry tells us there have been times fans share mental health struggles with him online and it is difficult knowing he cannot directly help them. On the other hand, he has also received messages crediting Shinedown’s music for helping them through tough times or even steered them away from suicide. These experiences show both the positive power of music and the importance of mental health awareness. Many of Shinedown’s songs can be seen as relatable to issues of mental health, including substance use, bullying, and depression. Regardless of what inspired the song or what genre it is put into, the impact is there. The fact is, music and emotions share the same stage. Mental health shares a stage with emotions. Therefore, they’re all playing the same show. EHS believes in the power of music and works to continue bringing mental health topics to light in the entertainment world. For now, we are extremely grateful for entertainers like Barry Kerch for speaking with us and Shinedown’s overall transparency in sharing their experiences with such topics.