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Jason Gray- "Entertaining the Critics"

At EHS, we have heard many individuals talk about withstanding public and personal criticism in the the entertainment industry, including effects of comparison or other self-criticism. The question is, how do entertainers tame these inner voices, manage outside opinions, and maintain a healthy mindset while continuing to do their art and perform? How do entertainers entertain the critics in the music business?  This month we were excited to tap into the faith based genre of music and sit with Christian Music Artist, Jason Gray, to discuss his experience in the entertainment industry and the impact of criticism for him. Our meeting was courtesy of another insightful individual in the industry, John Mays, VP of A&R at Centricity Music, who organized and accompanied this interview. Jason Gray signed with Centricity in 2006 and has released seven albums since then with his most recent 2016 release, “Where the Light Gets In”. We later talk about his hit song “More Like Falling in Love” and the criticism he experienced for the song; but before we go into the depths of the criticism topic, let’s get a little background on Jason Gray and his music.  When listening to Jason’s music, there is an underlying theme of finding strength in the face of adversity.  Early in the interview, Jason pauses to introduce one of his first personal experiences with adversity, a speech handicap, which causes him to stutter. Jason was diagnosed with the speech disorder as a child and states he stutters when speaking, but for the most part it has not affected his singing. A obstacle that may cause individuals to shy away from singing in the spotlight has seemingly left Jason’s path unaltered. Jason reports his stuttering is noticeable during radio interviews and such, but he simply acknowledges it and continues through. He moves on to talk about growing up in a broken home and the part music played during this time. He tells us about difficult times in the aftermath of his parents divorce, spending nights in bars while his mother performed in various bands, and the transition when his mother gave up the bar scene for performing at church and church revivals. Jason explains how he used music during these trying times. “We read books to know we’re not alone. This was music for me”, Jason says. He reports being a bit of an introvert and shy due to his speech handicap and turning to music. Jason would later find his calling in Christian Music, turning difficult experiences into poetic songs of hope and encouragement.  Jason reports feeling his first whisper from God while listening to “Bridge Over Troubled Waters”, but recalls being drawn to soulful and spiritual music prior to finding a relationship with God. Jason was in his first year of college when he decided to pursue music and dropped out of school. A common risk we hear other entertainers or aspiring musicians struggling with.  Leaving what is perceived as the safe track of college or full-time employment to pursue a career in music. Welcome to Nashville, the land of big dreams with big risks! We often hear about entertainers choosing a path less traveled, taking a risk, making mistakes, challenging views or social norms through their art, and just as often, being greeted by criticism. Criticism that sometimes leads to internalized self doubt or self criticism. So, let’s first look at this. Why do people criticise?  Simplest answer. Fear.  Over and over again when we look at criticism, it seems to come down to fear. Now this is not to discredit other contributing emotions, but for the majority of cases, fear is playing a leading role in criticism. Some may say anger is their leading emotion, but many psychologist would argue that anger is a secondary emotion, generally driven by hurt or fear ( https://healthypsych.com/psychology-tools-what-is-anger-a-secondary-emotion/ ). For example, when an individual leaves college in pursuit of a risky career, they may face criticism from loved ones who are “fearful” of the outcome. When our views or social norms are challenged, this can trigger “fear of change” (in an ever changing world, we often cling to socially accepted norms). And of course when mistakes are made “fear” generally Airbnb’s a room in our mind for a while. So now, lets give you a mic, open up social media pages in your name, and turn a spotlight on. Your goal is to write music and go through your career without taking any risks, stepping outside of social norms, challenging others ideas, or making any mistakes. And go!… By the way, you are now some form of a public figure, so remember they’re watching… Do you really want to wear that pink shirt for your Instagram post?  When we asked Jason about the impact outside criticism has on him and his career, he said he “learned to give people permission to misunderstand me”. Jason explained he came to this conclusion after he received heavy criticism for his song “More Like Falling in Love” from “theological watchdogs who interpreted me as writing a God is my girlfriend song”. He states he initially exhausted himself in attempts to defend it. He remembers getting a three page letter from one person and another large church apparently dedicated an entire service to the disapproval of the song. Ironically, this would be one of Jason’s hit songs, making it difficult to hide it away in the repertoire of music. So how do you entertain the critics? Perhaps sometimes you just keep playing the song and giving others permission to misinterpret your art.  There are compounding factors to criticism in the music industry. Not only are musicians publicly displaying themselves and their art, but for many it ties into their livelihood. If enough people don’t love what you represent or the music you are creating, you risk the income needed to continue your career in music. Jason says he is lucky to have the support he does through Centricity to continue writing music on topics that are true to him. Jason recalls writing a song after his divorce on depression, feeling certain it was too raw and wouldn’t make the recording list during the song reviews. He states John (who is still present during this interview) said “well, that’s got to be on there!”. Jason continues to say he doesn’t feel a pressure to present himself in an optimistic light. He uses his music to reach out to others and speaks on depression, which he openly reports having struggled with. John Mays chimes in at this point to elaborate; stating some labels/management groups may feel a need to build fences around the artist to protect them from criticism, but he doesn’t feel the need to do this with Jason. So how transparent do we present ourselves in difficult times or on a personal level? Jason had a unique response to this, referencing back to his divorce. He referred to a friend of his, Walter Wangerin, who told him, if you share this part of your life while you’re in the trenches, you are asking your audience for something (support). If you wait until you come out the other side, you now have something to offer your audience. A lot of artists songs speak on a deep personal level, which can leave them vulnerable to outside critics. For Jason, it seems it’s not necessarily about how transparent you are with your audience, but rather the timing and motivation or purpose behind sharing. Are you in a place emotionally to receive any possible criticism and what are the intended outcomes?  Criticism has a sneaky way of becoming internalized and morphing into self-criticism, especially in the form of comparisons. And again, the stakes are high for many in the music industry since others critiques can directly impact your paycheck among other things. When self-criticism takes up residency in your mind for long enough, you risk compounding mental health issues (depression, anxiety, substance abuse, etc…). This can lead to displaced energy as you are trying to climb out of the negativity of your mind instead of putting your best self into your career. Of course this cycle, unless broken, can then lead to more self-criticism. We asked Jason about any encounters with self-criticism and comparisons. He shared his experiences with comparisons on tour (audience size others draw, merch they sell…) and how this would sometimes get internalized as “I’m not good enough” or “they don’t like me”. Jason humbally admits he would often take a defensive stance in his mind when other performers had better outcomes at a show, such as “they don’t get me”. Jason says he has learned to use these moments to reflect on what he could be doing better to connect with his audience, instead of getting lost in comparison. Comparisons and self criticism can come at all levels of success, but perhaps with recognizing and redirecting these thoughts, we can avoid entertaining the critics in our minds and refocus on entertaining the audience.    Jason is open with us and through his music, about his struggles with depression. He reports he can sometimes go into those dark places and “get crippled for a long time”. Jason states he has learned to think about his depression as “it’s one feeling in a parade of feelings and if I don’t hold hands with it, it will walk past”. He tells us slightly smiling, “I try to be conscious about which feelings I hold hands with”. Jason says he continues to do his work in protest of his inner darkness. He states his job is to love the audience and he keeps reaching out to others through his music despite negative thoughts or feelings.  So maybe that’s it… Entertaining the critics involves recognizing the outside criticism as others fears and allowing them to misinterpret you and your art. In addition to, identifying self deprecating thoughts and deciding which thoughts or feelings to hold hands with. With that said, how will you chose to entertain the critics in your life today? We greatly appreciate Jason Gray taking time out of his busy schedule to sit with us and John Mays for setting up this interview. I personally feel fortunate to have spent a morning with these two, hearing their insights and Jason’s journey. It is difficult to encapsulate the positive energy, kindness, and humor Jason exudes into a written piece. However, I will say these are two individuals who (perhaps unbeknownst to them) can send you off feeling better about the day to come. Now, if there were only a book to expand upon some of the experiences and insight Jason shared with us...   Interview and Article Written By: Elizabeth Porter, President of EHS   

At EHS, we have heard many individuals talk about withstanding public and personal criticism in the the entertainment industry, including effects of comparison or other self-criticism. The question is, how do entertainers tame these inner voices, manage outside opinions, and maintain a healthy mindset while continuing to do their art and perform? How do entertainers entertain the critics in the music business?

This month we were excited to tap into the faith based genre of music and sit with Christian Music Artist, Jason Gray, to discuss his experience in the entertainment industry and the impact of criticism for him. Our meeting was courtesy of another insightful individual in the industry, John Mays, VP of A&R at Centricity Music, who organized and accompanied this interview. Jason Gray signed with Centricity in 2006 and has released seven albums since then with his most recent 2016 release, “Where the Light Gets In”. We later talk about his hit song “More Like Falling in Love” and the criticism he experienced for the song; but before we go into the depths of the criticism topic, let’s get a little background on Jason Gray and his music.

When listening to Jason’s music, there is an underlying theme of finding strength in the face of adversity.  Early in the interview, Jason pauses to introduce one of his first personal experiences with adversity, a speech handicap, which causes him to stutter. Jason was diagnosed with the speech disorder as a child and states he stutters when speaking, but for the most part it has not affected his singing. A obstacle that may cause individuals to shy away from singing in the spotlight has seemingly left Jason’s path unaltered. Jason reports his stuttering is noticeable during radio interviews and such, but he simply acknowledges it and continues through. He moves on to talk about growing up in a broken home and the part music played during this time. He tells us about difficult times in the aftermath of his parents divorce, spending nights in bars while his mother performed in various bands, and the transition when his mother gave up the bar scene for performing at church and church revivals. Jason explains how he used music during these trying times. “We read books to know we’re not alone. This was music for me”, Jason says. He reports being a bit of an introvert and shy due to his speech handicap and turning to music. Jason would later find his calling in Christian Music, turning difficult experiences into poetic songs of hope and encouragement.

Jason reports feeling his first whisper from God while listening to “Bridge Over Troubled Waters”, but recalls being drawn to soulful and spiritual music prior to finding a relationship with God. Jason was in his first year of college when he decided to pursue music and dropped out of school. A common risk we hear other entertainers or aspiring musicians struggling with.

Leaving what is perceived as the safe track of college or full-time employment to pursue a career in music. Welcome to Nashville, the land of big dreams with big risks! We often hear about entertainers choosing a path less traveled, taking a risk, making mistakes, challenging views or social norms through their art, and just as often, being greeted by criticism. Criticism that sometimes leads to internalized self doubt or self criticism. So, let’s first look at this. Why do people criticise?

Simplest answer. Fear.

Over and over again when we look at criticism, it seems to come down to fear. Now this is not to discredit other contributing emotions, but for the majority of cases, fear is playing a leading role in criticism. Some may say anger is their leading emotion, but many psychologist would argue that anger is a secondary emotion, generally driven by hurt or fear (https://healthypsych.com/psychology-tools-what-is-anger-a-secondary-emotion/). For example, when an individual leaves college in pursuit of a risky career, they may face criticism from loved ones who are “fearful” of the outcome. When our views or social norms are challenged, this can trigger “fear of change” (in an ever changing world, we often cling to socially accepted norms). And of course when mistakes are made “fear” generally Airbnb’s a room in our mind for a while. So now, lets give you a mic, open up social media pages in your name, and turn a spotlight on. Your goal is to write music and go through your career without taking any risks, stepping outside of social norms, challenging others ideas, or making any mistakes. And go!… By the way, you are now some form of a public figure, so remember they’re watching… Do you really want to wear that pink shirt for your Instagram post?

When we asked Jason about the impact outside criticism has on him and his career, he said he “learned to give people permission to misunderstand me”. Jason explained he came to this conclusion after he received heavy criticism for his song “More Like Falling in Love” from “theological watchdogs who interpreted me as writing a God is my girlfriend song”. He states he initially exhausted himself in attempts to defend it. He remembers getting a three page letter from one person and another large church apparently dedicated an entire service to the disapproval of the song. Ironically, this would be one of Jason’s hit songs, making it difficult to hide it away in the repertoire of music. So how do you entertain the critics? Perhaps sometimes you just keep playing the song and giving others permission to misinterpret your art.

There are compounding factors to criticism in the music industry. Not only are musicians publicly displaying themselves and their art, but for many it ties into their livelihood. If enough people don’t love what you represent or the music you are creating, you risk the income needed to continue your career in music. Jason says he is lucky to have the support he does through Centricity to continue writing music on topics that are true to him. Jason recalls writing a song after his divorce on depression, feeling certain it was too raw and wouldn’t make the recording list during the song reviews. He states John (who is still present during this interview) said “well, that’s got to be on there!”. Jason continues to say he doesn’t feel a pressure to present himself in an optimistic light. He uses his music to reach out to others and speaks on depression, which he openly reports having struggled with. John Mays chimes in at this point to elaborate; stating some labels/management groups may feel a need to build fences around the artist to protect them from criticism, but he doesn’t feel the need to do this with Jason. So how transparent do we present ourselves in difficult times or on a personal level? Jason had a unique response to this, referencing back to his divorce. He referred to a friend of his, Walter Wangerin, who told him, if you share this part of your life while you’re in the trenches, you are asking your audience for something (support). If you wait until you come out the other side, you now have something to offer your audience. A lot of artists songs speak on a deep personal level, which can leave them vulnerable to outside critics. For Jason, it seems it’s not necessarily about how transparent you are with your audience, but rather the timing and motivation or purpose behind sharing. Are you in a place emotionally to receive any possible criticism and what are the intended outcomes?

Criticism has a sneaky way of becoming internalized and morphing into self-criticism, especially in the form of comparisons. And again, the stakes are high for many in the music industry since others critiques can directly impact your paycheck among other things. When self-criticism takes up residency in your mind for long enough, you risk compounding mental health issues (depression, anxiety, substance abuse, etc…). This can lead to displaced energy as you are trying to climb out of the negativity of your mind instead of putting your best self into your career. Of course this cycle, unless broken, can then lead to more self-criticism. We asked Jason about any encounters with self-criticism and comparisons. He shared his experiences with comparisons on tour (audience size others draw, merch they sell…) and how this would sometimes get internalized as “I’m not good enough” or “they don’t like me”. Jason humbally admits he would often take a defensive stance in his mind when other performers had better outcomes at a show, such as “they don’t get me”. Jason says he has learned to use these moments to reflect on what he could be doing better to connect with his audience, instead of getting lost in comparison. Comparisons and self criticism can come at all levels of success, but perhaps with recognizing and redirecting these thoughts, we can avoid entertaining the critics in our minds and refocus on entertaining the audience.  

Jason is open with us and through his music, about his struggles with depression. He reports he can sometimes go into those dark places and “get crippled for a long time”. Jason states he has learned to think about his depression as “it’s one feeling in a parade of feelings and if I don’t hold hands with it, it will walk past”. He tells us slightly smiling, “I try to be conscious about which feelings I hold hands with”. Jason says he continues to do his work in protest of his inner darkness. He states his job is to love the audience and he keeps reaching out to others through his music despite negative thoughts or feelings.

So maybe that’s it… Entertaining the critics involves recognizing the outside criticism as others fears and allowing them to misinterpret you and your art. In addition to, identifying self deprecating thoughts and deciding which thoughts or feelings to hold hands with. With that said, how will you chose to entertain the critics in your life today? We greatly appreciate Jason Gray taking time out of his busy schedule to sit with us and John Mays for setting up this interview. I personally feel fortunate to have spent a morning with these two, hearing their insights and Jason’s journey. It is difficult to encapsulate the positive energy, kindness, and humor Jason exudes into a written piece. However, I will say these are two individuals who (perhaps unbeknownst to them) can send you off feeling better about the day to come. Now, if there were only a book to expand upon some of the experiences and insight Jason shared with us...


Interview and Article Written By: Elizabeth Porter, President of EHS

 

Left to right: John Mays, Elizabeth Porter, Jason Gray

Left to right: John Mays, Elizabeth Porter, Jason Gray

Interview with Shinedown's Barry Kerch

Barry Kerch, drummer for Shinedown

          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.

          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.

EHS Spotlight Stories- Elizabeth Eckert

          EHS will be sitting down with individuals in entertainment to discuss a wide range of topics as they relate to personal experiences in this industry. We hope these stories will help continue to open the gates in discussions of mental health and what that looks like in the entertainment industry. We believe there is great value in recognizing mental health’s impact on each path and inspiration to be found in the up’s and down’s of other’s journeys.

        This week we talked with Nashville’s Elizabeth Eckert to discuss some of her personal perspectives on life as an artist. Elizabeth is a songwriter, singer, and pianist currently signed with Right Recordings in the United Kingdom. She will be traveling to the UK for her second tour this coming June and will soon be releasing her newest single “Church Bells”. Elizabeth admitted her career in music is not what she initially expected with the biggest shift occurring her junior year in college.

        Elizabeth began playing piano at the age of three years old and dreamed of becoming a classical pianist. She explains both her parents were musicians and she found herself naturally building her identity around being a pianist. She excelled in piano and found herself in college continuing to reach for her dreams as a classical pianist. It was in her junior year of college that she would face one of her greatest obstacles. She began to experience pain in her wrist and soon discovered she was having complications from a prior childhood injury, severely limiting her ability to play and causing tendinitis symptoms. With the medical recommendation being surgery, Elizabeth states she then realized “I was not going to be able to do what I had worked so hard for”. After completing surgery, Elizabeth reports she spent the next couple years lying her prior dreams to rest and “reinventing myself as a musician”. She continued teaching piano, starting doing some singing and songwriting, and moved to Nashville to begin teaching piano through the Blair School at Vanderbilt. She found she could still play the piano in a less demanding form of singer/songwriter. Elizabeth reports others began to refer to her as a singer, an identity she had not considered before. She spoke to the importance of being “flexible in your music career”. Elizabeth admitted being flexible can be difficult when you have ideas of how you want your career to go, but opportunities can come in different forms and you have to be open to receive them.

        We asked Elizabeth how her personal values have shaped her music career and her response was being authentic and honest in her music. She said she writes songs that speak the truth in her world. Her newest song “Church Bells” speaks to her recent marriage this past year. She reports there had been some who told her to avoid releasing such songs since they “make her seem unavailable”. We at EHS have heard similar statements before about the impact of image on marketing yourself as a musician. Is that the path to success? Putting on a mask and selling yourself as something you’re not. How does this promote a healthy self image and mental wellness for our artists? We were happy to hear the support Elizabeth received from her record label in releasing this song, but we know this is an obstacle many other artist face. How important is transparency and authenticity in music or to the wellbeing of the artist?

       When it comes to maintaining a healthy lifestyle, Elizabeth reports she finds balance in spending time writing songs for herself late at night and finding time outside of music doing activities such as sailing and strength training. She admits she started strength training to keep herself in shape for her stage presence, but reports it has become so much more, especially in maintaining a healthy mindset.

       We appreciate the time Elizabeth took to share her story with us and can’t wait to see where her music career will go next. Check out her new single “Church Bells” released today! 

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Blog Written By: Elizabeth Porter