Since the beginning of this year I have had the honour and privilege of teaching the Year 13 (typical age 17 to 18) Music Tech class at my old stomping ground The BRIT School Of Performing Arts & Technology in Croydon, South London. This was the very place where my journey in music production began. When I was a student here between 2002 to 2004 my amazing teachers sparked a creative fire within me and to this very day still burns ferociously. Without their encouragement, enthusiasm and inspiration I doubt I would have ever been brave enough or self-assured enough to venture into the world and follow my dreams into pursuing a path… my path in the music industry. My time at the BRIT School, 15 years ago inspired a new found confidence in myself and a profound focus in my outlook that at the time was missing in my life.
At the start of 2019 the head of The BRIT’s Music Tech course contacted me asking if I could, at short notice, come in and support their efforts. It was a no brainer of a decision. Here was an opportunity for me to go back to the start of my journey and inspire the next generation of creative music producers as an audio industry professional who, from personal experience, also lived the BRIT School student life and went on to earn career success.
The picture of me above was taken in the room I have been teaching in over the last 7 weeks, the very studio I started my music production journey in. Back in 2001 at a BRIT School open day I managed to get a brief glimpse inside this very studio where there were a couple of students working on the mixing desk with big beaming smiles on their faces. This brief image at the time made a lasting impression on me. This was THE moment I wholeheartedly knew that music production was to be my calling. I knew that I had to work hard to get on the inside as I had to get into this school. After a nerve-racking interview and audition process I was offered a position on the course and the rest you could say is history… However…
… with the skills I learned, industry relationships I forged and career satisfaction I gained in the years of self-employment that followed my time here I started sliding down a slow and slippery slope in my personal life that I was completely unaware of. Without even being aware I started suffering from a range of small addiction issues behind the scenes of my self employed persona that later would catch up with me.
I became my own boss at the young age of 23. Being your own boss is a huge responsibility as you want to make your own stamp on the music biz but being self employed also requires a huge amount of work and dedication taking responsibility for cash flow, clients, projects…Looking back I can see the problem that was emerging but at the time I didn't realise that was I slowly transitioning responsibility and care from my own personal well being into my self-employed boss mindset. I smoked like an absolute chimney for over a decade, used booze daily as a comforter at the end of long sessions as well as suffering from a few addiction-related complexes. Without even realising it I was using destructive addiction habits to get me through my career.
I’m not proud of this, or who I became. I took some time to work on myself with a counsellor last year in conjunction with working hard on myself, which has been a slow and steady process, but it wasn’t until I was about to teach my last session at the BRIT School that my outlook changed... again.
Returning to The BRIT School as an industry professional with a class of students sitting exactly where I once sat put me back in touch with my younger self. This was a time when I was a kinder person, more in touch with my emotions and feelings, free in spirit, totally in control of my self-control and awareness of my mind and soul. Those core qualities I knew had somehow been eroded over time in my pursuit of following my dreams, which have made me recently feel a little sore about where I’ve come in my success over the last ten years.
In a nutshell, I feel like a victim of my own self-made success. This sort of thing can happen to creatives in the music industry who also follow their hearts, push themselves to the limits to overachieve, be the best creative they can be… but this is shortsighted, as, like me, you can easily chip away at your core personal values by expecting a lot from yourself in a hard and competitive industry. I now know that I lost sight of who I was. I got many things right in my career life, as well as many things wrong in my personal life.
In my recovery, I have recognised that through my journey, my big ambitions have played a big part in feeding my addictive behaviours. I wanted to succeed so bad that I constantly pushed for bigger and better wins much like a drug addict chasing their first high, this tunnel vision ultimately took away a big part of who I am away from myself... and others close to me.
Being at The BRIT School again and looking into the eyes of these students sitting where I once sat full of hope has helped me to really remember and reconnect with who I once was and to recognise the aspects of my soul that I slowly sacrificed over time for my career goals. The person I want to be again is Dan Cooper, positive and encouraging by nature, hungry to learn new things about myself and others, be trusting of people again, and most importantly be in control of me... to name a few. This short teaching position at The BRIT School has once again given me so much that, as in 2004 when I graduated, I can again take forward into the future chapters of my life to make positive differences to myself and to those who choose to be around me.
I cannot express how humbling this whole experience was for me returning to the BRIT School. Each week to walk back through those studio doors where I once stood on an unassuming open day back in 2001, to stand on the shoulders of giants and have the opportunity to give back to the next generation of music producers is... we’ll, I’m struggling to get my feelings across here in words, but this experience has, as you are hopefully working out reading this article, helped put “me” back in touch with “myself”, and for that I owe The BRIT School another huge debt of gratitude.
On the business side, spending years being self-employed in the music industry can feel a bit stagnant, a bit routine and familiar. This isn’t a complaint as I always feel humbled, lucky and grateful for all the opportunities that subsequently enabled me to succeed to date... but as time goes by, people who have settled, like me, into their professional creative grooves often reflect on their career successes as affirmations to help them develop personally and professionally. This short but incredible opportunity to work at the BRIT School will always rank right up in my career high points for years to come.
This article is by far the most emotional and personal piece I’ve ever written here on Production Expert. We’ve spoken about Mental Illness In The Creative Sector in the past here. I felt it was important to share my own story of how my career success in this industry has caused me to be destructive in my personal life. Always remember to work to live, not live to work.
Thank you to the entire BRIT team for welcoming me back with open arms and to the students who gave me their full attention and willingness. I don't know how to apologise enough to those around me in my circles who saw that my addictions were getting the better of me or to those who tried to bring these issues to my attention, I’m am sorry, thank you for caring.
So, there you have it, my story. Has your work life or music career goals ever been destructive in your personal life?