Wanted: A little less talk and lot more action: Paul Nolan
Updated: Oct 15, 2019
One of our aims at eclectic Toolbox is to create a visible network of music industry members that are at the forefront of mental health awareness and helping to shape an informed and healthier music industry.
Through this visible network we hope to create change. As part of our commitment to change we are spending time with individuals and organisations across the industry who are also advocating mental health initiatives: This agenda isn't just about what we are doing, its about celebrating and amplifying what everyone is doing.
Paul Nolan joins us as part of this growing network and with us on our journey to develop a healthier industry for everyone.
We first met Paul at BBC Introducing Live in 2018 where he spoke on a panel about mental health hosted by Association for Electronic Music (AFEM) and our paths crossed again at International Music Summit Breakfast Club hosted by Association for Electronic Music (AFEM) (they're on it)!
Paul's enthusiasm for the industry and the wellbeing of the people in it is unwavering.
We caught up with him to find out more about his incredible journey of self discovery and hopes for the industry...
Tell us a bit about you...
Haha! How long have you got?!?! I am mostly known for my work in Artist Development through my company MYT transition.studio which provides Music Production, Marketing and Personal Coaching.Over the years I’ve worked as a Producer and Sound Engineer, and worked with some of the most legendary names in Dance Music, including Sasha, JunkieXL, Arthur Baker, The Martinez Brothers, film composer Jeff Rona and a whole host of others. I’m also a touring DJ and Producer, and this year have had EP’s released on labels such as Bedrock, and I am co - founder of the Chapter 24 Records label.
What inspired you to want to work in the music industry?
Initially I wanted to be a touring DJ, and that was always the dream. The reality of that is, of course, very different, but I always knew from very early on when I started going to clubs and becoming obsessed with the music back in the late 90’s that I was going to devote the rest of my life to the music industry.
I saw the transformative potential and qualities of electronic music, how it fused people together from all walks of life, and how it changed society in the UK and then internationally. I just had to play my part in that. I had no plan B, and still don’t. I’ve always wanted to help this music fulfill it’s potential, to help human’s fulfill their potential through it.
What do you do to support wellbeing and promote mental health awareness in the industry?
There’s a number of facets to how I work in regard to ‘Human Optimization’, which is a term I much prefer to ‘mental health’.
In 2017 I qualified as a Sound Therapist from the International Association of Sound Therapy in Spain. This means I work with sound as a therapeutic tool to help the body, mind and nervous system trigger back to its original, balanced state of calm. I mostly work on a one-to-one basis, and my main tools include Himalayan Singing Bowls, Tuning Forks, and my own voice.
I currently sit on AFEM’s Health Working Group, helping set the focus in the industry on what we can change and create awareness of to improve the mental, physical and emotional states of artists, industry professionals and fans.
I’ve also recently created a new company in the Health & Wellbeing sector within the Music Industry with my business partner Nat Rich, called I Am Sound. This will offer access to expert help in the real world, as well as professional perspectives online on everything from Sound Therapy, Meditation, Mindfulness, Yoga, Bodywork and so much more, in the form of an affordable monthly membership, which will be offered to both individuals and in the form of a Corporate Wellness Programme.
There will also be regular ‘real world’ events to attend in various cities where members reside, and I Am Sound will in 2020 offer retreats, with the first one in Ibiza.
I Am Sound launches at this year’s Amsterdam Dance Event (ADE) in October.
Why is this important to you and to the music industry?
Because we really do operate in a perfect storm of potentially difficult factors.
Think about it. For an artist or touring DJ, it can be all or any combination of the following:
Members of the opposite sex
External validation from fake friends
All of these factors on their own can have a corrosive effect on our mental, physical, emotional and spiritual states. When these combine, it makes for potentially horrendous, almost inhumane working conditions, which nobody wants to raise the red flag over, because it appears they are ‘living the dream’.
We have so much work to do in the music industry from this standpoint, and a lot of this work can be done BEFORE it gets to a mental health problem - it’s predominantly about self responsibility, boundaries and self empowerment before anything else.
Where would you like to see the industry in 12 months time?
Frankly, I’d like to see a lot more action to change conditions, and people’s approaches to how they work in the creative industries, the music industry included.
We’ve done a great job of talking about what’s really going on in the music industry in the last few years through mediums such as IMS, ADE, BBC Introducing, Brighton Music Conference, and through AFEM, but unfortunately, it hasn’t quite yet manifested in the direct action required to help individuals to grow, and get the help they need.
That’s the next step, and the time to take it is now, so we can start to turn the tide.
We’re meant to be bringing joy into people’s lives in the music industry, yet our working conditions make us miserable, depressed and suicidal. There’s something deeply wrong about that, so at some point we have to start putting our money where our mouths are and actually create the future we need to feel that same joy in our work we are meant to be imparting onto others.
What is the biggest challenge you’ve faced in the industry?
In 2016 I hit the wall massively. I was, completely burnt out. I was living in LA (‘living the dream’, at least on social media) and had just produced an album with my boyhood hero, Sasha. I was DJing all over the US, from LA and San Diego through to New York, and internationally. All I saw for the best part of a year was the inside of a hotel room, an airport, a nightclub, or an aeroplane. I was dead inside, suffering from adrenal fatigue and a profound disconnection from who I really was.
I struggled with other people’s supposed expectations of who I was supposed to be. I derived my entire sense of self worth from whether or not I achieved my goals. I was
deeply unhealthy on many levels, and yet appearances would have you believe I was looking after myself, maintaining balance and on the right track.
Ultimately, it took some pretty radical steps to bring me around. To be clear, I don’t take, nor have I ever taken, any form of recreational drugs. I’m also not a big drinker due to childhood liver disease. So if I can find myself in a hole of exhaustion, depression and ‘dark nights of the soul’ due to how intense this industry can be, so can anyone.
What works for you? What are your best practice pieces for wellbeing?
I’ve been on a real journey of self discovery and growth in the last 2.5 years, and it’s still going on now really. It’ll probably still be going on when I eventually pass on from this mortal coil (hopefully a long time from now!)
In terms of what I’ve found works for me, having a ‘structured container' for my work and life is crucial. I don’t have a rigid, repeatable schedule, but I do learn to flow with where the days and weeks takes me.
I’ve always been massively into exercise - I love to run and cycle, and I’ve been a committed devotee of Hot Yoga for just over 6 years now. Yoga’s been a massive game changer. It really hits the spot for me, and it’s like a hard reset of my nervous system, and the sweat a 90 min moving meditation generates feels like a purge on almost all levels.
I’m also a big advocate for cold water therapy - I almost exclusively take cold showers, and this practice has been clinically proven by pioneers such as Wim Hof to be incredibly beneficial for the human body and mind.
I also practice Martial Arts, and obsess with Brazilian Jiu Jitsu. I’m talking to you right now from Ibiza, where I’m staying and working for a few weeks, and I’ve already worked out where the best BJJ gym and hot yoga studios are. This is something I do when I’m on the road, be it giving a Production Masterclass in Copenhagen, or playing a headline DJ Set in Bali.
My personal growth story cannot be completely discussed without talking about my experiences with traditional Plant Medicines, such as Ayahuasca from the Amazon Rainforest, and Iboga, which is found in Gabon in Africa. These psychoactive compounds have helped me completely turn my life around - I often say I saved my own life through these medicines. Whilst they aren’t for everyone, I do believe everyone has the right to explore their own consciousness in safety, and the healing and transformative potential of these incredibly wise Teacher Plants, is not to be underestimated or scoffed at.
With wellbeing in mind what is the best piece of advice you have for those looking to start a career in the industry?
Meet the industry on your own terms. This industry can chew you up and spit you out if you allow it to, if you try to change yourself in order to meet some kind of preconceived notion of what or who you are supposed to be in the eyes of some fictional ‘they’ or ‘them’ who live almost exclusively in our own heads.
This can lead to people losing all sense of who they really are in truth.
Take the game it your own pace. Be calm. It’s a marathon, not a sprint. There’s no rush. If you do that, and maintain a balanced outlook and lifestyle (not to mention, not taking it so seriously!) you’ll have set yourself up for long term success.
Finally, fall in love with the process, not the end result. If you define your sense as self worth through the achievement of goals (as I previously have done), you’ll only cause yourself a lot of pain and suffering. If you can build effective working systems, the application of those systems will make your goals a reality almost automatically.
Thank you Paul for a fantastic interview!