When Practice Makes Broken–Rethinking Toxic Productivity in the Music Industry

ADMIN | in Uncategorized | April 16th, 2023

by Mercedes Lysaker

What “hustle and grind” means when your 24 hours aren’t the same as mine.

Every time I open Instagram, I always end up closing it with the same thought: ”well that was a mistake.”

I know social media is supposed to be about sharing, but with sharing comes comparison–and when you live with a chronic illness or disability, comparison is a dangerous game to play.

Mercedes, a white woman with short hair and glasses, plays an electric cello. She wears a dark dress and headphones, and she is looking down at her instrument as she plays.

Musicians, disabled or not, know the regular pitfalls of comparing ourselves to other musicians, especially the glossy images and videos we see of other successful musicians on social media. It’s easy to fall into the damaging social media comparison spiral even without disability or chronic illness, but comparing (even unintentionally) your work and productivity to that of a musician without any disability at all can lead to discouragement, low self-esteem, and loss of motivation.

And then, there’s the social media trend with a seemingly infinite lifespan–productivity culture. The endless TikToks with cheerful dances and text boxes about life hacks and growth mindsets fit back-to-back against the smooth glamourous self-portraits of musicians and producers with captions like “Rise and grind,” or “We all have the same 24 hours–what’s your excuse?” In some ways, it’s the Zoomer-grandchild of the old adage, “practice makes perfect”--in 2023, the only way to achieve success as a musician is to spend all your time and energy perfecting your craft. 

But this appealing facade falls apart quickly the moment chronic illness arrives to the party (probably late, with a headache, carrying Advil and a hot compress). With chronic illness and disabilities with varying and unpredictable severity, practice doesn’t make perfect--it makes tired, it makes sick, it makes broken. Tight production schedules make no room for Crohn’s or IBS; endless rehearsals gladly exacerbate chronic pain; the sixteen-hour day of the sexiest SoundCloud rapper laughs at ME/CFS and Long COVID. So these posts don’t inspire me to get up and get after it–they inspire me to doubt myself. Toxic productivity tells me that if I weren’t chronically ill, I might be successful. If I weren’t chronically ill, I might be normal. And when those thoughts are stirred up, no amount of inspirational TikToks will expel the internalized ableism. 

So when it comes to the music industry’s infatuation with toxic productivity, disability advocacy is one of the most important tools we have to resist the harmful and demonstrably incorrect narratives tying our bodies to our work.

My best advice (and in a way, worst advice) is the classic, “know you’re not alone.” While we all know we’re not alone, there’s just not enough visible reinforcement to really believe it. Even some disability-visibility accounts follow the narrative of “proving the ableists wrong,” by sharing content that broadcasts the message, “Sure I may be disabled, but watch me work just as hard as everyone else!” While that may be true for a person whose disability is static, or the same every day, my particular disability gives me good days and bad days, and most days, my workflow bears no resemblance to the early-riser, non-stop workday of the slickest and savviest Tiktok producers. 

More visibility of chronic illness culture might close the divide by reshaping the narrative of what productivity looks like while disabled. Show me the Instagram accounts with heating pads, pill organizers, plain language instructions, written-out schedules, mobility aids, and tinted glasses. (I’m being serious, please show me these accounts, I can’t find them and have the app literacy of a Reagan voter.)

The good news here is that if you’re like me, you might be reading this and thinking, “Oh thank $&@%#, I thought I was the only one!” You’re absolutely not. And the next time your feed shows you a skinny, white music producer in overpriced sunglasses with a caption crowing about their sleep deprivation and addiction to caffeine pills, give it just as much attention as it deserves by scrolling on by. 

Follow Mercedes here:
Instagram: @lysakercello, @contraformacello
Twitter: @lysakercello
YouTube: @contraformacello, @pokecello

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