A new buzzword emerged in the spring of 2020 — burnout. When Americans came to terms with the fact that working from home would be more than a few-week necessity, many experienced burnout first-hand. Grappling with feelings of overwhelming exhaustion and work-related anxiety heightened by a year of existing at home was common for weary workers and confined creatives. But for multi-hyphenate producer, programmer, and musician Laura Escudé, the quest to fight her own burnout had already begun long before the pandemic hit.
Escudé had been operating at full-speed-ahead since entering the music industry over two decades ago. Her list of accolades includes becoming the world’s first Ableton Certified Trainer, working as a show programmer for American Idol’s nineteenth season, and her primary role over the last decade was pioneering live show production for some today’s biggest artists like Kanye West, The Weeknd, and Iggy Azalea. Escudé was working non-stop, existing coolly under the high-pressure environment of sold-out stadiums, while also always creating music on her own.
She joined artists on global tours and televised performances, seamlessly switching up musicians’ audio or visuals on the fly. Fully indoctrinated by hustle culture, Escudé would attend late-night afterparties before waking up for early flights and doing it all over again. Before embarking on her own healing journey, she would go months on end without returning to her home in Los Angeles, using the glamor of her work life as an excuse for her constant grind. Until one day, everything changed. In 2016, Escudé was forced to take a step back when a health crisis caused the super-producer to reexamine her hustle. The move wasn’t out of her own volition, but she realized the push to be endlessly working wasn’t sustainable.
“I had a massive health breakdown, and through that was born this personal growth and need for me to focus on my health, wellness, and well-being,” Escudé told me in a phone conversation from her home studio a few weeks ago. “Especially as Americans, we’re ingrained to work harder, hustle harder, make more money, and achieve more success. I really didn’t spend enough time on my self-care and it was necessary for me to stop the hustle. But some people just keep going, going, and going until their bodies give out or something happens.”
Escudé eventually realized she wasn’t alone in her burnout within the music industry. In recent years, Justin Bieber cut his Purpose tour short due to burnout and Selena Gomez has been very forthcoming about her own mental health struggles and favorable experiences with therapy. “Before, artists didn’t feel safe enough to talk about [mental health],” Escudé said. “Especially when you’re a big artist, you’ve got hundreds of people working for you. You’re supporting them and their families and it’s really challenging to take time off or spend time alone by yourself, because you’re needed all the time.” Escudé’s health crisis helped her realize the necessity of establishing a safe space where artists could go to heal themselves and learn the tools to best care for their mental health — all while still working towards their career goals.
That’s how Escudé’s Transmute Academy was born. It’s an online platform that introduces accessible ways for artists to learn the technical side of music and live show production. The Academy also hosts courses for musicians to streamline their creative visions and boost their own brand. They even plan the occasional retreat to put best mental health practices in action. “I discovered the word ‘transmute’ and I just was taken with it,” Escudé recalled. “I thought it really exemplified everything that I wanted to do at that moment. Changing, or transmuting, my experience into something that was serving me better.”
For Escudé, proper self-care can be as simple as saying “no” to projects that don’t suit her. But even for a seasoned professional, balancing work, life, and mental health can be challenging. Escudé tackles this by trying to center the beginning of her days around more creative work. “I really try to map out my days and center it more around self-care now than I used to,” she explained.” I slow down and do things like yoga, meditation, and breath work. I mostly try to get to my creative stuff done sooner in the day so that I have more energy. That’s something that I’m working on now, trying to feel like I have a good balance between all the things that I have to do.”
Along with teaching artists the tools for living a balanced life, Escudé’s Transmute Academy creates initiatives aimed at propelling more women into the male-dominated music production world — a disparity she’s faced first-hand. When she began her live music production work twenty years ago Escudé was oftentimes the only woman in the room. She laid out how this affected her in a Medium article she penned about her healing journey last year. “I felt less and less in touch with my femininity as I was surrounded by all men living on a bus for months at a time,” she wrote. “I shrank from being ‘seen’ as a woman because I felt I needed to do that in order to stop from being hit on, to be respected, to prove myself and ‘fit in.’ I started to feel that I was an imposter in my own body.”
It may have been a slow process, but Escudé sees the paradigm beginning to shift. “It’s been exciting to see over the past couple of years that more and more women are in the [music] space and are being treated fairly,” she said. But she notes that there’s still a long way to go. “There’s a lot of work to be done with diversity, especially in places like the Grammys, but I know that they’re working on it. It has been promising to see more women in studios and in music spaces and producing. I just think the more dialogue that we all continue to have and the more initiatives there are to get women into the space of music, the more it’s going to tip the scales and the more opportunities there will be for women to get into these places.”
Escudé has come a long way since burnout got the best of her five years ago. She’s positioned herself as a mentor for younger artists and even shared her own music on stages across the globe. But, if she could go back and do it all again, there’s only one thing she would do differently — find her own voice. “[I would] discover more of who I am first, rather than trying to just create,” she reflected. “When I was early on, I was trying to make music that sounded like other artists. And that’s what a lot of young artists do, and that developed my sound over the years. But I think developing my unique sound early on is one of the things that I would give advice to myself and other artists out there.”
On her latest EP, Enoughness, Escudé has been able to focus back on her own sound. She made the decision to drop her previous Alluxe moniker and instead share the project under her own name. Released in May of this year, Enoughness represents another step for Escudé to support her own vision, on her own terms. “At a certain point, I got tired of separating [work] and just wanted to be myself and do everything under my own name,” she said. “That’s when things started to shift for me. I let go of the old me, which was very powerful for my growth.”