When Danielle Partis was just a teenager, she was mocked for taking a notebook and camera to gigs. She was even told by an editor of a local blog that she would never write for Metal Hammer and that her work was merely “passable”.
Despite being diagnosed with Chronic Fatigue Syndrome and Fibromyalgia at just twenty-one years old, Danielle not only went on to write for Metal Hammer but has established herself as a prominent figure in video games journalism. As co-founder of Overlode (an independent games publication) and editor of PocketGamer.biz (a leading video game website that focuses on mobile, portable and handheld games), her voice in the gaming industry undoubtedly serves as an inspiration for both women, and disabled aspiring journalists.
We got a chance to speak to Danielle about her success in video games journalism and how her disabilities have affected her journey.
Born from the innovation of her long-term friend Harry and his friend Jordan, both of whom were interested in setting up an independent outlet, Overlode became a popular space in games journalism, that would favour and spotlight rising talent and minorities in the industry.
“I kind of wanted to be on board anyway because I will just stick my fingers in any kind of projects that I get my hands on,” Danielle says.
With her previous experience of running a website, Danielle had an essential role in bringing their vision into fruition. “I really liked their concept and what they had going on. They just kind of needed a little bit of guidance.”
“It was a combination of just creating something a little bit different from my day job (because that’s very business orientated), and just setting up a kind of grassroots project with two people that I really like. I think their work is great and so yeah, it just it just kind of fell into place.”
Though initially set up as a “side hustle”, the project has developed from the joint work and vision of three people to being funded through Patreon. With regards to the future, Danielle expresses her hopes that Overlode will progress to becoming more sustainable, employing writers’ long term as well as offering up commissions.
Despite the gaming industry being very London-centric, Danielle roots in Hull are rigid. Yet by working remotely from home, she has been able to connect with other industry professionals all over the world.
“I think initially I was incredibly lucky with the position that I got at Steel Media that I’m still at almost four years later, because while the company is technically based in Bath (we have a HQ in Bath), everyone that works there works remotely. So, it really wasn’t an issue for me to kind of jump in. Although that did come with a lot of traveling around and going to events and things, I was able to have this quite high-profile role and this responsibility from home. That’s something that has obviously stayed with me as the role has progressed, and as my career has progressed as well.
Conscious of the south-centric reality of the media and journalism scene, Danielle and her team at Overlode aspire to even the scales by staying located up north.
“We wanted to sort of become a beacon for people that think that they can only curate these high-profile careers and roles if they go to the locations where this kind of stuff thrives. We kind of want to say no you don’t have to do that – you can build this from anywhere.”
With the pandemic forcing industries to adapt to remote learning and working from home, Danielle feels that at least one positive message about accessibility has been illuminated in people’s everyday lives: “You don’t need to be in the right place at the right time – you can just create whatever you want to create from anywhere.”
Since the Covid-19, she jokes that her typical day mirrors Groundhog Day due to its repetitive nature. Her full-time job enforces a busy routine that has her working on multiple projects at once.
“I’m up eight or nine in the morning and I log in to talk to my team because I have two very lovely full-time staff members and we set what we’re going to do for the day. Then my day job is just running Pocketgamer.biz. So, I’ll be doing anything from interviews and features, kind of deep dives and then I will spend my lunch breaks and early evenings doing Overlode stuff.”
“My late evening is either spent playing games with friends, catching up on stuff that I’ve missed or doing a bit of writing for Overlode. I think that was another reason I was so keen to get involved with it because I wanted to do more creative writing again outside of the very business focused stuff that I do at work.”
Looking back at her own success, Danielle expresses that it feels almost surreal. Five years ago, she describes a life in which she was struggling with money and a place to live, completely blindsided by the pressure of making her career sustainable. But with dedication, discipline, and an unwavering desire to work, she secured a freelancing job at Metal Hammer which led onto the life she currently leads as co-founder of Overlode and Editor at Pocket Gamer.
“It was like a massive amount of luck as well,” she admits, “but I think that if you just keep going and you keep taking the creative stuff seriously then you will eventually make an imprint.”
“I still even now catch myself like looking around at the things that I do, even like the apartment that I live in and that I’m able to have this kind of life for myself just with money that I earn from writing. It is still mind-blowing so many years on.”
Despite the criticism she was met with as a teenager for taking reviewing gigs seriously when she was not being paid, she didn’t let the ridicule get to her. In fact, she argues that resolute attitude at the cost of so-called ‘street cred’ benefited her in the long run.
“In my head I was like if I want to do this as a job as a career you have to take this small stuff seriously,” she says. “You have to act like everything is serious – not in a kind of way where you take yourself too seriously and you become a little bit of a wanker about it – but you know, you have to treat everything as a serious task, whether you’re reviewing like a local gig down the pub or you’re at the O2, it’s all the same thing it’s all the same skill set.”
Danielle’s advice to budding creatives is both realistic and reassuring. Having gone through the financial struggles herself, she admits that deviating from an intended career path is often necessary in order to pay the bills and get into the industry that you want to be in.
“I remember working in a call centre and thinking oh this is it for me now, working in a call centre I failed at my path, and it’s like no, it’s just another step isn’t it? It’s another tool to enable you to get where you want to be… don’t be afraid to kind of divert from the path a little bit and do something that might not be the direction that you’re heading in, even if it’s just so you can pay the bills.”
With regards to games journalism in particular she reiterates the importance of working in working in various formats: “even if you’re just writing on a blog and you’re reviewing the games that you that you can get hold of. Or reviewing music or whatever. As long as you’re doing something that is keeping you developing that particular skill then that is beneficial to you.”
Due to the small nature of the music and games industry, reputation is a major factor in attributing success according to Danielle. She particularly warns against misusing social media and creating an unappealing online presence as these industries are already so competitive and saturated.
“I’ve seen people that are in positions hire new people who literally won’t hire somebody if they’ve posted an annoying tweet or something,” she says. “I think that’s wild because that you know what you say in a personal social media space ideally shouldn’t dictate your professionalism. Probably the most opportunities that I’ve had in my career so far, is just by being kind and not thinking that things should be handed to me, because it’s all luck ‘cos nobody owes you anything in any of these spaces.”
On reflection, Danielle expresses gratitude for own disabilities due to the effect it had on her motivation to hone her skills. Prior to her diagnosis she describes a very busy life scouring local gigs that didn’t give her much of a chance to seriously cultivate her abilities.
“I mean it felt worse at the time, but in hindsight it made me really focus down on like bettering my skills as a writer because I had nothing else to do,” she says. “I was housebound and struggling to manage these disabilities and all I could do was write. I was like, well, this is my strongest skill set. I have to make to make this work if I’m going to live and I did, and it obviously paid off.”
Though she has a more positive outlook on her disabilities now, she is open about the downsides as well – “it feels like you are working twice as hard as everyone around you to achieve half as much,” she says.
“I have a really good team that’s really understanding of my disabilities, but it can feel like that and it can also feel sometimes that opportunities are kind of closed off to you because of your disability.”
Even though society is slowly becoming more accessible, there are still instances in which those with disabilities are not considered; Danielle has encountered many accessibility issues with live events in the game industry, citing 8-hour conferences in particular that do not consider her chronic fatigue.
She recounts one such instance of inaccessibility: “I remember going to a party that was on the top floor of a car park – like an abandoned car park – and there wasn’t a lift, and it was just sort of an oversight on every level of accessibility. But I feel like I am in a very privileged position now that people are aware and accommodating of my illnesses, which makes my job a lot easier.”
As someone with a growing presence in the gaming industry, Danielle hopes to be a beacon for others with limiting disabilities and has a desire to help other people like her get to such a distinguished level. Her story is one of encouragement to those who feel like their disabilities are robbing them of their dreams.
“[Your disabilities are] not going to stifle you because there are people here now that will help you up, that will help you get to these same heights and I think that something that’s really important to me – making sure that there is space here now for people like me, not in the way that it was when I was trying to get here.”
“The road to more accessibility to more inclusion gets better when there’s at least one person in a room of decision makers that has experienced or lived with a particular ailment and that can be, you know, a physical disability, it could be a mental disability, it could be, you know, somebody of a different race. You have rooms of white people making decisions and it only takes like one person of colour in a room to say, actually, this is a bad decision. It’s the same for me if I’m the only disabled person in a room of these decision makers.”
Negativity is undoubtedly an obstacle all creatives face and sometimes it’s spite that drives them forward as opposed to talent or determination. Danielle argues that this is partly the case for herself too when citing a time when she was 15 and dismissed by an editor for a local blog. Those discouraging words stuck with her and were proved wrong eight years later when she went onto write for one of the world’s most famous heavy metal magazines.
“I will use a Ginger Wildheart quote; he said in a song ‘Fuck all the experts with all due respect, because no one’s an expert in what’s coming next.’ I think that’s true… nobody knows what’s going to happen next and you know it might be you and you will never see it coming. So just keep working you know, if you have a dream and you have a goal just keep working towards it and keep taking it seriously and keep trying.”
Kind, encouraging and inspiring, Danielle Partis’ final words are a helping hand to those who are in a similar situation to what she was in as a young adult.
“I am now in a position where I can help somebody else, like don’t ever be afraid to reach out to me, because I will try my best to give you some kind of actionable advice to help you grow the thing that you want to grow.”
Interview: Dom Smith / Words: Jay Mitra
Born in 1981, Rachel Jepson started getting into music in the late 80s and 90s. Tricky, Martina Topley-Bird, Juliana Hatfield and Jill Scott sound tracked her youth. As she grew older, she got into making music herself by singing in a big band. Currently, Rachel is now a qualified counsellor, mother, radio presenter, author and one half of acoustic act, Black Lake Hotel. Though it was initially her plan to make her name through music, Rachel is now an esteemed professional in the mental health sector and gained global recognition and support through founding her company ‘Counselling for Musicians’ in 2017. Her service has worked with organisations such as the NHS, BUPA and AnxietyUK and strives to fill the gap in mental health support and awareness surrounding those in the music industry.
We got a chance to talk to the ‘Women in Music Award’ nominee and founder of Counselling For Musicians about her brilliant work in the music and mental health sector.
In January and February 2020, her band Parent recorded their EP, the band was booked for a few gigs, but it didn’t happen due to coronavirus. Despite the pandemic halting live music, Rachel hasn’t let that stop her from being creative during lockdown. Going forward as a musician, Rachel tells us her band are in the process of writing an album. Throughout lockdown, the band collaborated with an animator to do a music video. The video was released on Halloween and won Judge’s Choice at an anime video awards ceremony. Alongside musical talents, Rachel is also an established writer – it was this that catapulted her into founding Counselling for Musicians.
“I wrote an article for Therapy Today and the editor at the time, Catherine Jackson, was really encouraging for what I was doing, and it made me think oh okay, maybe I could do this on a larger scale,” Rachel explains.
“[I can] actually write a book and put some client transcripts in there because that was basically what the article was and then yeah, I kind of ran with that. I was also at the time hosting a radio show. Musicians and industry professionals would come in and talk to me about their experiences with mental health, so those two things really inspired me to write the book.”
Her book “Mental Health In The Music Industry: A Guide,” expanded on the article she wrote for Therapy Today and was separated into 12-13 chapters detailing mental health related issues she felt were most prevalent in the music industry. Her analysis of case studies including Kurt Cobain and Boy George forces people to change the way they look at artists. She breaks down their experiences and encourages critical thinking around the music industry. The book explores the importance of removing people from a pedestal that will only do them more harm than good.
The journey from musician to mental health professional has transformed Rachel’s definition of success. “For me it’s definitely changed over the years,” she says. “But that’s a natural thing as your needs change, as your situation changes, your circumstances… success to me now is to make a good living out of something you enjoy doing and possibly on another note, being well known for it? But that again, has become a fairly recent thing for me. I know that a lot of people want to be the next big thing and famous for what they’re doing – that definitely eased off for me. I don’t think I wanted to be like the next big thing – I just really loved singing.”
On her own journey and progress, Rachel admits to the life-altering change she underwent as she began to train as a counsellor.
“Once you start on the therapy training and all that kind of stuff, you just carry on doing it for the rest of your life,” she explains. “You’re always growing, always developing, I love having my mind open about stuff. I love admitting that I’m wrong about something or that maybe that I’ve had a different view on something that is maybe not quite right. Or that I was quite narrow-minded about something. I love that I can change my definition of things, you know, depending on my circumstances and what’s happening to me. It’s a process, it’s always flowing, always fluid, that’s what I love about mental health and being in this world, it’s just great.”
The exact moment Rachel decided to make the decision to counsel for the music industry was an intimate one – in the comfortable silence of rocking her three-month-old (at the time) baby to sleep.
“I always had a lot of time to think in those moments,” she says. “A lot of things were born in those moments, a lot of thoughts that I had, and it’s something that I thought about whilst I was finishing up my training because I’ve researched provision for mental health in music. I can’t remember what kind of inspired to do that, maybe I’d been struggling a bit with my mental health and was starting to realise that maybe that was to do with my experiences in music.”
After researching it, Rachel found a few charities and organisation that offered help to musicians, but nobody was doing counselling at that time. “I say at that time because that’s changed massively,” she adds. “And I kind of came back to that moment when I was rocking my son and thinking okay this is something I can actually do. In a few months when I’m off maternity leave, I’m gonna really explore this, I’ve got to do this. So yeah, I met up with someone from Help Musicians and we shared ideas going forward with counselling. Then I founded Counselling for Musicians a few months later and haven’t really looked back. Basically, I just kind of pestered a lot of people – like I’m a counsellor, I’m a musician, and you know I can offer this.”
But it turns out her ‘pestering’ paid off and she secured work with institutions like BIMM to provide counselling for musicians. Her personal history as a performer in the music industry helped provide her with valuable transferrable skills that combatted her initial nerves and anxieties as a newly qualified counsellor.
‘I remember specifically in that first placement session, before they turned up thinking this is it now, this is what you wanted to do, this is the moment, you’re gonna be great. I remember thinking you’ve got up on stage to thousands of people like that is…this is you know nothing compared to that. Of course, you know you can’t really compare that as it is you know just as nerve-wracking to be with one person.”
“I remember kind of specifically saying that to myself and I do sometimes when I’m doing a workshop or something that I’m a bit nervous about. I’ll think you’ve got you’ve gone into like massive places and loads be like this is nothing compared to that and I don’t know whether that’s necessarily true but it’s what I tell myself in those moments.”
When discussing her hopes for the industry Rachel hopes management companies and labels start investing money into counsellors and being mindful of the mental health of their clients.
“I think that it would be really beneficial if that happened. If management companies and record labels put a budget aside for mental health. I know some are, not the major labels as far as I know, but there are smaller labels that are still doing quite well.
Considering the recent, shocking documentary Framing Britney and its exposé on how the music industry can destroy an individual’s mental health, Rachel’s emphasis on the need for support for musicians is especially poignant. “Personally, I believe that and there does need to be when someone goes in and signs a contract,” she stresses. “In that scenario, there does need to be a ‘right this is what we’re doing to help you with your mental health and well-being, and this is what we’re putting in there.’ I don’t see why that couldn’t happen – they’ve got a responsibility to make sure that you know people are safe and feel okay, [and that] there is a provision for them to go to if they’re feeling down or they need some help with something.”
One of the key issues Rachel wishes to combat, is changing the narrative of the disposability of musicians. People are made to feel that if they don’t cave into what management wants of them, that they’ll be replaced – this is an experience Rachel has experienced herself 20 years ago.
“That is still happening now,” she says, “So that is really disappointing and there definitely needs to be a bit of a switch of ‘right we understand that you’re struggling, these things need to be done at some point, but right now you know, what do you need? If you can’t do these things, maybe we can put it on hold and maybe we could just do it in a little bit of time.’ There’s no HR department is there? There’s nobody to sit down with and say ‘my boss is doing this, my boss is saying this, I find it really difficult, I need a week at home but I can’t because they won’t let me take any time off.’ There’s nobody like that so it’s very much you’re lucky to be here, and if you don’t want to do it, someone else is going to do it. That whole culture for me massively needs to change.”
With regards to the future, Rachel is currently working on a Masters but hints that there’s a PhD in the pipeline. She plans to continue trying to change and incorporate things into the industry, as well as representing more musicians. As she is doing counselling on her own, she doesn’t have to deal with the politics of charities and instead, can offer an authentic service as a musician who has overcome her own struggles with mental health.
Counselling for Musicians offers a two-hour workshop for music students that educates them on the mental health implications of joining the music industry. As well this, she provides one-to-one and group counselling sessions that have been taking place over videocall throughout the pandemic, which has simultaneously allowed her to connect with clients all over the world. However, Rachel is eager to get back to face to face appointments. Rachel’s message for people looking into her work is a compassionate one. She says there is no pressure to contact her unless you feel it’s time to make that step but that she’d love to hear from anybody who wants to come to her for help.
If you are a musician or work in the music industry and are struggling with your mental health – there is help available. Reach out for it.
Check out more of Rachel Jepson’s work below:
Facebook: Rachel Jepson