Forget Blue Monday, its blue every day for music industry professionals.
Written by Bryony Wilshaw
Mental ill-health is no foreign concept in the music industry, nor is suicide. In March, The Prodigy’s front man, Keith Flint, was found hanging at his home in Surrey aged 49 years old. Behind the blazon and bolshie bravado was a man who battled with depression for years, it would eventually end his life. Like Flint, so many others in the music industry have committed suicide due to mental ill- health: Ian Curtis, Kurt Cobain, Chris Cornell and Chester Bennington, just to name a few.
A recent survey conducted by Skiddle, showed that 80% of music industry professionals suffer with stress, anxiety and depression and 1 in 10 say they have developed OCD (obsessive compulsive disorder) as a direct result of their work in music. So what are the factors that link the music industry to poor mental health?
There are a number of circumstances that can exacerbate mental ill-health when it comes to working in the music sector: anti-social working hours, financial instability, industry competitiveness and the highs and lows of performing for musicians.
Liam Deakin, lead guitarist of Birmingham based indie band ‘The Clause’ has struggled with his mental health over the years. The band have achieved a lot in their short time together, from selling out shows and tours, to hundreds of thousands of streams on music content platforms. However, behind the success Liam was struggling with to cope with mental ill-health.
“I don’t think people realise from the outside view how hard it is to keep mentally well in the music industry. Sometimes, when my mind’s not in the right place, I can’t wait for a gig to be over. During one of our after parties with family and friends I couldn’t deal with everything that was going on and had to leave.”
Liam also went on to explain how being in a band is definitely romanticised and how easy it is to constantly measure your own success against others.
“People think it’s playing to hundreds of people every night, drinking and partying and getting loads of attention. But what they don’t realise is that it’s not always like that, it’s playing your first gig to 4 people and feeling like a let-down, going through the same music over and over until you get it right, to the point that it drives you crazy. The scariest of all is constantly wondering why you aren’t where you 'should be'.”
Like Liam, many artists and industry professionals struggle with their work-life balance and mental health.
Help Musicians UK is a charity that supports musicians, whether they are just starting out, right into retirement. Music Minds Matter, a service set up by the charity, provides support for those who are suffering with mental ill-health. They offer free counselling and CBT over the phone or online, from qualified counsellors.
The Music Managers Forum (MMF) produced a guide on mental health which talks about all sorts of mental health related issues experienced in the music industry. It covers anxiety and depression, alcohol and drug addiction, the feeling of 'imposter syndrome' and work balance and boundaries. Their belief is that anybody in the music industry who reaches out for help, should get it – quickly, from appropriately trained people with experience within music industry.
Whilst it seems as though the music industry is beginning to recognise the need to open up about the effects of work-related mental health, there is also the issue of glamorising and monetising mental health and suicide. It’s no secret that the music industry, along with most other creative industries have used mental health conditions as a market driver. Back in 2017, grime artist Stormzy publicly condemned NME, saying they used him as a ‘poster boy’ for depression to make money. The publication used a picture of Stormzy on their front cover with the coverline ‘Depression: it’s time to talk’. Whilst it appeared to readers NME had interviewed the grime artist, it turned out they pulled his words from a channel 4 interview without permission.
However, Manchester Creative Collective director, Wendy Smith, says the problem lies within the wider media:
“I don’t feel believe the music industry glamorises the mental health issues. I think that the wider media has a huge role to play in how it portrays those with mental health issues. There needs to be a switch in how we view and report on those in the public eye, full stop. Every element of our life is up for scrutiny now. How we dress, look, think. The media is so intrusive and lacks compassion.”
The Manchester creative collective is a non-profit industry networking community, which holds events each month with the intention of offering a space for emerging and established music industry professionals to come together. Wendy says it’s up to people as individuals to harbour responsibility to not only care for themselves more proactively, but also adopt more compassion for those around.
It’s clear to see the music industry is taking steps to becoming a more mentally healthy environment for its workers, however it needs to become consistent across all of its sectors.
Whether you’re a performing artist, an A&R director, tour manager or a booking agent, constant support should be there when needed. The world seems to be taking mental health more seriously, let’s hope the music industry can become a thriving and healthy sector to work in for all involved.
If you’ve been struggling with your mental health or are having suicidal thoughts, or you know somebody who is, these are the numbers to call to get some help.
Samaritans: 116 123
CALM: 0800 58 58 58
Papyrus (for those under 35): 0800 068 41 41
Childline (for children and young people under 19): 0800 1111
The Silver Line (for the elderly): 0800 4 70 80 90