Many musicians have mental health issues. Most common are depression, anxiety disorder and addiction. The singer of the first European tour I booked, got hooked to drugs again during the tour. While on drugs he got paranoid and accused me of stealing his money and lots of other stuff. After the tour, sober again, he apologized sincerely and wanted me to work for him again. Thanks, but no.
Who is responsible for the mental health of musicians?
I could start with the fans. In the case above, it was a fan who brought the drugs, assuming that he would do the musician a favour with it. Sometimes a fan can have a negative influence, like here. Fans can also have a positive influence, by the energy and money they spent on the musician. Musicians need fans, if they want to make money with their music.
Fans want to have a close relationship with their idol. Still, the contact between musician and fan is not personal enough to hold fans responsible for the mental health of musicians.
Agents and promoters?
When looking at people in the music business, I want to start on the live side, with promoters and agents. They put on shows for the musician. Shows can be a major source of anxiety for the musician. Chester Bannington took his life just before a new tour was about to start. Agents and promoters control the conditions of the show, the time schedule, the backstage rooms, the catering. Those conditions can amplify the mood of a musician for good of for worse, but they are not the course of mental health issues.
From my personal experiences as agent and as promoter I can tell, that I don’t know the musicians well enough to know what they personally would need to increase their mental health. In the case above, I wasn’t aware that the artist had a drugs problem, and couldn’t do anything during the tour in preventing him to take more drugs.
On the recording side you have A&R managers of the label. They take care of the musician by reserving part of the budget for the musician to engage an independent lawyer to advise on the contract. A colleague musicians-coach recently mentioned, that labels should include as well a budget for a personal coach or for a mental coach for the musician. I like the idea.
But for a label it would only make sense, if the contract with the musician is for several albums. And even though, labels want the artist to deliver a product they can sell. Once the product is ready, after recordings, mastering etc., they can make money without the artist being around.
Often I find A&R managers mentioning the suffering-artist myth. Why should labels invest in the mental health of a musician, if a mental crisis might result in an even better selling album?
The person that stands most closely to the musician is the manager. The mental health of you as a musician should be in his/her best interest. A good manager will try to create the best possible circumstances for every specific musician he/she is working for.
For that, the manager needs to know every musician very well. How long will this specific musician need to record a new album? Does the other musician need silence in order to write new songs, or does he/she need new impressions to get inspired? How long can you make a tour before exhaustion will kick in?
The tour of Adele was obviously too long for her vocal chords, even though the management planned quite a lot off-days in between the shows. Even a manager can’t control everything. He/she can’t put the musician in a cage to prevent any harm.
Than there is the musician him/herself, of course. As a musician, you are responsible for your own behaviour, just like every other person. The choices you make will reflect on your health, physically and mentally.
If you choose to eat junk food all the time, you know that you are ruining your waste line and your heart. With taking care of your mental health it’s a bit more complicated, you have to know a bit about yourself.
My sister needs people around herself to feel comfortable, it gives her energy. I need time for myself, a walk in the woods to relax. You need to know what works best for you to relax, to get ready for a show, to get inspired. Still, as a musician you often can’t avoid the anxiety of live shows, or the ‘down’ after the adrenaline kick of a show, or the temptations of alcohol and drugs.
Set-up of the music industry
The set-up of the music industry makes it pretty difficult for anyone to take care of the mental health of a musician. As a musician, you are working for entertainment of others. Good contacts with friends and family play an important role in maintaining your mental health. But the irregular working hours for musicians make it difficult to maintain good relationships with people from outside the music industry.
Every psychologist would recommend a regular life with good routines to support your mental health. As a musician you know how difficult it is to incorporate it in your irregular life. Many musicians don’t even realize, that they are more vulnerable for mental health problems than other people. Fortunately, in the last year this subject has been discussed in public more often.
Who is responsible?
In the end, I think that it’s down to you as the musician again, to take care of your mental health. The music industry has a role to play in this as well.
Even tough the music industry is not responsible, it can play a role in supporting you in taking care of your mental health. The music industry can create the right conditions to make it easier for musicians to take care of their mental health.
It could start as simple as promoters offering a cheerful dressing room with a window for daylight, one of the things you can do against depression, or labels realizing that healthy musicians make even better albums, or managers empowering musicians in taking care of themselves and of their mental health.
Do you think the music industry can support musicians in taking care of their mental health?
Please share your ideas and good practice here.