Can the music business support musicians in taking care of their mental health? 18

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?

The fans?
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.

Musicians themselves?
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.


Leave a comment

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.

18 thoughts on “Can the music business support musicians in taking care of their mental health?

  • Darrin

    I completely agree with the perspective you have here. We are the custodians of our personal welfare physically, emotionally, and mentally. Practice moves the musician away from the audience and closer to the music. The audience moves the musician closer to connectivity but further from music. Somewhere in between is the happy medium that creates the magic in the moments. The problematic point to ponder is that this is a very dynamic process that is always moving and changing. Not everyone recognizes this and to a large degree, that’s like having a map without a compass or a compass with no map. The final destination is largely a matter of luck.

    The same thing applies to issues related to a musicians personal welfare. Issues intuitively implied while not being entirely understood are typically very difficult to pin down. Adding to the problem a dynamic environment is like trying to hit a moving target and not being allowed time to aim before shooting. The important thing to realize is that entertaining is not the same thing as performing. This means that being a walking train wreck may actually sell more units than being a healthy, well-adjusted performer. The musician must face questions about the nature of his or her relationship with the outcome of the game and how it works with their initial goal. Does reality really reflect what the musician imagined? More important, does what they imagine reflect a realistic expectation? If not, then what?

    The reason why this is important is because how it affects the musicians health and wellbeing over time. Is what they are doing actually reflect what they dream of doing? If the answer is “yes”, then they’re in a position to be able to manage their personal welfare effectively. If the answer is “no”, then
    the possibilities become tenuous at best. This is largely where the vast majority of musicians with mental health issues find themselves without a clear direction for finding answers.

    Being responsible for ones personal welfare and actually in a position to do something effectively about it are two different things. The most important thing to realize about work related issues is that happiness happens in the home and not at work. Unhappiness is usually associated with problems at home and not within the work environment. A happy, healthy, and fulfilling home environment is the foundation for a happy, healthy, and fulfilling life. Get the foundation right and the rest will follow.

    • hildespille Post author

      Thanks for your comment, Darrin. For musicians, it’s often difficult to distinguish between work and private. Music is always around you, and for most family and friends it’s something to be entertained by, while it’s work for the musician. I think that musicians need to find a very special balance between private and work, to have a happy, healthy and fulfilling life. The foundation is very important indeed!

  • Eldon

    i can only speak for myself on this subject, so I’ll briefly tell my story. I have asperger’s syndrome and it has been both a blessing and a curse. On the blessing side of the equation it has fueled my obsession with music, songwriting and singing. On the cursed side, I am socially challenged; I don’t make eye contact, I can be counted on to say the wrong thing, I avoid confrontation and people confound me. I have been treated for depression and frankly just didn’t like the me the prescription drugs – and I went through a number of them – created. So in the end I simply stopped taking the drugs all together: choosing the devil I know instead of someone unfamiliar. Within this context I believe the artist owns the lion’s share of responsibility, however the artist also needs someone to hold them accountable for their behavior and choices.

    • hildespille Post author

      Thank you for sharing your experience, Eldon! In order to take care of once own mental health, you have to know yourself a bit. Fortunately you do, so you know how to deal with the ‘devil’ you know.
      Despite the responsibility for ones own mental health, I think that there are too many practices in the music business that make it extra hard for musicians to take care of their own health. It’s difficult enough, so why shouldn’t the business support musicians in this, instead of working against them?

  • Kelly Beaman

    Excellent article, Hilde! Thank you for bringing it to our attention. Having been a fairly successful musician for several years, my mental health essentially ended it. Before, I performed in night clubs and later toured nationally, once to Madison Square Garden and Mexico City. I maintained a day job during which I cat-napped (on the subway and in the office), so obviously I was an insomniac. Later, I became an Air Force musician, but instead of focusing on my instrument (trombone), I was distracted by other things like recording technology, keyboard skills and composition. When it came to my proficiency on my trombone, I did not pass muster. Frustrated, I left the service and moved to New York City. My doctor discovered a case of hypothyroidism. I wish he had discovered my bipolar disorder, but that would not come for about six years when my grandmother was similarly diagnosed. I started on Depakote, then lithium and finally quetiapine. I receive them from Dr. Eugene Oliveto and Dr. Arlene Garcia here in the Omaha area. They are excellent with me and I would recommend them highly should you need any additional assistance. Once I started my treatment, my life got much better, but I no longer perform as a musician. I enjoy writing, arranging and producing for various clients and collaborators. Of course, part of the reason I no longer perform is because I found my true love in Omaha where there are few performance opportunities. But I wouldn’t trade my good mental health for all the gigs in world. I would, however, take both.


    I work in the music industry in Texas with approximately 45 artists. My college area of expertise was psychology and I never thought I would find that a useful tool in business. Boy, was I wrong!
    90% of these young people suffer from substance abuse issues or depression and the other 10% have lead singer disease. Fans continuously shove drinks or other substances at them and are offended when the artist does not have a drink with them. Even when the artist is well-intentioned, they tend to compromise simply because they think they must. They have nowhere to be able to interact with others who might be in the same boat without fear of the public knowledge that they are doing so.
    Our goal as an agency is to call them out and attempt to help them when we see it occurring. There are days that being part of a booking agency means you are part parent, psychologist or the jailer. Our industry as a whole must do a better job of helping those with mental health issues.

    • hildespille Post author

      Thank you. In the UK there are already several companies who work with the mental health of musicians. How is the situation in Italy?

  • Dean Hailstone

    Some good tips in this article. I believe that there are many things a musician can do to improve their mental health. This can be healthy eating and exercise through to meditation.

  • Rade

    I don’t know how we can talk about the mental health of musicians without noting the absence of entitlements compared to other industries, such as a minimum wage or sometimes even the expectance of getting paid at all. Having a very unpredictable source of income would detrimentally affect anyone. Dare I say that the lack of monetary return and respect given to musicians sends a message that while music matters, the people who make it do not.

    • Hilde Spille Post author

      Hi Rade,
      I fully agree. Recently I wrote again about fair payment of musicians:
      It is not only for musicians, but also for many other people working in the music industry. The live music business relies on volunteers, at venues and at festivals, while for example Michael Rapino, CEO of Live Nation, was one of the top 3 most earning CEO’s in the USA last year. The gap is far too big!
      I heard people talk about solidarity among musicians, a solidarity-fee of € 1 for every ticket that is more expensive than € 50 for example, and that solidarity-fee can be used to pay musicians that don’t earn so much money.
      Looking forward to hear from you how you think about it.
      Take care,