Music and Mental Health: What makes the industry so vulnerable and what can we do to make a difference?

pexels-photo-551588.jpegWe’ve lost more than a few music icons in recent years, and far too many of those deaths have either been self-inflicted or the result of people battling addictions as some form of coping mechanism. These tragedies have far reaching effects, and shed a light on how even those that seem to have everything can be suffering in ways we can’t imagine. What often isn’t brought to people’s attention however is how the music industry as a whole is such a vulnerable target for mental health issues, particularly those individuals at the bottom of the ladder who are trying to make ends meet. But what makes musicians so susceptible, and what can artists, and us as music consumers, do to improve the situation? I’ve narrowed it down to three key issues. 

As social media becomes more deeply ingrained in our culture with each passing year, competition between artists becomes more prevalent. Having your work, an extension of yourself, reduced to mere numbers, be they sales, chart positions, review scores etc. must be pretty disconcerting. The constant strain of comparing yourself against others, and even just looking at trends regarding your own work, can cause a downward spiral leading you to create music for all the wrong reasons. There is enough room for everyone to create and share their music, there is simply put nothing to compete for in the first place. Artists need to bear in mind that there are no set definitions of success. The Beatles were rejected numerous times by record labels, music journalists of the time cared little about Led Zeppelin, and The Velvet Underground’s debut had exceedingly poor sales on its first release. Just because you see yourself failing to reach some career waypoint that others have achieved doesn’t mean you won’t get there eventually, we all live life at our own pace. Even if you never get there it doesn’t mean you can’t still make meaningful music. As a culture we need to focus more on the music that makes our world brighter, rather than tearing down artists purely because they aren’t our cup of tea, and artists need to focus on more on those that love their music rather than jump through hoops to please those that don’t.

The Creative Process
Inspiration is a fickle thing, coming and going as it pleases. There will be times when you are on fire, where you feel like you can do no wrong, and likewise there will be times when you have no idea where to even start. Imagine working a job in an office or a workshop somewhere, wherein at random points during the week your arms just fall limp by your side and you’re unable to make a living; that is what it’s like trying to work in a creative role, musical or otherwise. There’s a paranoia that you don’t know when inspiration will next strike, if indeed it ever will. A voice in the back of your head whispers: what if my best music is behind me and I can’t come up with another hit song? As with many of life’s problems, patience is the key. Sure, there are plenty of stories of mega-hits that were written in mere minutes as though people were  channelling the very muses themselves, but more often we hear of people that play around with the same ideas for years, refusing to give up, until one day it all just inexplicably clicks into place. You can’t force inspiration to strike, and the line of thinking that people are more creative when they’re depressed really doesn’t help matters, the best course is just to take all the time you need. There’s this modern fascination with remaining “relevant” but the truth is that real fans aren’t going to care how long the music takes, just so long as you give the creative process chance to take its course to ensure it is worth waiting for.

Trying to make a living as a musician can feel like an impossible task. It will take years of hard work with very little reward, and a hell of a lot of good luck, before you can consider yourself to have “made it”. There’ll be long nights and even longer drives, you’ll be playing in absolute dives in the middle of nowhere, being paid barely enough to even cover your petrol, all the while drifting further away from your friends and family. It’s physically and emotionally draining, the lack of a regular secure income is a constant worry, and the stress of touring alone can be enough to push people to breaking point. It’s important for artists to put their health and well-being first. They say when you love your job you never work a day in your life, but push yourself too hard and you risk losing all the joy you once found from making music and sharing it with the world. There’s no easy answer for this one from an artist’s perspective, but fans can make all the difference by supporting new music. Go to gigs, buy music and merch, spread the word and show your appreciation. All artists started here at the bottom, it’s only with public support that they can make it. Without people supporting new artists, music as we know it would just grind to a halt. Artists make enormous sacrifices to bring us the music we love and it’s only right that we help out in any way that we can.