The Music Industry & Mental Health: Can Music Make You Sick?

16 Jun 2016

[Updated with video: June 7th]

From dubstep to orchestral players, stories of instances of psychological and emotional turmoil experienced by musicians as well as other members of the musical supply-chain are commonplace. Launched at The Great Escape on Friday 20th May as part of Help Musicians UK’s mental health campaign, this project marks the country’s first ever academic research into this issue, conducted by Sally Gross and Dr George Musgrave, University of Westminster / MusicTank. This research is reaching out to stakeholders across a broad age and genre range in pursuit of a more inclusive and holistic reflection of the state of musicians’ mental health and industry practice, and extends its focus beyond musicians to all those involved in the creative music process to include producers, sound engineers, re-mixers, composers, songwriters, live crew, labels and publishers.

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Intentionally provocative, the charity’s campaign, MAD – Music and Depression – seeks to find solutions, rather than simply starting conversations, and will be informed by this academic study, which will explore how the music industry can have a negative impact on the mental health of those working within it and investigate initiatives that can tackle some of the issues. Launching this research at The Great Escape convention, HMUK Chief Executive Richard Robinson said: “Today’s announcement represents a huge milestone for mental health in the music industry as well as new strategic direction for HMUK as the independent voice for musicians.  Help Musicians UK want to build a robust and effective service for those musicians with mental health issues – but we know we have to listen and be part of the conversation.  It is all too easy to suggest solutions but we believe our academic study will do more.  We want to build sustainable solutions”. [Read Help Musicians UK Press Release]

 
Said Sally Gross, academic lead, ‘Can Music Make You Sick?’: “For those of us living and working in the UK music industry, stories of instances of psychological and emotional turmoil experienced by musicians as well as other members of the musical supply chain are common place.” “We hear the cries of artists crushed as their songs are rejected by mainstream radio, nervous as they await news of record contracts, despondent as they leave stage from a poor performance, or heartbroken as their friends earn money while they still eat Super Noodles at 28 years old. “The pain is heard daily; in the lyrics of the songs they write, and in the screams of their public tweets, from Facebook to Radio 1 the news of the struggles and frustrations of working in the music industry are getting louder.  “Of course in a sense none of this is new, the history of music is the history of these struggles. However in the age of Austerity and the new knowledge economy it would appear these struggles are taking on a new dimension as the numbers of aspiring creatives has increased unimaginably and the unit value of music (if there every was such a thing) has economically imploded.”
 
These experiences are known only too well by the authors of this research project. Sally Gross has worked across many areas of the music industry from DIY record label owner to A & R at Mercury Records to International Business Affairs manager for the French independent record Label Ya Basta Records and music publisher Science et Melodie, as well as in artist management since starting out in 1990. Co-author, Dr. George Musgrave, was the first ever unsigned act to be placed on the MTV Brand New List in 2012 as ‘Context’, subsequently earning the support of Ed Sheeran, Mike Skinner, Plan B, and signing publishing and record contracts with EMI/Sony/ATV and Atlantic Records respectively.
 
Speaking about the project, Dr George Musgrave said: “We are really excited to be conducting the first-ever academic study of the complex relationship between the music industry and mental health. Many know the well-publicised stories of Amy Winehouse and others, but we are particularly interested in shining a light on the everyday experiences of those battling conditions which many have, until now, not felt able to speak about, and asking wider questions about the risks of music.”
 
Both are now academics working in the field of creative labour; Sally being the program director of, and George a Senior Lecturer on, the highly successful MA Music Business Management course at University of Westminster. It is from this perspective, as academics, practitioners, and academic practitioners that this research seeks to explore the dynamic emotional reality of life in the competitive world of the UK music industry.
 
Please help us to better understand the true picture of mental health by taking (and sharing) our short 5-minute survey Words of Support: “This research is a long over due opportunity to “see, focus upon and really deal with” some of the dark matters trapped within the industry looking glass, previously kept frosted over or only sensationalised when selling headlines and its all a bit too late….” Conrad Thompson ( PKA MC Conrad) “Any relationship needs to be healthy to be productive, and this research into the well-being of artists is a vital first step toward understanding what we need to do better as an industry to protect our artists and their art.” Andy Inglis, 5000 _______________________________________________
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5 thoughts on “The Music Industry & Mental Health: Can Music Make You Sick?”

  1. I know from experience that music can put more receptors into the human brain, this will help people in later life. It will also make you feel better in yourself.

    I believe that music should replace RE in the school curricula, more of us would benefit from this alteration.

  2. I think this is well-intentioned, but in some ways clunkily outlined – “the risks of music”. I don’t think “music” makes us ill. I think there is a link between the creative mind and mental health, and I also appreciate that the particular ups and downs on the music industry may (sometimes) cause poor mental health, as well as it amplifying existing mental health conditions. I hope that you have a therapist/psychologist to help steer and advise on this research :)

  3. Thanks for your time and interest. The focus of this work is on how working in music and the working conditions of the music industry impacts on individuals’ health, and intentionally targets anxiety, depression and substance addiction, which are the overwhelming causes of mental health issues in musicians and those working in the music industry, and very often linked to self-abuse. The findings from this research are certain to inform decisions about signposting and access to help and may well lead to other areas of study.

  4. Thank you for taking the time and interest in this aspect of the lives of musicians and creatives. Music, which can be such a wonderful source of solace and healing can also be a nightmare to its creators and practitioners through issues such as perfectionism, anxiety, self-doubt and substance abuse. Greater awareness and openness of these and other mental/emotional health issues is long overdue.

  5. Creatives that turn to music, art and substances to escape their dark reality, instead of dealing with difficulty can become very lost. The recent video featuring the Coral singer? resonated with me. We needn’t suffer as tortured artists, we are sold a youthful naive dream of being discovered, which if pursued and unrealised could lead to a lifetime of disappointment. As Andy and H say above, being in an unrewarding vocation, without mental strength to prevail, living with continual earworms, will accelerate any mental illness however slight, unless treated. Whether its money for nothing and chicks for free, or the 27 club, the music industry promotes bucking the trend, is dog eat dog and only the strongest luckiest stay, while others give up or go mad, the industry is a proponent of poor mental health, and does it care? No, show weakness you’re out, you’re only as good as your last gig. Sucks but I’m in. Music, you don’t just love it. It chooses you.

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