The Headfirst Support Act / A.I.M conference was finally rescheduled after multiple setbacks and Covid cancellations. What was it? The first Music industry / Performing arts conference with the sole focus of mental health and well-being, held on May 25th 2022 in Sydney.
I penned the title ‘Headfirst Into The Shadows’ because the conference content explored some pretty dark territory, having surveyed over 1300 people, getting a collective snapshot of music industry health. Until now as with much else in our society, such issues have been relegated to the shadows, largely unspoken about but driving some very destructive and counterproductive behaviour, that has been, largely for the last 50 years culturally perpetuated, ‘the rebellious rockstar, high flyer, drugs alcohol sex and scandal etc.
In a post Covid climate we did receive a few blessings from the situation, one was increased focus on Mental health and well-being, the other was people having more time on their hands due to lock downs to reflect deeply on where life is at and how what really matters to them individually and collectively. The post covid landscape is one of collective trauma. It was a collective introspection to be sure.
Mental health issues have been like stigmata for a long time, this is changing slowly. It’s not so long ago that people didn’t talk openly about the issues, except behind closed doors to trusted love ones, or, if they could a therapist. The norms we inherited from the baby boomers were just grin and bear it, get on with it and suffer in silence, unless of course we were lucky enough to have progressive parents that were part of the counterculture creating change and bringing greater awareness and consciousness to matters post 1960’s. Vietnam is not long ago, black power, free love, sexual liberation, women’s rights, the end of racial segregation. All this is within our lifetimes, all of this involves trauma and traumatised people. Traumatised people traumatise people as behavioural drivers become largely unconscious, not from a place of awareness. It is nobody’s fault. But trauma is like a hydra with insidious heads that permeate all aspects of one’s life, I know it well, as it has been a lifelong companion I have had to work hard to reverse, to both stay alive and practice my art.
A society deals with its problems by the collective by the perpetuation of its norms. They used to be inherited from the church and religious authorities but now such influence has waned. Now it is largely the state and collective agreements by guiding organisations of a progressive nature. Faith has been superseded by science, but in the process soul has been relegated to the closet. Anyway, I digress. Norms are inherited patterns and beliefs, nothing more. But we will fight to the death for them, even when they go against our inner moral compass or common sense, violating our own boundaries, this has bearing on the ways we cope as a society, as the main patterning or programming people receive and inherit is from parents, schools and the state. All of these levels of systemic dynamics need to be addressed as mental health problems are seldom just the individual, (who is diagnosed or not). It is individuals whom manifest the symptoms and behaviours of systemic ignorance, prejudice and fear. Creatives are often the black sheep, the ones who get projected on, blamed all these sorts of things. Creatievs also are risk takers, enjoy experimentation, exploring the boundaries of their own consciosuness often through illicit substances, but also spiritual practices which can often be demonised.
Musicians and music industry are prone to many forms of personal and collective dysfunction, leading to a host of occupational health issues and coping mechanisms that are unhealthy. Society celebrates the odd balls, the cultural rebels who live outside the matrix and often have tragic lives that are often plagued by addictive personalities. These individuals often live out collective demons and process the global psyche. In this regard the role of musician is as social alchemist, transforming the stuff of life experience into artistic form that others cannot.
Support Act did an industry wide survey and presented the findings at the conference, you can find that here (insert link). This blog was initially written pre conference and has had to be adapted, life has been too busy and crazy to finish it. There were some pretty confronting questions, but we need these ‘real lived experience perspectives’ to form a more suitable pathway of culture change.
Some of the questions covered
Illicit drug use and pharmaceuticalsS
Sexual harassment and discrimination
Suicidal tendencies and self harm
Experience of Mental health ( depression anxiety states)
MUSIC INDUSTRY ISSUES AND OHS
Life in the music industry issues can include long hours /lack of sleep/ exploitation or little pay, underpay occupational strain, repetitive strain injury ,hearing loss, long periods travelling, culture that supports and elevates a narrow band of collective artistry whilst not supporting lesser-known artists, lack of resources tools and organisation to support people, a culture of excess, hedonism, rebellion and self-abuse, separation from family and loved ones, poor diet and relationship fallout, addiction.
Social misunderstandings of artistic temperaments can create and worsen a whole host of mental health related issues. So, we’re now going into the shadows to bring light to these industry norms and hopefully discover a clearer picture based on both quantitative and qualitative research.We must shine a spotlight on where we can create cultural change. We simply must. Musicians and music industry are a core element of everyone’s lives, everyone consumes music, and for some their life depends on it, it’s their bread and butter. It is lifeline and therapy for its creators and listeners, it is cultural backdrop and fond memory, what underpins so much popular multimedia (café culture bars, pubs, stadiums, galleries, festivals, games, media, motion picture, apps, socials etc etc.
It is indeed the soundscape of our lives, the ears are the first sensory organ to come on line in the womb, and they never shut down till we die. We are always hearing; we can always listen deeper. Let’s learn to truly listen, to deeply listen to not only the melodies and rhythms of songs, but to the artists, their melodies and the rhythms of their hearts, souls and lives in the reflection of society that they are. We need our artists.
I went to the conference as research and will be launching services shortly that aim to be a bridge of sorts, at the grass roots to provide some of what is so sorely needed and lacking, a facilitated online Industry support circle to enhance community, comradery and self-care strategies. I will be launching a pilot via Zoom.
Problems arise for people due to the tension of inner and outer selves desires and conflicts, factors and influences that we are either equipped or unequipped to deal with. In the end, it comes back to ‘are we in touch with what matters or are we just applying Band-Aids and in denial?’. It can be scary to accept, to confront and dispel dark clouds of our own soul and the collective soul. We have a long way to go, and the music industry will indeed benefit from this increased mindfulness effort.
Support Act/ A.I.M are leading the way with initiatives and services such as Mental Health First Aid training and with this brilliant conference, let’s hope it’s the first of many such. Society listens to its artists, as creative bearers of our soul nature and all its facets. Let’s support the artists/ musicians, crew and allied industry who bring so much value to our lives, in all facets of the Industry. Time to come out of the shadows
Stay tuned for Part 2 a reflection of findings and a research-based presentation.
Join me in a Peer Support Space discussing all things artists life, vocation, production, creative process and visioning, O.H.S, well being, please register here for Zoom Pilot starting Friday 16th at 1.30pm A.E.S.T