Musicians Matter- Musicians Mental Health

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Musicians mental health

This year I will cover a broad spectrum of musicians mental health and well-being related topics,  thoughts and services because ‘musicians matter’.

I will also offer my services, some self-development workshops or day retreats to focus on musicians, their craft and our place in the world. That said, Musicians Matter – Mental Health coincides with a greater focus by Makeshift and Support Act (The Heart and Hand of Australian music), supported by funding from the Australian government. They have upped the anti with education campaigns and training for Mental Health First Aid, which I just completed in a well-structured short course that can be done online. I have qualifications as a counsellor/ creative arts therapist and have also studied Creativity Coaching with Eric Maisel. These areas combined are a field of service I intend to specialise in, musicians matter support services, music lessons, musician mentor-ship (craft, production, release) and creativity coaching and mental health support and advocacy.

I’d like to start this year’s focus, by asking you to reflect on how important music has been in your life and to also reflect on how important it has been and still is, cross culturally all over the world?. Every culture has a musical history and legacy. Our known preoccupation with music-making goes back at least 40,000 years, as attested by primitive animal bone flutes relics.

Our ancestors erected marvels of architecture even in the megalithic age to amplify and focus the acoustic properties of site for ritual, ceremony and state change. Among the classical sciences of ancient Greece  (source of modern musical modes) were geometry, number, music and cosmology. These ancient sciences and understandings, are not unique to one culture; the understanding of symmetry, vibration, balance, harmony and form permeate architecture. As a natural result enabling creation of acoustically resonant spaces for human beings to engage in sonically, producing amazing results of space and ambiance. Music is a prime expression of the harmony of all things, it embodies universal principles.

2021 is still somewhat an unknown equation, in a post-Covid environment. 2020 was devastating for music and many other industries. Whilst I had penned my initial thoughts for this series the previous year, 2020 was on Self-production and Women in music.

In order for our favourite artist to produce the works we all love, there is a multi-phase process: creation, production and release. Each phase of music production has its inherent issues and challenges. Add to that the everyday lived experience in all of its complexity, that all human beings have to cope with existentially, and you get a very complex picture of the many variable contributing factors for soul distress or mental health matters.

Creativity and music-making is primarily driven by an inner impulse.

Of course, at a professional level it can become more about tailoring our work to a market, but I want to draw attention away from the product and process and back to the human being. In order for a hit to occur, in order for a record to be released, or a tour to take place or a sync license placement, you have to have a person or persons who are the source of the music. All else around us  are supports. The creative process can be as simple as a momentary flow (song can be out in its totality and structure in 30 minutes). Or it can be to a brief, involve arrangement and orchestration and a slower construction in a DAW or in Sibelius. It depends on the genre and style of the musician and the initial sketch, improvisation or crafting of what needs to be done, to bring the work to completion. Musicians Matter as they are the voice of the people, covering the full gamut of lived experience.

‘Mentally Healthy 2018 – A Study into The Creative Media and Marketing Industry’, revealed that those in the creative industries are 20% more likely to show symptoms of depression and 29% more likely to have symptoms of anxiety. 1 in 5 show symptoms of severe depression compared to the 12% national average. The study showed 61% of the creative industries show symptoms of depression. Stressors are known to be intense within the creative industries and include things like “personal expectations, pressure from others, multiple responsibilities, working when sick, employee responsibility, long hours, impact on family and friends, financial stress and isolation” (Never Not Creative Unlimited and Makeshift, 2018). The study also looked at attitudes towards mental health and showed the creative industries are supportive of people with mental health issues.

Mental health conditions include anxiety, depression, PTSD, grief and loss, drug and alcohol issues, schizophrenia, psychosis and more. According to Beyond Blue statistics:

  • 1 in 7 people experience depression
  • 1 in 4 experience anxiety
  • 1 in 16 currently are experiencing depression
  • 1 in 7 are currently experiencing anxiety
  • 1 in 6 are experiencing depression and anxiety
  • Females are more likely to experience depression/ anxiety with 1 in 5 and men with 1 in 6
  • 1 in 8 currently experience very high levels of psychological distress.

According to Entertainment assist, the following statistics apply

  • 25% of performing artists, and most roadies have attempted or considered suicide, but none of the roadies surveyed had sought help
  • over a third of performing artists, 25% of industry support workers and most roadies and crew reported mental health problems
  • extensive mental health issues across the broad spectrum of the industry often as a result of bullying, sexual abuse, long and unrewarding working hours and a lack of appreciation for years of commitment
  • Entertainment industry workers do not know how to seek support, nor do they know how to talk about mental health with colleagues/peers they may be concerned about performing artists live much shorter lives, on average, than the rest of working community
  • Suicide attempts for Australian Entertainment Industry workers are more than double that of the general population.
  • The levels of moderate to severe anxiety symptoms are 10 times higher than in the general population.
  • The levels of depression symptoms are five times higher than in the general population.

I’d like to point out at this time that our current definitions of mental health or mental illness exclude spiritual dimensions of life somewhat, being primarily CBT-based psychological methods and therapies with D.S.M diagnosis, born out of the psychiatric model which focuses primarily on medicating. Different conceptualisations and approaches are necessary for different people. The Transpersonal, Shamanic and Creative therapies paradigms are very helpful for creatives. To me, rather than using the terms ‘mental illness’ I prefer to regard it as ‘soul distress’. The soul is the one that is incarnate, the soul is the one that is experiencing, the soul is the one who thinks and feels and is the living breathing being. We are in need of a redefinition of what it means to be a human being, within a broader cross-cultural cosmology and paradigm.

By nature, we are sensitives, driven by how we make sense of the world on inner levels. With sound, we give form to an aesthetic product of our experience, in the moment. We spend countless hours refining, recording and doing whatever we need to do in order to produce and share our work (largely unpaid, because we have to, it’s what makes us tick, from the heart. I have mentored amazing songwriter’s who have not released their work due to lack of know-how and negative industry experiences. Not all songwriters are known, not all share their work. I view the role of a songwriter and artist as a critical role of social critique and alchemy. We make sense of, we deal with lofty thoughts, complex emotions and our work has energy and intent behind it that moves people (part focus of my honours thesis) and is able to transform the lived experience, transmuting pain into powerful works of purpose and beauty.

In order to fulfill our role, we need support, social acceptance and standards that look after our well-being holistically. There is no base wage for a musician unless they are a music teacher or a session player. Income depends on either teaching, recording and release of work, or on working as a producer or engineer, or synchronization licensing and playing live. There is a huge disparity on income levels. There are door deals, bar takings and agreed rates. All is open to negotiation and a given venues way of working. With live music there are others to pay, like engineers. For production there are others to pay, studios, producers, engineers, distributors et cetera unless one is set up to take care of the lot by themselves and that is what is expected of the modern musician. To be a one-stop shop or a one-person production company.

This financial reality is further complicated by notions of success, both internal and external, and by people’s ability to set their own rates in alignment with perceived worth. It can take years and hundreds of hours of work to release music to a completed professional standard. It is very difficult to generate income off music without being an all-rounder. Streaming has reduced income and sales making a career in music much more challenging, but at the same time there are innovators who do well in the digital domain setting up amazing platforms for musicians to share music live. These facts affect a musician’s self-esteem and can affect our work capacity. We are often accused of being oversensitive or being in Ego, but neither are true, it is who we are, we care about what we do.

With all the work to do, we often do not have all the skills, this can cause immense distress, derail us and our intentions for our work. Most do it ‘for the love of’, with desires to succeed, but that success is defined by society in economic terms only, not by contribution to society, or the inherent worth of ourselves and work with its ability to touch people and enrich the human experience. Perceived worth and success are notions I will go over in another blog in this series, at this moment I just wanted to introduce the focus for the year and mention other focus areas, for Musicians Matter Mental Health.

Musicians and supporting industries are prone to increased mental health issues. For many this is an absolute reality, therefore this blog aims to:

  1. a) share my personal experience and those who are musicians in my network
  2. b) offer information knowledge and services to assist musicians
  3. c) to expand the conception and understanding of creatives, breaking down prejudices and stereotypes and changing paradigms of understanding
  4. d) to advocate for our worth, rights and needs in the current social environment, that has a long way to go in perceiving our worth and re-numerating accordingly.

If other industries were governed in the same manner as the creative industries, unions may very well be in uproar from protests on the streets. I recently saw one such protest in the U.S against SPOTIFY demanding better rates of royalty payments for musicians works and phonographic copyrights. Knowing this, I say ‘musicians’ matter’ and we need industry wide social change to support our valuable cultural creators. We all consume music; it is high time we value it and its creators accordingly.

Music is about way more than entertainment; it is a core expression of human being and the lived experience, just like all art forms. The stereotype of the rich rock star is far from the reality of most musicians, with the economic projections that go along with it. Should our regard for someones work and worth depend on financial or marketing acumen? If we can achieve a greater understanding of musicians, of their mental health issues, then all of society will benefit through the works we produce whether recorded or live performance.

If you are in need of any of the following services, please contact me as I set up shop options for my services

  • Music Lessons
  • Creativity Coaching
  • Musician Mentorship
  • Production assistance
  • Charting your path for a specific project

I would also urge you to consider doing Mental Health First Aid Training and being a support person and a change maker, you might just save a life. Mental Health First Aid is run by Makeshift.

Next blog focus ‘Musicians Matter- Personal Stories’



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