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Mental Health Problems Rife in the Music Industry

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Mental Health Problems Rife in the Music Industry

Photo: Júnía Líf Maríuerla

William Doyle, formerly known as East India Youth, spoke of the prevalent mental health problems in the music industry in a conference talk held as part of Iceland Airwaves 2017. William has battled with mental health issues throughout his career as touring, album promotions, and social media have taken its toll. William calls for a better framework in terms of the handling of mental health matters in the music industry. 71.1% of musicians have experienced symptoms of anxiety and/or panic attacks, and 68.1% have experienced symptoms of depression, according to the study ‘Can Music Make You Sick? The unpredictability of the music industry, along with dealing with social media are problems that musicians face today. Musicians are not treated as de facto employees of the music labels, so they face employment instability. These factors lead to a multitude of mental health solutions. William suggested several solutions in his seminar, such as making musicians full-time employees, with all the rights that come along with the status, as well as creating a code of conduct for the handling of mental health issues.

Mental health issues started rearing their head when William started to destroy gear on stage, which he says was due to built-up frustration with touring. East India Youth was a solo act and William toured constantly for 6 months in 2015. “It was very exhausting and not very rewarding at the same time. I couldn’t cultivate my personal relationships”. William also mentioned the topic of alcohol, which is very prevalent. Alcohol abuse can lead to an increase in mental health issues, according to Icelandic psychiatrist Ingólfur Ingólfsson, who also spoke at the event. William spoke of alcohol being a part of touring day-in, day-out. “It became the thing I looked forward to when it came to shows. What other line of work do you go into and there’s booze waiting for you when you check-in”. William never took a much-needed break, as he felt he needed to keep working. He believed he would lose momentum. Therein lies the problem, as there is an immense social pressure on artists.

The study ‘Can Music Make You Sick’ was performed by Sally Anne Gross and Dr. George Musgrave from the University of Westminster. It paints a bleak picture of the mental health of musicians as the environment that they live and breathe in puts them in danger of mental health issues. There are number of key factors that lead to these mental health problems. One is the fact that music makers exist in an environment of constant critical feedback, “I looked on Twitter immediately after a show to see if I got any feedback”. Social media can be a difficult path for some musicians. William commented that at times he felt that the close connection to the social media audience was more limiting than liberating – “It’s quite bizarre how we’ve normalized that everyone has access to your private and creative life”.

Another finding is the damaging precarity and unpredictability of the music industry which can lead to anxiety. Musicians are constantly waiting for payments that may never come, as royalty checks can take up to 18 months to arrive, for example. William criticized the fact that although the artists are the money makers for the labels, they are not technically an employee of the record label. Someone working for the artist, working on social media perhaps, has more stability than the musician himself. The employees of the record label have maternity leave, benefits, and paid sick leave while the artist himself is often left hanging.

William outlined some solutions for tackling mental health, which will be for the good of the music industry. He spoke of the need that labels, and booking agencies, should take more responsibilities as the artist are employees as well, and should be treated as such. William went further as he called for a code of conduct for better practice in terms of mental health. There should be, for example, a certain number of tours that an artist can go on per year. Saying no to a gig can be the hardest thing for an artist, as the industry claims that it is for the good of their career and they need to maintain visibility. However, this leads to burnout, fatigue, and mental health problems building up. Finally, William called for in-house therapy or, at the very least, subsidized therapy for musicians.

Musicians are at more risk than others in regard to developing mental health illness. The difference in symptoms of depression between musicians and the general public is astounding. While 68.1% of musicians (out of those surveyed in the UK for 'Can Music Make You Sick') experience symptoms of depression, one in five members of the public have experienced the same symptoms (of individuals over 16 years old). The music industry needs to tackle these issues as it is affecting those who are driving the industry forward – the artists themselves.

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