People are starting to talk about mental health a little more but we still need a lot more dialogue around this in the music industry. The research is still relatively new so depending on your source anywhere from 40% to more than 70% of musicians experience compromised mental health. Which tells me this discussion should be much more of a priority!
For those of us in the music industry these numbers probably aren’t shocking. Our industry demands a lot from us. Late-night sessions, imposter syndrome, uncertainty of success, financial insecurity, the constant comparison and pressure to be “liked”. Add to this how vulnerable we can often be on the road, or in the studio, and the presence and acceptance of alcohol and other substances in our work environment. This in not an easy industry to navigate. For an industry that thrives on the arts it's kinda ridiculous how much it seems to do the opposite of nurturing creativity.
For this week's #musicmanagermonday someone asked if I had any strategies for managing mental health in the music industry. Let me just preface this by saying I’m not a health professional and this is not professional advice. I certainly don’t have all the answers here but I really wanted to respond to this question and share my 10 strategies to nurture mental health and wellness as well as share some resources to further support you on this journey.
1. Know what your needs are: For example, when you’re on the road how many shows can you do before you need a break or some solitude. Do you get energy from being around others or from being alone? How much rest do you need before a show etc.
2. Have a strategy: for how you will manage your wellness during high stress situations. Touring and a release can both be pretty intense. Create a strategy for how you will create balance during these moments and set boundaries for your team members so they can help navigate this with you.
3. Have a support team: you can call on when you need support. This can include professional support or personal.
4. Make space for your mental health: in the same way you would make space to workout, or for an important meeting, create space for your mental wellness. Check in with yourself often.
5. Some form of mindfulness practice: In whatever form that takes for you. For me it's yoga and kickboxing. The reason this works for me is because they both require me to be 100% present. No matter what for that 1 hr it’s just me. I also love to read so a great novel that is a really page turner can also help me escape. I love a good business book to but they are not so mindful IMO. (Some other examples might be prayer, meditation, yoga, sports, walking, dance etc.)
6. Sleep: I’m all about hustling. But hustle smart not hard. Forget about the I’ll sleep when I’m dead mentality. You need sleep to make sound decisions and to be your best self! And you want to be your BEST self when you’re building a business, and putting your art out there. I was lucky to receive this advice early in my career. After weeks of turning over every possible stone I could to lock in tour, we finally got word that YES! Shawn (Desman) would be opening for Selena Gomez on her national tour. Amazing news! The bad news was there was only 1.5 weeks to prepare. Which is bananas!!! Touring is a web of logistics and you usually need months to plan. We had to produce the show, secure the tour bus (all the Canadian buses were booked so i also had to find a bus in the US, get it here and go through all the immigration red tape). Figure out how to do this tour without a shortfall, confirm after parties in each city and figure out how we were going to make the first tour date in Victoria on the same day as Shawn's We Day performance in Vancouver. I was also the artistic director so I had to determine the direction for wardrobe and track down the wardrobe (mainly because it was too short notice for the stylist).
To say there were too many things to do would be an understatement. I had a call with Selena’s tour manager to discuss our VIP fan experience (oh yeah…i also had to figure out what our fan experience would be and set up the back end). There were a number of things I had to check off my list and I ended my call saying something along the lines of “if you need anything else just give me a shout. Don’t worry about the time difference cuz I probably won’t be sleeping between now and the tour! ha ha”. The dude didn’t miss a beat. He said “Well you should. Touring is gruelling and not sleeping is the last thing you should do.” Welp. Obviously I wasn’t being literal, I meant i would be getting very little sleep. But still, he had a point! And he was right. I would be useless on the road if I arrived exhausted.
Looking back now, knowing what I know about touring and releases I can’t imagine not having a good night’s rest. Today, i’m pretty serious about my sleep. Friends tease me about it but I don’t care. When I’m well rested I’m alert, my creativity and problem solving capacity is on fire, and I’m in a much better place to give my BEST self to my artists and my team.
7. Self care formula: Figure out what your self care formula is. The term “self care" gets thrown around a lot. Sometimes it’s identifying those things that are self soothing (which for some might include a hot bath, favourite cup of tea, glass of wine, massage, spa days…whatever it is that you find soothing). But another form of self care that doesn’t get talked about as often is making choices today that are very loving and caring towards your future self. (For the record, I am still working on this too. So be patient with yourself. xox) Sometimes we make choices that are best for ourselves right now, and we ignore how it will impact that same person (ourselves) in the future. Putting off some kind of mess? Guess who you’re assigning that mess to? YOU! Future you is looking back at you and saying wtf thannnnks! The choices we make today are an opportunity to gift our future selves. For example, when we are mindful of getting enough sleep we are gifting our future self with the gift of rest. I know, this just got all self helpy on you. But I’m serious. Think of your future self not as some abstract stranger but as YOU (cuz like it literally is YOU), and how you would feel if you gifted yourself with whatever you’re doing today. Setting you future self up for success or joy is one of the most self loving things you can do imo.
8. Limit alcohol: I’m not here to tell anyone how or when they should drink if they choose. Those who know me, know I love a glass of wine and I sometimes infuse my own vodka's. The music industry is different than other industries in that there is usually alcohol available and in large quantities pretty often in our workplace. I don’t drink when one of my artist's has a show. That’s just my personal choice and the only reason is because I have to be alert in case anything goes wrong and there’s something I need to resolve. That doesn’t have to be your choice but I have found that it’s helpful to set parameters and expectations for yourself and your team beforehand.
9. Step away from the gram: from time to time we need time away from social media. Both to stop comparing where we are to where we think other people are, and so we don’t absorb what trolls are saying (or sometimes what well intentioned people are also saying) that is just not helpful and sometimes hurtful. I know it’s an important part of your marketing and promotion strategy so I’m not saying death to social media. Just take a break from it when you need to to maintain some perspective.
10. Do an audit of your team and those around you: Sometimes we partner with people/companies we think will help us achieve our goals faster. Maybe they have a particular skill you need. Nothing wrong with that, this is a business after all! But I encourage you to look a little deeper to determine (in addition to their skillset) if they are committed to creating and maintaining an environment of safety and reflect values that are in alignment with your own. Do a gut check about the musicians and producers you’re working with, the management team, label etc. around you. Cultivate a team that is genuinely interested in supporting you and committed to maintaining a safe and uplifting space where you can all thrive together. If you think you’re missing some of those people start actively looking for them. Of course you want people around you who can get you the results you want but in my experience it’s rarely worth it if they are going to simultaneously cause you mental anguish in the process.
If you are looking for more support here are some links:
Unison - https://unisonfund.ca
The Toronto Institute for Relational Psychotherapy (low cost therapy) - https://www.tirp.ca
Over the Bridge - https://www.overthebridge.org (mental health & addiction recovery in the music industry)
Mental Health Statistics
Help Musicians UK
East Coast Music Association 2018 Mental Health Survey Results