Suffering For Our Art… How To Stay Mentally Fit As A Musician
(Written April 2019)
With the unfortunate passing of legendary raver and enigmatic frontman Keith Flint, I’ve been reflecting upon the mental state of the music industry. And… it seems more and more creatives are suffering for their art.
Flint’s tragic death is only one in a long list of names who have succumbed to mental illness. Chris Cornell, Chester Bennington, Tim Bergling (Avicii) – to name a few – were all at different stages in their journeys and would be deemed successful in many people’s eyes.
These high profile musicians struggled with their own demons and have brought the topic of mental health into the limelight. Yet, many of the issues remain.
Is Music Making Us Sick?
In November 2016, Sally Anne Gross and Dr. George Musgrave released part 1 of their study into the Incidence of Musicians’ Mental Health, “Can Music Make You Sick? Music and Depression” for Help Musicians UK.
The publication highlighted some revealing statistics.
“71 Percent of the 2200 plus musicians they interviewed across the genre spectrum suffer from high levels of anxiety – three times higher than among the general population – while 69 percent report they have experienced depression.”Dr. Claire Renfew (PRS Members Music Magazine Issue 66 Dec 2017)
Dr. Claire Renfew wrote in the December issue of the PRS Members Music Magazine;
“Artists suffer frequently from… hearing disorders, occupational stress, drug, and alcohol abuse, musculoskeletal disorders, fear of potential injury or disability, stress and pain”(PRS Members Music Magazine Issue 66 Dec 2017)
This abundance of hazards can lead to poor mental & physical health if not managed correctly. I personally as a musician and producer, have dealt with – and still deal with – some of these issues. We all lead busy lives and have other factors besides music, including family and friends, to manage.
Dr. Renfew goes on to say that;
“…[many] music creators often find it difficult to strike a healthy work/life balance because of the constant ‘always on’ nature of the music industry.”(PRS Members Music Magazine Issue 66 Dec 2017)
Musicians need to be aware of their mental energy and make sure to allocate time for activities that replenish them. Kim Macari, a Jazz Trumpeter, bandleader & educator, makes an excellent point about this.
“Another serious challenge is creative wellbeing. We express ourselves professionally, which is an exceptional position to be in… but it can exhaust and deplete you.”Kim Macari (PRS Members Music Magazine Issue 66 Dec 2017)
As we grow as humans we need to learn new skills and properly understand the problems that face us. One of the issues many musicians face is the demands of the industry.
Dr. Renfew explains that;
“research has outlined how music creators are often unprepared for the physical and psychological demands of the profession… [and] previous reports have shown that musicians neglect stress management.”(PRS Members Music Magazine Issue 66 Dec 2017)
In order to have a sustainable music career, you need to learn the skills that allow you to adapt to your situation and thrive. The same is to be said about how to deal with the ups and downs of life.
Dr. Renfew also highlights that;
“It’s really important that music creators are educated in the positive coping strategies such as breathing techniques, self-reflection, imagery, and mock performance practice.”(PRS Members Music Magazine Issue 66 Dec 2017)
How To Stay Mentally Fit As A Musician.
So, we know there is an issue with musicians and mental health. Maybe you’re someone who is struggling with mental health. But, what can we do?
Below I’ve listed some techniques to stay mentally fit as a musician that I have personally used plus some extras I’ve read about and others have tried. They fall into two categories of “Self Care” and “Support, Mentoring, & Education”.
The advice given here is anecdotal – I’m not a medical or psychological professional – but has worked for myself and others I know. If you feel you need immediate support, you can find help from the charities listed at the bottom of this post.
With the ‘always on’ industry mentality and social media feeling pervasive in our lives, it can be hard to ‘switch off’.
It’s very important to find time to educate yourself (even after formal education) on a wide variety of subjects, spend time doing leisure activities, and spend time with people that matter to you.
Build systems and routines that allow for time out from “the grind” and still allow you to manage your music career. We all have the same 24 hours in a day, the trick is to find what you’re willing to focus on and what you’re willing to let go.
Breathing techniques are useful for controlling your emotions and not allowing yourself to make rash or unwise decisions. There is a wealth of information online or you can attend spiritual retreats to learn more.
Meditation also allows you to self reflect on your behaviors and feelings. Practicing delayed gratification and being grateful for what you have right now are powerful tools for sustaining a happy, healthy life and career.
Washing and hygiene maintenance are always great to feel replenished and get out of a bad headspace.
When we look our best we feel better and having that shave, haircut or face mask can work wonders. People also notice and compliments are always easy mood boosters.
I always like the computing term garbage in, garbage out. It refers to flawed or nonsensical input data producing a nonsensical output a.k.a. garbage.
If your diet consists of pot noodles and beer, you can’t expect your output to be that of a top athlete; mentally or physically.
Finding a diet that works for you can be a trial and error approach. Again, through the power of Google, you can learn how to eat healthily and make balanced meals. Learning & taking time to plan your meals, preparing accordingly, can save you time and your health.
As with eating, finding an exercise routine that works for you can be hard.
As musicians, we can be stuck in rehearsal rooms, studios, or behind screens for hours on end each working day. It can be easy to forget to get out and see the sunshine.
Whether it’s getting out for a walk at lunch or squeezing in a workout before the day begins we need to keep moving. Find a routine that works for you no matter how small it may be. Build on your small wins and continue to develop it into a habit. My exercise routine is actually less than 20 mins but my goal is to do it each day without breaking the chain.
In all our activities we need to be kind. To others who may vex & bother us and to ourselves with our growth, development, and shortcomings.
We’re not always perfect. But, I always aim to be 1% better than I was yesterday. I don’t always do my exercise, I sometimes go a whole day without eating or get excessively stressed out. But, it’s about not neglecting your wellbeing. I notice when I don’t practice self-care and I take time and energy to prioritize it again.
Support, Mentoring & Education
Self-care is great for getting yourself back on track. But how do we grow as people and manage our expectations? Below I outline some ways you can grow and thrive in life by realizing you sometimes need help.
Build A Team Around You
Anyone who has done anything of merit has rarely done so by themselves. Whatever you want to achieve in your life you will need help along the way.
Building a team that supports your career and allows you to better manage your work/life balance can be a major turning point for musicians and artists. When you allow yourself to step back from the areas you’re weakest at you can focus on what you’re good at and what truly fulfills you.
This is part of what I offer each client I work with. As well as providing outstanding music production and songwriting advice. I help build a team around their brand allowing them to focus on the things that matter to them.
If you want to talk about your music and find out how I can help. Sign up for our free workshop.
Seek Advice From Others
Mentors, advisors, and therapists are invaluable resources that you should be consulting with.
Industry and background don’t matter as long as they are helpful with their advice and assist you with the problems you face. Therapists can be trained professionals or a close friend who understands.
Others use rules such as the “33% rule”. This is where you spend a third of your time with people you can teach, a third of your time with people on your level (i.e. peers and friends) and the remaining third with people 10-20 years ahead of where you want to be.
Learn More About Your Problems
Education is vital, whether it’s learning from books & YouTube videos or going to school and studying.
Have a marketing problem stressing you out? Learn marketing. Maybe you’ve been neglecting your mental health? Learn about the signs and coping strategies for mental illness.
Understanding a problem can ease a lot of its issues and related stress. Put what you learn into practice and watch your problems change.
Learning about yourself is also vital. Understanding when you’re most productive or when you need to take a break is an awareness that must be learned.
Where You Can Find Help
Thanks for reading this far. I hope you are able to apply some of the information that I’ve shared.
If you’ve struggled with your mental health while building your music career, drop a comment on here or on social media. I’ve struggled with my own battles and having someone who understands to talk to can be a massive relief.
If you need further or immediate help with anything I’ve talked about please contact one of the charities below to find support.
You can also support these charities and find out how to donate via their websites.
About the Author:
Alex Dudley is an award-winning entrepreneur, record producer, musician, software developer, inventor, husband, and father to three kids with a passion for collaborating with other creatives.
Currently based in Hollywood, Birmingham. Alex has been involved in various aspects of the music industry for over 18 years.
He studied Sound Production at the University of Wolverhampton under the mentorship of renowned Birmingham engineer & producer Phil Savage. Alex later went on to obtain his Master’s degree in Audio Technology and founded dAudio Music Group in 2015.
Alex’s accolades include the Studley High School Musician of the Year in 2004 & dAudio Music Group winning the BAA Graduate Start-up of the Year award in 2017.