FOCUS: Mental health in the music industry

A recent study revealed that the majority of musicians suffer from mental illness (in the age group 18-25 it's the highest number of 80%!), and that only 19% of the participants feel like the music industry provides healthy working conditions.

I'm sure that we all can do a tiny bit at least to make things better (until bigger structural changes will come).

 

On this page I'd like to share my ongoing video series about different topics which tackle the wider issue of mental illness in the music industry. I'm always happy to receive comments, either in personal messages, via email or on the social media channels, where I will post new videos regularly.

Below you can also find a list of links to different sources which are about mental health in the music industry!

#4 - MONOTASKING - A WAY TO INCREASE CREATIVITY AND MENTAL HEALTH

I wanted to talk about this topic because I myself noticed so many times over the past years that I created a very unhealthy way of working on things – usually having my phone next to me and many tabs open, so i am constantly disturbed by notifications and messages. But not only these very obvious things, it’s also about creating myself a few bad habits, like replying to emails whenever they come in and generally reacting on anything right away as soon as something comes up.

To be honest, in the last year i worked more and more on avoiding this and structuring my days or tasks more, but it’s still really difficult. Which is weird, because whenever I do this, I feel much better and get so much more done. So why is it so difficult to change the habits?

 

Actually when googling a bit about this topic, I found an explanation –  scientists found out that multitasking is highly addictive. When we do it successfully (or we think we do), basically always when we complete a task, dopamine is released in our brains, a chemical which is highly addictive, so our brain always wants more of it. That’s why we easily find ourselves in something scientists call a dopamine-addiction feedback loop.

 

The problem is that at the same time multitasking causes lots of negative issues, e.g. making more mistakes and a decrease of short-term memory. A study of the American Psychological Association shows that switching between tasks reduces productivity by 40%! Studies even showed that constant multitasking causes a decrease of grey matter density in parts of our brain which are associated with empathy and emotional control.

 

In general I have to say that I was surprised to find so much material of hundreds of studies which all show more or less the same results and make very clear that multitasking has many negative impacts and isn’t healthy after all.

 

So, what can we do about this? I think that we should practice a beautiful thing which people call monotasking or singletasking. This simple concept shares the idea of dedicating ourselves to one task at a time and think about how we can avoid interruptions.

When we multitask, we are actually not doing multiple things at once but rapidly shifting attention between different activities, so monotasking is all about sticking to one task and getting deeper into it without drifting off after a short time. This way, we don’t only calm our mind, but also get into topics in a deeper and more meaningful way, give it more value and often feel much more satisfied. By giving something attention for a longer period of time, we’ll create a bigger energy for it, and only after a longer time, we’ll think about aspects which we wouldn’t touch really if only giving it a quick thought

 

To do this, I have a bunch of tips of how we can change our habits and make this happen. Of course everybody might have a bit of a different way, but I really recommend trying out the following things:

 

  •  I would recommend to make a work schedule for each day, either in the beginning of a day or for example on Mondays and then for the whole upcoming week, to map out your tasks. Important is not only to do this, but also to respect it and to stick to it. Often when we do freelance or creative work, we tend to skip something if something else comes up or somebody asks us to have a coffee or to help with something else. But also creative and freelance work is work, and both you and others should respect this as your working time, and as an important time to do what we need and like to do.

 

  • Instead of having short periods of times for this and that, it makes sense to create longer working blocks, for example choose only one or two big topics for a day and schedule 2-4 hours for each. Then for all the smaller tasks which you constantly have in between, I recommend just scheduling 2-3 times a day a shorter time to do this, e.g. answering emails – this can easily be done for example in the beginning of a work day, maybe once after our longer break, and before we leave our office or desk. There is really no need to constantly check the inbox and always reply right away. I am myself a person who does or did this, but I also find this crazy and found out that it’s usually only myself thinking that I should reply immediately. Others usually don’t mind waiting some hours, a day or even several days. It’s just something we have learned especially in the decades of social media, that we feel like messages need to be answered right away. I really, really would like to tell anybody that this is not necessary, and also that we should stop expecting it from others. There is this phenomenon of just quickly sending a short message on Facebook about a simple question, and then getting mad if people don’t reply right away, but we should all remember that others also have other things to do and the right to reply whenever they can, and that we don’t know in which situation they are at the moment. Really, we all should stop doing this, so I even try to have work-related issues as much as possible only on emails, where at least there is a bit less craziness about instant replying.

 

  • There is something else which is really simple but helped me a lot to work more concentrated: turning off notifications of apps, so that I don’t get distracted when something happens on Facebook, Instagram, Whatsapp or on my emails. This sounds so basic, but simply not seeing a light on my phone or hearing a sound or vibration helped so much and calms down my mind a lot. It’s even helpful sometimes to use the flight mode or to put the phone into another room.Even for social media you could choose certain times to check them instead of doing that several times an hour. The interesting thing is that we always check everything because we think we are missing out on something, but I tell you that this is usually not the case. Checking Facebook or Instagram only twice a day won’t make you missing anything, but for sure give you more peace and less distraction. If you would like to do this but have troubles changing your habits, there are also several apps to use to block your social media or even emails for a certain amount of time or for some hours a day.

 

  •  Then another very important thing of course is to also schedule break times. This is touching very much what I was talking about in my first video, the simple way of giving yourself proper breaks, to remember to eat and get yourself away from the work devices, get some fresh air, or simply do nothing. Breaks are so important to stay healthy and sane and will also most likely make you more productive. Next to one or two longer breaks each day, you can also add a few minutes in between for short-time meditation. Sometimes even 2 minutes of closing your eyes and concentrating on your breath does a lot.

 

  • In general, it’s good to give yourself working hours, to make sure you’ll not work 24/7 but to find a both a beginning and an end. I would recommend to think about what is the most productive time when you feel especially fit mentally. This is for some people in the morning, for others it might be late in the day or whenever. Try to use this time for one of the bigger or more important tasks, and build your work day around that. Listen to yourself and what feels most healthy and good for you. It’s really good to have a plan about a work schedule, rather than ending up working random hours and sit down for important things when it’s actually during our tiredness or sleeping times.

 

  •  Think about your work environment. Maybe a certain type of music helps? For a good reason, concentration playlists go really strong on all streaming platforms. But also think about your surroundings, if there is anything to make you less distracted. Sometimes a change of scenery from your normal work space can also help.

These are a few ideas and I think most important is to know that it’s never too late to change habits, no matter how addictive they seem or how difficult it is. It’s really worth it to try out a bit and look what feels good for you, and then to stick to it and create new habits. In the end there are so many areas in our lives in which we can’t choose if we multitask or not, like when we talk while driving or similar activities, but for some things like work and self-care times, we have the power to control and manage this ourselves pretty much, so why not trying it out?

 

I hope this video helps you and gives some inspiration. As always, I’m really happy to hear your feedback or experiences, so feel free to comment on the video or to send me a message if you feel like it.

#3 - THE ROLE OF ALCOHOL IN THE MUSIC INDUSTRY

Is the music industry an alcohol industry?

 

If we feel like talking about mental health is something like a taboo topic, then talking about the following subject is even less popular, and something which can evoke very strong opinions. But I think it’s vital when opening the discussion about how we can improve our mental well-being in the music industry, so here we are: I’d like to talk about the habits of alcohol consumption and the role of alcohol in the music industry.

Before getting into it: I decided to make this only about alcohol and not other drugs. This goes often together if ever there are talks about this, and any substance abuse is definitely something we have to think about in the wider picture, but I still think that there can lay worlds between alcohol and drug abuse. What I’d like to focus on is more the normality of our every-day life when working in the music industry, and to this normality counts often alcohol.

I also want to make clear that this is not about saying anything against general consume of alcohol or telling people to go straight edge. I want everybody to be able to decide freely what and how much to drink. In the following I’d rather want to reflect on the current situation, on the problems connected to that and what we all could do to create a healthier environment around artists and people working in the music industry.

 

Late working hours, many pressures and the requirement of being social and fun

 

So, what’s the situation right now? This surely depends on the individual peer groups, genres and locations, but it’s not new that the music industry has a few special characteristics which can make it difficult to be and stay sober. Naturally many activities both for artists and industry professionals happen in evenings and night times. Most of us who work in music don’t have the regular daytime working hours as it’s more common in other industries, as most music events happen in the later parts of the day, and so does the networking around it. Especially for the musicians I see that there can be many pressures coming together: delivering a good performance, being on stage in front of people, being judged, fear of not satisfying the audience, fear of a small or no audience, financial pressure and knowing that they also have to socialize, next to presenting their music. And all that in the end of a day which has probably already been very long and exhausting, especially when being on tour or attending festivals or conferences. There are many forces coming together here, and as much as some people enjoy all of this, as many people (and most likely even more, seeing recent statistics) also struggle with this at some point. There are many ways to deal with it, and probably the most common one is trying to ease yourself by drinking alcohol. Not only that this is a natural effect of what our societies trained us to do when being out at social events, but also if not doing it intentionally, it often happens automatically as soon as you are at a venue or event, as soon as artists enter the backstage area, finding themselves in something which I’d call the alcohol industry’s playground.

 

At venues: hospitality is all about alcohol

 

I have worked at events myself, and I have been at gigs with artists I work with. I found it often incredible actually that in some cases artists get a really shitty fees or no fee at all, but then coming to the venues you are welcomed by plenty of drinks – beers and wine of course, but also hard liquor. This often happens even if informing venues or promoters that the artists wishes no alcohol around, for whatever reasons.

 

To be honest, in the beginning I found this really cool and nice, especially as I live in a country where alcoholic drinks cost a fortune. Also I found it nice to “treat artists well”. I like the whole idea of hospitality, showing artists respect and making them feeling comfortable at a venue. This should be the case at every gig (I know, it isn’t). I just wonder, why this is mainly about alcohol? Okay, sometimes you can get lucky and also get a really good meal, which is awesome and I honestly think having a break and not forgetting to eat is so important (as I talk about in my video #1). But often it’s just a few snacks, not necessarily very healthy or filling ones, maybe some water and lemonade, and then plenty of alcohol. You can see where the focus lays, and I honestly have to say that I myself am a person who can be very weak in the way that when I see free drinks, I feel like they should be drank. And also I know the phenomenon of “just having one drink” and then it becomes many more, because once you start, you’re getting into the right mood.

I don’t think there shouldn’t be alcohol in the backstage area anymore. I would even say that if artists send riders asking for a certain amount, let’s give it to them, even if it might seem to be a lot – it really shouldn’t become about telling others how they should live, eat or drink. My question is more why there is often a lot added on top of what the artists ask for? One extra bottle vodka here, some more bottles of wine there, often also free drinks at the public bars…

I have just heard of too many musicians who said that they became very sick, being stuck in a circle of feeling pressure, being tired and stressed from travelling, often being alone backstage while having time to kill, and then just making use of alcohol, to get social, stay awake and basically to ease the pressure and bad feelings. These stories are really an old hat, and still I don’t see any changes. What I wish for is that hospitality would focus more on a nice meal, the things the artists explicitly ask for, on comfortable spaces to hang out and even on taking care about somebody in a social way. And simply being aware that mental illness is a way too common issue for artists – as a recent Swedish study revealed that 73% of the respondents deal with this -, and thinking about creating a healthy and positive environment. I think that venues have a huge responsibility, and luckily I also know that there are really amazing ones taking care of people in a wonderful way, with a very good reputation amongst artists – both drinking and sober musicians. 

Also I sometimes found it funny to think about it the way that usually if booking somebody to do a job for me, whatever it may be, I would rather avoid making that person drunk, as I want him or her to feel good and of course do a good job. Why is this so different in music? I guess it’s something about the old picture of the rock’n’roll lifestyle and sponsorships with brands of alcoholic drinks…

 

Industry events: free booze, little sleep and exhaustion

 

Also other parts of the music industry are including a big amount of drinking, and concerning all professionals. Keeping on with talking about events, it’s a similar situation at festivals and conferences, where many of us spend a lot of time and where we make amazing and helpful connections while seeing lots of live music. These events are often totally awesome, but also stressful in the way that we schedule many meetings in daytime (often too many), in between run into many other people and socialize, then go to see bands of course, having maybe more meetings around the gigs and trying to catch up with our colleagues. Those days can be incredibly exhausting and long, and require our full and steady attention, usually many days in a row.

At most events like that it’s the same again, there’s free booze everywhere, we are invited to networking events which most times include free drinks and people put a beer in our hands without even asking. If you want to be part of the gang, you surely say yes and play along, because that’s what others expect and honestly, that’s also what we can easily get used to and enjoy in many ways. For the moment it can really help us to be in a fun mood. But on a longer run – or already the next morning – we might feel super shitty and not very efficient or ready at all for the next round of networking. This often makes people even more anxious or feeling less social, which – again – people often cure by having more drinks. I think people generally react very differently on drinking alcohol and it’s difficult to generalize, but I think that in many cases we use alcohol to be more social and feeling less stressed, while on the long run it might increase social anxiety and stress.

 

I personally have done both ways – getting myself through it by drinking - and I definitely enjoyed it in many ways and was surprised how I survived crazy days with little or no sleep – and doing all of that sober. I think both ways are legit and everybody should do what feels good and enjoyable. I also don’t mind at all being around people who drink - or don't.

I have to say though that it doesn’t make a great impression to schedule a meeting and then find out that the person to meet is incredibly drunk and might not even remember what we talked about, if it’s even possible to have a professional talk. If having meetings, I really love socializing and getting to know a person a little bit before starting talking about the actual topic, but I also like to get the impression that the other person works professionally (as it might be a potential business partner of some sort in the future), that this person is actually meeting me for a reason and because of being interested in my work or my artists, and that he or she will at least remember me. After having rare meetings with totally drunk (maybe still friendly, but really super drunk) people, I usually didn’t feel like working with them. Also it’s just the best to wake up the next day and feeling much more physically and mentally healthy than on those mornings when I drank the night before. More and more it becomes the only way for me to survive more than one day of attending festivals or conferences.

 

At the office: daytime-drinking as part of the everyday culture

 

Shifting a bit to another common situation now, which is more about the every-day work life: working in music business offices where it’s totally normal to start with the first drinks before lunch time. I think and hope that most places are not like this, but I know for sure that many are and I have also seen this myself.

This is actually something I need to speak out my personal opinion, being aware that this is just my subjective view on it of course: a culture of daily drinking at business offices really pisses me off. Why it bothers me so much has two reasons:

 

First of all, this creates a work culture which goes from the top to the bottom. If you are part of an organization where this is normal, then please be aware that you might have new staff or interns coming in, and for them you kind of set the standards. Especially at work and in offices, we all depend so much on playing along in a team and feeling a good connection to our colleagues. Often the first music jobs for young people are in companies where they get the feel for how to behave in the music industry, and I think it’s sad that the first thing they got taught is that drinking during business hours is normal and part of working in music. It really shouldn’t.

The other reason why it makes me mad is that often these companies are working for artists who work really hard on their careers, and if I as an artist or manager have a company working for me, I wish that those people are professional and that they work for the artists in the first place but not for this kind of lifestyle and their own egos.

 

Let’s give each other the freedom to choose ourselves if and how much to drink

 

What I wish to change is not turning around the whole industry, but mainly I want to raise awareness that all this plays a huge factor in why this whole industry is struggling so much with mental illness. I think what we all could do – what should be most normal but absolutely isn’t – is to NOT make others drink without them asking for it, or giving them bold comments if they want to stay sober or healthy. Nobody wants to take away anybody’s freedom and drinks, it’s really more about creating a healthy culture of letting people choose more themselves what they want to drink and how they like working, making sure that it’s fine to be either drinking alcohol or not, maybe also offering more alternatives to alcoholic drinks, and just stop making it look like a requirement to drink to be part of the industry. In the end our work and passion should mainly be about music, not about alcohol. Each of us should be aware of the influence we have towards others and the culture in our peer groups.

And those who have a serious problem with drinking and feel like they can’t handle it themselves, please seek professional help. Changes can be hard, but they are always possible!

#2 - SURROUND YOURSELF WITH SUPPORTIVE PEOPLE

This time I'd like to talk a bit about how surrounding ourselves with the right people can change everything - how we feel about ourselves, if we keep our passion about what we do and even how good we can live out our creativity and work in an innovative way.

 

It's not about surrounding ourselves only with people who praise everything we do, or to run away from every person we don't connect with immediately, but more about making a conscious decision on how close we should be with somebody, and about accepting that it's totally normal that we don't click with everybody and that this doesn't mean that anybody did something wrong, or that we failed. It can be difficult to put into words why we feel insecure or not good enough around certain people, but it's good to notice it as a normal thing and then to decide that we can distance ourselves a bit more from those and rather give the closest spots around us to those who give us a feeling of security and support, and around whom we feel like we can truly be ourselves.

 

In the music industry we sometimes meet people who make us feel rather uncomfortable and who communicate in a very rough and impolite way.

Even though contacts are a key factor of success in music and we often feel desperate for any connection we can get, we don't have to work with everybody and if your guts and intuition tell you that something isn't right for you, you should definitely listen to that and trust that you feel like that for a good reason. This might lead to decisions which won't look right from the outside, but I believe that it's worth it to follow your feelings and rather not to work with people who would make you feel anxious, stressed, or as if you couldn't be yourself.

We should still be diplomatic and friendly towards those people of course, but not necessarily work too close with them.

 

Sometimes we can still not avoid working with people who give us negative feelings, but by surrounding ourselves with supportive people, we’ll learn not to take the negative encounters so personal and to trust more in ourselves. I think it’s so important, especially in the whole artistic field that we build communities, collectives and relationships which are supportive, to find people who are like-minded.

 

This industry contains so many stigmata, so many weird ideas of how everything has to work and how people in the music industry have to behave and treat each other, but I think it’s time to break it, to be more human, to support each other and to develop a healthy way of communication and openness. Find people you can talk about every problem or doubt, people who are encouraging and who really believe in you and who like you the way you are. These people will make it so much easier for you to stay inspired, to stay creative and to keep your life and work mentally sustainable.

#1 - ALLOW YOURSELF TO HAVE BREAKS

I decided to start a little video series, sharing some ideas on how to stay mentally healthy if working as a musician or in the music industry. This first video will be about the very simple and yet so difficult task of taking breaks!

There is so much more to be added to what I say in the video. I think we really should see taking breaks much more as part of the work we do, and I really believe that we'll do better in what we do if taking care about ourselves and feeling like having a good balance between getting work done in some parts of the day, and taking time off to socialise with others or just take time for ourselves and non-work-related activities in another part of the day. I have had times when it was difficult to stop thinking about work, but it's really a matter of practice and creating new patterns and habits.

I also find meditation a great way to calm down, to lower your heart rate (which can rise a lot when feeling stressed) and to feel generally more grounded and stable to deal with any circumstances around us.

I'd be happy if you share your thoughts, how you personally manage to give your mind a break of your music work or if you have any questions.

PS: Forgive the auto focus, I couldn't turn it off 😂

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