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Mental health | Andy Inglis and Meghan Clifton
"Can Music Make You Sick?"

Can music make you sick
Foto: Valerie Siba Rousparast

The survey Can Music Make You Sick (CMMYS), published by the charity organisation Help Musicians UK (HMUK) in 2016, revealed that people working in the music industry are “up to three times more likely to experience depression compared to the general public”. About 71 % of the respondents “said they have experienced panic attacks and / or high levels of anxiety”. 

The results are based on an online questionnaire that 2,211 people responded to. Many musicians coming out about their mental health issues – e. g. Pete Doherthy (The Libertines) and Florence Welsh (Florence & the Machine) – has led to a public conversation which would not have been possible ten years ago.
During the Buzz Meets Biz workshop, Scottish music manager Andy Inglis talks about artist management and the struggles of musicians and managers in the music industry. Inglis is a mental health advocate and tries to raise awareness about depression, alcoholism, anxiety and other mental health struggles. His workshop inspired muscian and British participant of the “Buzz Meets Biz” programme, Meghan Clifton, to talk about the mental health issues she had to face when playing in her band “Bloom”. 

“People think they can say anything they want now when they are online”

Andy Inglis highlights the pressure of constantly having to sell oneself, which is especially high for artists. The public conversation about this topic is all over the internet right now, but ten years ago there was no space to talk about the effects of publicity on artists. The CMMYS study states “they felt vulnerable to the criticism of others” to a point “when a musician develops a heightened fear of criticism, the result can vary from profound feelings of anxiety to depression”. Social media can have profound impact on an artist’s well-being. This does not necessarily lead to long term mental health issues, but it can force artists to leave social media platforms such as Facebook and Twitter. Andy Inglis has witnessed this fairly often: “I toured America with an artist and he noticed backstage before the show that there were two people attacking him on Facebook and Twitter, calling him all sorts of bad stuff, because they’d asked to meet him before or after the show and he hadn’t responded. He had no idea who they were, had no idea that they even tried to get in touch with him. After the show, before we were about to leave, he found them outside; they’d been waiting for him near our bus. They didn't say a word about what they had written, and he didn't say anything either. Instead, he spent an hour talking to those people, very nicely, telling them how much he appreciated how far they’d travelled for the show. When he finally got on the bus (we’d all been waiting to leave) and told us what had happened, he went back online and saw they’d deleted everything they'd said about him, didn’t mention the time he’d taken to speak to them, offered no apology. People think they can say anything they want online without any repercussions in the real world.” 

“We have to constantly curate our profile, our self image, and design our identity”

Meghan Clifton talks about her band life in the atmosphere of constant feedback, comments and criticism: “I have been running music projects for ten years now, different projects. As artists, we have to constantly curate our profile, our self image, and design our identity, and if it's done in the wrong way it can affect the popularity of our band. That is puts a lot of pressure on us. We didn't realise that we were doing this when we started with a MySpace profile. We thought we could show people who we were, but then after a decade of showing people what we look like, especially after the rise of Facebook and Twitter, it is just stressful and upsetting. In the band as a whole we had struggles with mental health, we had struggles with body image.”

“Music making is therapeutic, making a career out of music is destructive”

The CMMYS research supports Clifton's statement that embodying their work and therefore making their identity, struggles and self-reflected thoughts visible, while being exposed to an environment of permanent criticism, makes musicians more vulnerable. The study concludes with a number of supporting statements: “music making is therapeutic, making a career out of music is destructive.”
The destructive nature of today's music industry needs to be understood as a much more complex problem that does not only derive from personal struggles and the media, but also from often invisible or hidden working conditions. According to the Music Minds Matter-study most musicians, label owners, managers and promoters cannot make a living from their music. The working hours are anti-social, there is no financial room to plan the future). On top of this, women, non-binary and trans people suffer even more, as they are more likely to be sexually harassed and have to balance work and family.

“I listen, I help and I try to understand”

There are no rules for managers on how to handle their own pressure as well as the pressure of their artists. Inglis does not have an all-encompassing solution either: “I don't have a good answer. I would go to them, ask if I can help. I learn by looking online, talking to professionals, talking to doctors, talking to parents if I have to. It depends on the type of mental health issue they are having. But there are things that we can do. Certainly, I understand my business very well. I know the pressure people are under. I've got my own mental health issues from time to time though they are not serious. I've learned what my issues are and what makes me feel bad about myself or leads me to have dark moments. I had to learn how to talk about it. One in four people has serious mental health issues like depression and anxiety. It's very common but we don't deal with it well because we can't see it. So we just think: you look fine, you are fine; if the person doesn’t mention what they’re going through it’s not always easy to tell. Whereas when someone has a broken leg you ask: What happened to your leg? You can see their leg, if they’re in a wheelchair, or on crutches, but with mental health, it’s not always obvious. I don't have a good answer. I listen and I help, and I try to understand and make sure that whenever someone makes a choice about their career, they think about their health at the same time. When a label says it’s very important to do the TV show, but the artist needs a break, what's more important? The TV show or their health? It's always their health for me. Always.”
For musicians, there definitely is a need to talk about mental health. Megan Clifton emphasizes the necessity of talks like this one: “So there's this person who actually pays attention to the fact that we are being scrutinized, slagged off, told that we are shit on the internet and talking about it, and saying that if you find that difficult, it's legitimate. So, that was a really useful thing. But also it doesn't mean we stop trying, it's just kind of nice to know the enemy: it's not us, it's the industry.”