Is enough being done to support touring artists’ mental health?

The arts, the music industry included, forces its creators to experience life’s dealings and emotions in a more heightened way than people of other professions. Documenting personal struggles and sharing life in such an emotive way can make an artist more sensitive to critical feedback. The rise of social media and its role in the music industry has changed, it is commonly used as a marketing tool to connect with fans and promote new music. Every aspect of an artist’s human psyche is scrutinised on these platforms and critical feedback may feel like a judgment of character rather than of music.

With such a significant number of musicians struggling record labels need to draw up a code of conduct so that there are standardised measures for dealing with these forms of illnesses. In well-established businesses employees can confide in wellbeing hotlines and managers as a standardised legal practice. Musicians signed to major labels respond to an expansive amount of managers, booking agents etcetera. Having no real figure to confide in regarding mental and physical health whilst also having no legal measures can leave artists feeling neglected. Claire Scivier, an advocator of fair treatment for artists and creative coach for Green Room has expressed the need for artists to have support from teams around them as extensive and knowledgeable as the ones offered to professions such as sports stars. These professions allow employees time off, holidays and sick leave. Treating artists as employees and treating mental health problems as a tangible issue ought to be paramount. 

Beth Jeans Houghton of Du Blonde (Mute Records) stated to Fader that “Maybe every six months they could have a meeting and check how we are, mentally”. These same issues are prevalent in the apparent suicide of Avicii, real name Tim Bergling, in April 2018. In a documentary released 6 months prior to his passing entitled ‘Avicii: True Stories’ (Tsikurishvili, 2017). Within the release, depression and suicide are topics that are openly discussed. The blame has been passed, by fans, onto management who convinced him that too much money would be lost if the tour was cancelled. A true manager acts as a facilitator of stability on the road where performers are away from families who would otherwise provide emotional support. It is evident that there was a lack of duty of care and as a result anxiety and depression became an insurmountable problem. Promotion schedules are tightly constructed and performers are under enormous pressure to comply, fed the idea that a musician needs to be on the go 24/7. 

The rise of streaming services such as ‘Spotify’ and ‘Apple music’ means that artists have to continuously tour in order to make sufficient profit. The life of a touring artist can be hazardous on mental soundness, being away from family, fatigue and stress are some of the grievous elements of touring. Factors such as excessive amounts of alcohol and narcotics being readily available whilst on tour have become the norm. For example tours and festivals are becoming more frequently sponsored by liquor brands. East India Youth’s last gig where frontman William Doyle smashed equipment on stage was coincidentally also the gig sponsored by Absolut Vodka. “for some artists, substance use is not only a characteristic to creation, but it is also part of their everyday lives” (Studarus, 2017). It is a known fact that substance abuse can result in detrimental effects to mental stability and historically there has been an association between substance abuse and musicians. Not only the use in the creation of music but in the environment. For example, after parties, gigs and tours. This is still an issue in 2018 as the ‘Rock and Roll’ lifestyle of emerging artists’ progenitors has been idolised. It is in the labels best interest to maintain the emotional well-being of clients before tours have to be put on hold, and money is lost. It is not a viable option for the labels to cut lengthy tours fiscally as live performance equates to a large percentage of income for the industry, “33% of total income” as of 2017.

Carla Langley