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Electronic music and mental health

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iMusician guide for mental health in edm

The subject of mental health has gained importance in the past few years, yet remains relatively stigmatized in our society. It’s important to know that absolutely anyone’s mental health can be impacted regardless of their occupation or field of expertise, music industry included. In 2019 a study done by the University of Westminster and MusicTank of musicians showed that 68.5% of 2,211 participants said they have experienced depression while up to 71.1% shared that they experienced severe anxiety or panic attack. This actually suggests that musicians are 3 times more prone to suffering from depression and anxiety than the average public.

In this article, we’ll dive into the mental well-being of electronic music artists, the relevant statistics, and important tools that can assist musicians in taking care of their mental health on a daily basis.

Trigger warning: This article mentions serious mental issues, including depression, anxiety, alcohol dependence, and substance addiction. If you’re struggling with your mental health and are in need of immediate professional help, go to 988 Helpline, Mental Health America, or NAMI hotline.

Musicians’ mental health awareness in the UK and the USA

The USA and the United Kingdom have dominated a major percentage of the international electronic music market and in both countries, institutions have shown initiatives to raise awareness of mental health and support and empower individuals across the industry. The topic of mental health struggles and difficulties has been an important part of the industry-wide discussion for many years. However, its relevance became even more emphasized after the beginning of the Covid-19 pandemic which noted a large increase in anxiety and depression, as well as suicide rates.

The UK

In the UK, in 2019, the Association For Electronic Music (AFEM), in cooperation with Music Managers Forum, Help Musician UK, and Music Support, released a mental health guide for people working in the industry with the aim to educate, provide further support and destigmatize. While the AFEM is an international organization that represents the global voice for the electronic music industry, Help Musicians UK and Music Support are UK-based charities focusing on mental health issues within the music industry.

Covering key mental health struggles, namely anxiety, depression, sleep deprivation, or alcohol and substance abuse, the guide also contains key contacts, in all 25 countries where AFEM has active members, for those in need of help or in an emergency. The year of the guide’s release was fairly significant for the awareness of mental health within the music industry and the field of electronic music, receiving a great amount of attention at various music-related conferences and events, such as Brighton Music Conference, International Music Summit in Ibiza (IMS), ILMC, Paris Electronic Week, Amsterdam Dance Event, etc. The IMS in Ibiza hosted many guest speakers covering the topic of mental health, including the father of the late Swedish EDM DJ and producer, Avicii, who died from suicide in 2018.

In 2020, a charity organization, Mind, organized a campaign and released a guide to mental health targeting organizations and individuals in leadership positions in the electronic music industry. Directed by the English actor and comedian, Stephen Fry, Mind, above others, explains the most relevant pressures of the industry, shares the statistics on the impacts of the pandemic on mental health and promotes tools for how organizations can help take care of musicians’ mental well-being.

The USA

In the USA, the electronic music-oriented online store Beatport took a major initiative to raise the awareness of mental health in the electronic music industry by launching a unique partnership, Music Connects US, with the AFEM, Silentmode, How Mental, Tom Middleton, and Arigami. Music Connects Us conducted a comprehensive study among a number of 140 electronic and dance music artists, to once again destigmatize the subject and share valuable stories of those musicians coping with mental health issues, particularly depression. Some of the key participants include Kaskade, Junior Sanchez, Yousef, Sarah Story, Scuba, Ben Rau, and Louisahhh.

More than that, however, the cooperation covers the not-so-much-talked-about topics of wellness music and functional music (or ‘music with purpose’), aiming to promote the benefits and healing power of music in fighting mental health issues. The organization majorly supports the idea that music, which has been biologically proven to have an impact on our mind, body, and behavior, can be an important healing element and support individual emotional intelligence.

Understanding the challenges of the electronic music industry

Although working in the electronic music industry may be truly rewarding and offers plenty of various benefits and opportunities, it also comes with many unique challenges, pressures, and burdens that are likely to negatively influence a musician’s mental and emotional health.

1. Working very late and long hours

Late nights are characteristic of pretty much all genres of electronic music and dance culture. Electronic music events, festivals, and busy club nights usually start as well as end late and hectic work schedules with tight deadlines requiring the musicians to work long hours are also very typical for the field of electronic music.

Such a ‘regime’ is likely to contribute to feelings of isolation and loneliness, leading to more stress, causing regular physical and mental exhaustion and sleep deprivation, and negatively impact the work/life balance until the point when the musician has no balance at all. Independent electronic music artists are also more susceptible to this type of scenario if working mostly alone without having someone to check on them.

What may help: If the circumstances allow, try creating an effective daily work schedule with precisely defined work conditions. Be very clear about when you’ll start and then finish work, organize the relevant daily tasks, pay attention to regular breaks and try to include physical movement into the plan (even if it’s only getting up and moving a bit during your break). If shows and events are coming up, design a schedule for these days, as well! Forming clear boundaries between your professional and personal life may help reduce overall stress and establish a healthier relationship with the work you do (which, in the case of music, is most likely your passion, as well).

2. Frequent traveling

In our article about electronic music festivals for independent musicians, we’ve mentioned and talked ‘only’ about the best examples of such festivals taking place annually all over the world. In total, there are hundreds, big or small, electronic music festivals organized every year across various countries around the globe. This means that being an electronic music artist likely includes a lot of frequent traveling. Such traveling for festivals, or generally touring, tends to be extremely isolating, with musicians being likely to be practicing (often alone) for hours, performing, and then returning to empty hotel rooms.

What may help: Socializing refers to a natural human need to talk to and be around people. It’s therefore important to make a special effort to stay connected and so maintain a healthy social life even when being away from one’s support systems and networks. Try to keep physically meeting people when you’re traveling for shows and gigs. If you’re touring and it’s difficult to see your friends and family, don’t hesitate to ‘meet’ them online - especially nowadays, there are plenty of programs and applications that allow for online video calls, such as Skype, Zoom, WhatsApp, and many others.

3. Toxic criticism

Constructive criticism is an essential part of any type of career enabling the individual to improve and make necessary progress. However, nowadays, social media allows anyone to freely express their views and opinions at any time, often turning feedback into toxic negative criticism or even bullying. Online abuse can be extremely harmful to any musician’s mental health, often triggering frustration and depression. One may even become skeptical of their own artistic career and choose to quit music.

What may help: It may be easier said than done but focusing on positive feedback and constructive criticism of those that matter is key. It’s also important to remind yourself and be reminded of your quality as a musician and the achievements you’ve obtained. Facing negative feedback may be harsh and shocking but it’s important to accept that some people may not like you for whatever reasons they have (sometimes they don’t even have a reason). Remember that being hidden behind computer screens and trolling on the internet is much easier than putting yourself and your music out in the world so always try to celebrate your courage, eagerness, and determination.

4. High competition

The electronic music industry is highly saturated and may therefore feel overly competitive. Although especially common in the creative industries, rejection is something that tends to get you down, making you feel self-conscious and insecure about your capabilities as a musician. In the long run, this may have a negative effect on your mental health, as well.

What may help: Accepting that not everything has to work out is definitely a good approach to start with. What you can additionally do is politely ask for feedback from those that have rejected you, whether it’s an EDM producer or an event organizer. Such feedback can help you make some improvements or changes in particular areas, providing you with more potential opportunities in the future.

5. Insecure and unstable work

Something that may be, too, connected to high competition is the lack of security and stability in one’s career, particularly for independent artists working as freelancers. Besides competition, there may also be ever-changing trends that may cause a particular style, genre, or culture, including electronic music and dance culture, to be left behind. Insecurity in one’s job and lack of professional opportunities may be extremely difficult to face especially if causing financial strain and worries. Struggling to make a living as a musician will always do harm to your mental health.

What may help: If you work as a freelancer, having a clear understanding of processes and learning skills outside creating music, such as marketing, administrative or financial skills may help you coordinate your job as a musician and better plan for the future. Moreover, enhancing your specialized business skills may provide you with opportunities in different fields that might well become additional financial sources for you and your music career.

6. Alcohol and drug abuse

Alcohol and substance use and abuse is a large and important topic on its own, having the ability to seriously harm one’s mental, as well as physical health, and lead to alcohol dependency, addiction, and other medical problems. Artists in the electronic music industry are particularly susceptible to alcohol and drug use as those two have for decades been significant elements of the dance and party cultures (also ‘rave’ culture), making them more available and accessible. With alcohol and drugs being generally accepted in the music ‘work’ environment, it is even easier for electronic music artists to ‘consume’ them on a regular basis, considering it as a usual part of the ‘business’.

Both alcohol and drugs are also commonly used to fight stage fright or help musicians to dissociate themselves from negative feelings and pains, such as stress, frustration, boredom, or even sleep deprivation. Additionally, they are likely to be used as self-medication for anxiety, depression, and other neuropsychological mental health disorders.

What may help: If you feel like you've been enjoying drinking during your performances more than usual or just many nights in a row, try to take some time off, to make yourself feel better, both mentally and physically. However, if at any time you notice that your alcohol (and drug) use is becoming a problem, don’t hesitate to seek professional help immediately!

Taking care of your own mental health

Regardless of whether you’re struggling with mental health issues or not, taking care of your mental health on a daily basis is essential for maintaining a healthy mind and body in the long run. On that note, if you’re experiencing some mental health problems, do seek professional health in any case! Here, we’re coming up with a few tools that may help you take care of your mental well-being.

1. Be aware of and understand your triggers

Although there are factors that generally tend to have a negative impact on your mental health, everyone may find different things more, or less, triggering for them. Knowing what causes distress to your mind and body, making you feel stressed, anxious, and overwhelmed, may help you to find ways to effectively avoid and manage your triggers.

Self-awareness is generally beneficial when searching for things that trigger you or, on the other side, make you feel good. Activities like reading, journaling (or any type of creative and expressive writing), or counseling and therapy may well help you be more aware of yourself.

2. Mental fitness

Something that is closely related to self-awareness is mental fitness which refers to the process of (daily) exercising your mind and developing skills and practices that will help you improve and maintain an optimal and stable state of well-being. In other words, through various exercises, mental fitness should aim to make you mentally stronger while becoming aware of how you think, feel, and behave. As a result, you are more likely to better respond to your triggers or manage challenging and uncomfortable situations, being less prone to mental health distress or emotional injury. It’s like going to the gym but exercising your brain instead of your glutes, quads, arms, or back.

While mental fitness is not here to help you cope and cure serious mental health issues, it can improve your long-term mental health and make it stronger. It’s something that you can do on a daily basis (even if it’s just 15 minutes a day) through a variety of brain exercises, such as games, puzzles, or brain training apps, available on computers and phones. Moreover, exercising mindfulness and learning to meditate, as strange as it may sound, is considered one of the most important ways to practice mental fitness.

You can check the website and social media of Wondermind, a mental fitness company, and ecosystem, co-founded by the actress and singer, Selena Gomez, that provides expert-approved tips and guidance, through mostly entertaining content, on how to improve your mental well-being on a regular basis.

3. Get a physical movement

Mental fitness goes hand in hand with physical fitness. Being an electronic music artist may often mean that you spend a lot of time in front of your computer, writing, recording, mixing, and mastering your music. Including physical exercise into your daily routine, even if it’s ‘just’ going out for a walk can help you feel better and more connected to your environment and boost your mood.

4. Functional music and music as fitness

Functional music is something we’ve mentioned earlier and it refers to a type of music that has a more special and particular purpose. It supports the idea that music itself can work as a healing element with positive impacts on your mental health. That’s because music is connected to the release of emotions and is known as a facilitator for mood transformation and a mood regulator. Generally speaking, sound is known to be the only sense that can fully engage all parts of the brain.

Music is therefore considered a powerful and easy tool that can make a valuable impact on one’s mental health and is even an effective form of therapy that can stimulate your mind, motivate you and move you. Music also provides positive benefits for stress relief and overall health, improving your breathing and creating other stress-provoking changes. It’s therefore especially recommended to combine playing and listening to music with meditation and breathwork, useful particularly against anxiety.

Labels and their role in musicians’ mental health support

We’ve talked about ways and tools that musicians can implement to take care of and improve their mental health. However, independent labels and particularly managers and other individuals in leadership positions can take action to raise awareness and support the mental well-being of their musicians and other employees across the organization.

Firstly, label senior leaders, line managers as well as artist managers should set examples of healthier working habits, emphasize the importance of taking a regular break and relaxing, and encourage musicians to set boundaries when it comes to their work. Secondly, what they can do is support their connection with their friends and loved ones when traveling, encouraging them to arrange some time for a reunion or online video call. Most importantly, however, in case of mental health emergencies, managers should emphasize the relevance of seeking professional and medical health or services of specialist organizations (e. g. In case of substance addiction or alcohol dependence), even if it’s at the expense of canceling the tour or the artists simply taking some time off.

Although the mental health (as well as physical health) of musicians and employees across the entire electronic music industry exceeds the importance of making money and being profitable, it is something that can actually strongly influence the profitability of industry-relevant businesses, such as recording companies and labels. Just in the UK, poor mental health costs overall employers up to £45 billion each year.

As the AFEM advocates, just like there are physical health first aid trained employees, each business within the electronic music industry should also have at least one mental health first aid trained staff that would further help destigmatize the subject and provide support and help when needed.

Conclusion

Taking care of your mental health is just as important as taking care of your physical health and there should be no stigma or shame about it. If you’re struggling with your mental health or seeking to improve it, check out the mental health guides from Beatport, AFEM, and Mind. If you’re experiencing a serious mental health emergency, don’t hesitate to call 1-800-273-TALK (8255) or 988, or contact 988 Helpline, Mental Health America, or NAMI hotline, to seek assistance and guidance.

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