Opinion: The unseen truth of music industry creatives
This is not another mental health in the music industry article.
Trigger Warning. This article does talk about mental health and mentions suicide.
It was mental health week last week and you would have to have your head buried in the sand if you didn’t know there is an epidemic of mental health issues amongst the musical community. It has only been worsened by COVID 19.
In fact, mental health professionals have been reporting a mental health epidemic in the whole country – a tide that has been silently rising as we have lost the ability to travel, the ability to go out, the ability to see friends and family. So…this is not another article about the devastation COVID 19 has caused the live music industry. We’ve read many of them.
Suffice it to say that if you throw an entire part of your economy off a cliff it’s going to take some time to try and put itself back together, and that’s with what we consider belated government assistance.
At a music industry networking event the other day (via Zoom) words like “I just miss people” and “I’m not getting my hopes up” came up more than once in one form or another. People were making plans and were trying to be hopeful, but it was obvious they couldn’t take much more disappointment.
This is all on top of an industry where, according to the Australia Council, in normal times the average income for a musician or songwriter is less than $20K a year (from their music work) and where rates of stress, depression and anxiety run higher than the general population.
We can be thankful for the Support Act Well Being Helpline, and thankful for Beyond Blue and Lifeline where for the cost of a single phone call, somebody who is trained can listen to you and give you some hope. We can be thankful for a country where we can get twenty visits to a psychologist subsidised by Medicare. So, there is help available.
But we want to argue that the creative community not only experience lockdown differently, but they also experience everything differently.
We argue that for musicians, artists, producers, and songwriters the loss of income and the loss of self-worth may feel far worse than for someone else in another industry, such as Tourism. Even in normal times, the industry regularly mourns the loss of an exceptional talent who took their own life.
Why is it that in normal times our industry adopts coping strategies that have an undercurrent of excess when it comes to alcohol and other pharmaceuticals?
Creative thinkers – including so many people who work in the music industry – really experience the world differently and this means that for many of you reading this – you are often not well understood. We believe one of the things that brings people in the music industry together is because we are all share a similar way of being in the world.
Let’s take a brief tour
Firstly – highly creative people are skinless, and highly empathic.
That is, you don’t filter out a lot of the external world the way that most people do. Another way of understanding this is that creative people are taking in more information in the moment.
Skinlessness is a superpower – you notice things that other people don’t. This can mean that often the impact of life events on you can be more profound and impacting. This is one reason why the songs get written. The downside is that being skinless means that you feel an intense array of emotions that others may not.
Secondly – highly creative people have different ways of thinking than most people.
Creatives have fluid thinking. This is where you are processing rapidly and making unique connections between things that other people wouldn’t make.
Fluid thinking is a superpower because that’s where new ideas come from. Add to that you’re not bothered if things don’t add up – that is you are cool with complexity ambiguity and paradox. This means that you don’t need the right answers. Sometimes the question is more important than the answer.
The downside is that can be a struggle to stay organised at least in some areas of life, and to other people your state of mind can look like a butterfly – randomly bouncing around between things that are unrelated. This is not ADHA, it’s just how the creative mind works. They just can’t see the connections you’re making.
Thirdly – highly creative people are risk takers; curious and exploratory.
Risk taking is strongly associated with creativity – because risk takers gain new experiences and build new memories. This means that the music industry is full of risk takers. Surprise, surprise!
The downside of risk taking is that risks can go wrong – and you can damage your relationships, your health, your finances and your career. Many people aren’t as curious and exploratory and may need higher levels of security than the creative. This makes it pretty tough to live with those who enjoy risk and who need new experiences.
Finally – creatives have an incredible imagination.
The inner world of a highly creative thinker is full of fantastic stuff – stories, music and new possibilities. Your imagination is a superpower – because making music or building a music business is all about what is in your head and trying to make it happen in the real world.
The downside of this is that anxiety and worry can seem worse the better your imagination is. Normal people worry and get anxious too – but nobody gets anxious like a creative because their incredible imagination can fill out the details of a worry so well it’s like you’re watching a disaster movie.
We can’t wish these things away because they make us what we are. If you recognise these things in yourself – take heart – you are certainly not alone, although you may feel like it from time to time.
What can we do?
- Show this article to your friends and family – it may help them understand what it’s like to be you.
- If you are seeing a mental health professional – talk to them about your skinlessness, fluid thinking and high imagination.
- Remind yourself that all of our strengths are also weaknesses
- Work on building your resilience – this is literally the ability to bounce back. A good first start is getting good rest, having a good diet, building structure into your often unstructured life and getting plenty of exercise.
- Make more music, work on refining your business and let your imagination run free. People outside the industry (trying to be helpful) were quick to give artists advice like, “just use lockdown to write more music”. We knew this already. We were doing it already. However, it’s always good to remember to direct our creative energies as productively as we can – as opposed to beating ourselves up.
This article originally appeared on The Industry Observer, which is now part of The Music Network.