Anxiety and suicide in the music industry... why?

Anxiety and Suicide in the Music Industry . . .  Why?

Anxiety and suicide in the music industry... why?

Isn’t music meant to be relaxing, mood inspiring, uplifting?

In an industry where the primary theme is to bring people enjoyment, how is it possible that musicians have an increasingly higher rate of anxiety and suicide in proportion to the rest of society?

“It’s an unfortunate truth about the music industry that putting yourself out there emotionally and tiring yourself out physically can be damaging to your mental health”, heads a Newscorp article in the Herald Sun.[1]

And ain’t that the brutal truth. What does it take to keep the creative juices running and the audiences happy? What is the pay-off to work in an industry known for its ‘make or break’ mentality? Could it be that the music industry is configured and administered in such a way that does not allow the artist to find true balance in themselves, and that this consequently reflects in the music that they produce which is prized above all – way above the true welfare of the musician, let alone the listener.

According to a report from Melbourne’s Victoria University in 2015, which surveyed 3000 music industry workers, musicians are five times more likely to suffer from depression and 10 times more likely to show symptoms of anxiety compared to the rest of the population.[2]

Competition itself is the forge within which most musicians are formed. From the talent quests at primary school to the intense selection processes at the academies, competition rules. The real question is – is it possible to have a truly inspired medium under such intense pressure? In the pop music world, the pressure – once you have had one success – to match or better that and do ‘whatever it takes’ to get that music in the market place and onto people’s playlists, is massive.

‘The pop music scene is toxic and needs rehabilitation’ writes Dianna Kenny, Professor of Psychology and Music at University of Sydney for The Conversation, 2014. The ‘pop-cultural scrap heap’, to borrow journalist Drew Magary’s term, is piled high with the dead or broken bodies of young musicians whose personal and musical aspirations collided with the aspirations of those occupying the commercial edifices erected around them, which turn them into income-generating commodities whose role is to satisfy capricious and ever-changing consumer demands. Many of those musicians end up feeling suffocated, caged and possessed by their minders, exploiters and fans. And many end up dead.’[3]

Massive expectations to deliver the goods regardless of cost is always directed at performers, managers and entertainment industry workers in many different ways, irrespective of the toll it takes on the human being. The many armed octopus of fame and fortune is continuously squeezing everyone involved.

Dr Diana Kenny also found that the lifespan of a musician was up to 25 years shorter compared to someone in the wider population, that suicide rates were between two and seven times greater for musicians and that homicide rates were up to eight times greater. With such a disturbing picture, the prospect of surviving after entering the music industry is dire.

So what has happened? Why has something that can be so beautiful turned so ugly; who or what holds responsibility for the outplay?

The machinations of the consciousness of the music industry starts a series of events that swallows up the purity and true nature of its charges to satisfy its never-ending hunger for a new face, a new talent, a new brand to feed off. We live in a world where the price we pay for fame and fortune without care and integrity for the human being has become acceptable. What sort of contract do we sign ourselves over to, and who or what owns us when we do? Why do we give ourselves away; why do we give ourselves over to such manipulation and exploitation when we know it feels destructive for our mental and physical health?

We seem to reach the top of the pile and simply ignore the crushed bodies we stand on; human life is viewed as expendable and un-precious. If this is the case, how can we condone or support the current nature of the music and entertainment industry in any way?

But even when we do see the pitfalls, does a part of us still desire entry into this world that ultimately fails us: are we still willing to hand our kids over to the opportunity to ‘make it’, despite what we know in our true heart that entails? The wake of evidence spread through all genres of the music scene is plain to see. And further, what about us, the listeners who buy the products – are we part of this team of enablers? Until these questions are deeply pondered, we cannot appreciate the true beauty that can be expressed through music. And equally, appreciate the quality of music that is produced when we are nurtured and loved for who we are, with no need or desire to be anything other than our true selves. No branding required, no face to upkeep.

We can all agree that the current situation doesn’t make sense – that it is indeed sad, sorry and desperate – but until we let ourselves actually feel the wake of devastation that the music machine leaves and understand how much we have shot way below the baseline of decency, let alone integrity, we will never truly want to address where the music industry is at today, nor our part in it. And until we are willing to see that there is a controller who, at a whim, pulls the strings that we ourselves align to, we cannot begin to make the choice to restore the true role of music.

Beautiful in its simplicity, music can naturally be played to inspire and uplift. As a purposeful expression, music can enhance our lives and offer energetic clarity to humanity in its tone and rhythm – always designed to illuminate, never to bring anyone down. Not defined by genre – loud, soft, rock or ambient – but by the energy that we can all ultimately feel (the true vibrational state), then music can serve both the player and listener.

Until there is a dial or meter on every hi-fi system that measures the stress level or true listenability of music or, more to the point, we use our sensitivity and awareness to feel what is actually going on in the music we produce and play, will we begin to understand the beauty of the full spectrum that can be truly offered through the power of music.


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  • By Jenny James, Singer/Songwriter

  • By Chris James, Musician, Singer, Voice & Expression Teacher

  • Photography: Simon Asquith