Much has been written about what is being called a mental health crisis in the music industry over the last few years. From 2022 into 2023, the concept rose to the spotlight after a string of concert cancellations by high-profile pop artists, including Canadian singer-songwriter Shawn Mendes and American singer-songwriter/producer Santigold, among several others. Each of them cited the gruelling demands of touring and its effects on their mental health as one of the major reasons for their decisions to pull the plug.
A book set for release in 2023 looks to give touring music artists a helping hand. Touring And Mental Health — The Music Industry Manual, published in the UK by Omnibus Press, is set for release on March 23.
The collection of essays covers a gamut of topics aimed at helping touring artists preserve their mental and physical health on the road. It looks at managing crises as they come up (and they do), dealing with anxiety and depression, and maintaining physical health and well-being. The book incorporates personal anecdotes from a who’s who of the British music industry at all levels, including Nile Rodgers, Four Tet’s Kieran Hebden, and Philip Selway of Radiohead.
“I wish this book had been around when I first started touring”, says Selway in a media statement. “Touring And Mental Health can really help us all navigate the darker moments and the bumps in the road out on tour. The insights, wisdom and strategies from the mental health and medical experts, the tour crew, and musicians in this book are invaluable. It should be the first thing we all pack when we head out on the road.”
From promoter to psychotherapist
Touring And Mental Health was compiled and edited by Tamsin Embleton, a one-time music industry promoter turned psychotherapist. It was her experiences in the industry that led her to pursue a role as a mental health professional. She went on to help found an organization called Music Industry Therapists Collective (MITC), where she is now director. MITC is behind the book’s genesis.
In an interview with IQ Magazine, Embleton says the mental health toll of touring has always been around, although in previous eras, it was called “exhaustion” and other terms that deflected the true nature of the problem. And, the data about the disproportionate rate of psychological problems among artists has been well-documented for decades.
It took the latest push from organizations like Help Musicians to finally bring about the impetus for change in the UK.
Musicians and mental health
To an outsider, the life of a musician on the road is a kind of modern-day ideal — life in hotels and restaurants, the glory of cheering audiences… Certainly, popular movies have done little to break the mystique.
The reality, as always, is much different, and hits artists on many levels:
- Long periods away from home, family, and the familiar;
- Lack of support when snags occur;
- Disruption of proper sleep and eating routines;
- Loneliness, depression and anxiety when shows aren’t sold out;
- Performing at a peak level while negotiating all the vagaries of travel;
- And those are only the most obvious drawbacks.
COVID-19 and the long lockdown have added to a general level of anxiety, and pressure to make up for the lost time in the performing arts field. Economic insecurity, coupled with galloping inflation, adds more stress to the mix. Stress attacks the body as well as the mind, disrupting sleep and creating physical problems. For popular artists, too, the media can often enter the picture and may make matters public before anyone is ready for it.
As Embleton told IQ Magazine, “You’re always ‘on’ — expected to deliver to exceptionally high standards night after night, no matter what role you’re in — and that’s hard to maintain.
There are great soaring highs (when performances go well) swiftly followed by lows — a roller coaster people are rarely adequately prepared for. It starts off as very exciting, but as Nile Rodgers said to me, it can be gruelling.”
She advocates for support from within the industry, including mentorship programs, which can be difficult to sustain.
The 600-page book includes practical insights from performance coaches, psychologists, therapists, and other health professionals, as well as artists who have firsthand experience to share. Topics covered include dealing with performance anxiety, addiction, keeping group dynamics positive, and others relevant to travelling artists.
The book is endorsed by UK music charity Help Musicians, among many others, and is available for preorder.
Certainly, there is more to be done to support musicians worldwide.
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