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How The Music Industry Can Break More Talent By Investing In Mental Health Care & Preventing Burnout
By Jesse Palter, Singer, Songwriter and Recording Artist, and Clayton Durant, CEO of CAD Management
The music business, not unlike most professions, has a mental health problem. Artists and creatives feel things deeply by design. If they work hard enough and the stars align, they just might get the opportunity to expose themselves (vulnerably) through their work in an industry that is ever-changing and so competitive that even on its best day, the odds are still stacked against success. At every stage of the game, an artist's career trajectory is the perfect breeding grounds for mental health issues and yet, receiving support and help for mental health services can be challenging. If we can all agree that the "industry" is nothing without the music-makers, and the world is inharmonious without art, it's time we, as a collective industry, "face the music" and take action.
To provide perspective, general mental health- and burnout-related issues cost the U.S. more than $300 billion a year in absenteeism, turnover, diminished productivity and insurance costs. Mental health also impacts the lifeblood of the music business; breaking artists and scaling new talent. According to a recent study published by Billboard, 73% of independent artists are reported to have a mild form of depression. Make no mistake, indie artists are one of the music industry’s most important stakeholders. In addition, taking care of the indie artist community will be a key driver to the continued growth of the music business at large. Finally, performance rights organizations like ASCAP are taking initiative by launching programs like TuneUp, which will focus primarily on supporting the physical and mental well-being of ASCAP members. MusiCares formed a strategic partnership with ASCAP with this initiative, offering expanded recovery support groups around the country and serving as an official advisor on ASCAP’s recovery and mental health programs.
Corporate America has been proactive with its response to the mental health issue. Organizations have witnessed the connection between its employee stakeholders and their mental health, and have taken action to ensure that burnout and stress are monitored and treated through various investments in programs and emerging technologies. For instance, Deloitte, the largest professional services firm in the U.S., has tackled mental health and burnout by creating a user-friendly dashboard, dubbed Vitals, that aggregates information from a variety of internal systems to see when people may need a break. Employees can see a complete picture of how many hours they are working—during the week and on weekends—along with how much of that time they’re spending away from home, how many flights they have taken in the past week and when they last took PTO. It also allows employees to share their energy levels with their managers. How humane and logical!
These types of solutions need to find their way into the music industry at large because not only can they positively impact the mental health crisis and enhance productivity, but from a business standpoint, they can even improve an organization’s competitive advantage. On top of that, in a marketplace where moving records and creating the next global superstars has become more challenging and more expensive, this investment has the ability to pay back in spades.
So, where do we begin? I partnered with Clayton Durant, the founder of CAD Management, who has worked with artists at both the indie and major record label level to bring light to this issue. This collaboration came after I penned a recent op-ed in Thrive Global describing the honest mental health issues that rising artists face in today’s hyper-digital society, and the pressure it puts on up-and-coming talent. I had no expectations of what coming forward with the chronicles of my journey would yield; I only felt the cathartic necessity to be open and honest. Much to my surprise, my story resonated with a wide demographic, including many industry insiders who reached out sharing similar sentiments. It was glaringly clear: this conversation needs to expand, and actionable strategies need to be put in place and executed, the sooner the better. Although the experiences Clayton and I have differ, together, we presented three ways the music industry and the companies that work in this vertical can help address this crisis. We hope that this article can jumpstart the search for solutions and that we can come together as artists, managers, and organizations to work towards solving this issue once and for all.
The Industry Spends Billions Of Dollars On Promotion Of Records. More Of That Needs To Go To Initiatives That Improve Mental Health
The global recorded music market grew by 9.7% in 2018, making it the fourth consecutive year of growth, according to the IFPI’s latest Global Music Report. Despite a continued increase, rising and independent musicians still struggle to make a livable wage off of their art.
To put it in perspective, a recent report of 1,227 U.S. musicians, released by the nonprofit Music Industry Research Association in collaboration with MusiCares and the Princeton University Survey Research Center, showed that the median musician made around $35,000 in 2017. For comparison, the U.S. Bureau Of Labor Statistics estimates that the average income of a U.S. citizen is approximately $46,800. This has created an affordability crisis for independent artists that cannot keep up with the average increase of inflation, living expenses, and the costs associated with healthcare.
Take my signing story, for example. I received a modest advance upon signing my record contract in 2016, a percentage of which went to my lawyer and manager at the time. In a rather un-rockstar move (but a big-girl-decision!), I made the choice to budget my advance towards my living expenses and continued to take gigs to supplement my income. I recorded my debut album, Paper Trail, for my label in early 2017 and looked forward to what I believed would be an imminent release date, and the anticipation of future income as a result of the hustle I was eagerly prepared for. Without going into too much further personal detail, I will state the facts: my full-length album was released in July of 2019 (2.8 years after I received the majority of my advance). Throughout the time between turning my masters in and the release of that album, I found myself in vacillating periods of optimism and self-doubt, with little resources for someone in my position. In retrospect, I find that rather curious because the feedback I’ve received indicates this is more the norm than the exception. Why are we not openly talking about this, providing support for one another, and figuring out how to fix this so that we can enable creators to continue to grace society with all we have to offer?
For young artists who are being signed to new contracts, ensuring that portions of the artist development budget remain solely for auxiliary elements that directly enhance mental well-being should become standard in all label deals and contracts. For artists who aren’t signed, the industry needs to come together to fund centers that can offer resources to artists (at little to no cost) for the elements that contribute to their well-being which directly affects their mental health. There must be an understanding that meeting basic needs (shelter, food, physical healthcare/mental healthcare, transportation) is essential for the mental well-being of humans. Providing livable standards for artists in all situations is critical.
The Music Industry Needs To Continue To Champion Well-Being And Open The Discussion
Research has shown that companies with high-recognition initiatives perform better and have less turnover than those that don’t. Perhaps this is because support and an environment built around recognition and transparency makes it easier for people to cope with the demands of work and for employees to know that they are valued.
If that is the case, then one of the biggest improvements that we, as a collective music community, can make, is opening up the dialogue around transparency of the subject, and also the pursuit of solutions surrounding mental health. This won’t only benefit the artists, but will also positively impact the employees that work on their behalf. According to a survey of office workers in July 2018 from Peldon Rose, 72% of employees want employers to advocate for mental health and well-being. The employers who choose to champion these issues will be able to create an open and fluid conversation between their artists and the employees that work on their behalf, ensuring all parties can confidently share their sincere thoughts and sentiments in real-time. On the indie side, encouraging more industry-sponsored meet-ups in areas around the country that offer open spaces for conversation on a consistent basis could also positively impact the artist community. Nowadays, we spend the majority of our time connecting and maintaining relationships through the filtered and choreographed world of social media. Real human connection and sincerity is more essential than ever, so that we can all benefit from the nurturing community of shared experiences and lift each other up.
Build More Accessible Mentorship Programs And Provide Human Resources To Artists at All Levels
According to a survey by the American Society for Training and Development, a remarkable 75% of executives report that mentoring has been critical to their career development. With executives mirroring the importance of mentorship, we as an industry need to open our doors and create more mentorship programs that offer opportunities to connect artists across all situations. That way, we can learn from one another and be supported by artists who have navigated their way through similar circumstances.
Mentorship around developing one's career that explores how one books a tour, pays for and markets records, develops a song, builds an audience and even gets his or her business officially registered can alleviate the stress that comes with being an artist trying to “make it.” If experts come forth and offer mentorship pro bono, we will see more artists succeeding at the business and in life. And as more artists thrive, the industry as a whole will expand and revenues improve.
As has been shown by corporate America, proactively addressing issues surrounding mental health has trickled up with impressive fiscal results. Our music industry board members, CEOs, and shareholders can rest assured that their actions will have a positive impact on overall morale as well as the bottom line.
MusiCares' mission is to provide a safety net of critical services to music people in times of need. Music people in need of mental health and/or substance abuse services can reach out to MusiCares for confidential resources, financial assistance and a variety of other supportive programs to address those needs.