Last week ‘Music Minds Matter’, a 24/7 ‘mental health support line and service for the music industry’ was launched with the help of Sir Paul McCartney. This service should be lauded in all corners of the industry, especially after a year that has seen the tragic passing of Chris Cornell and Chester Bennington; talented musicians who, from the outside appear to have it all, were in fact fighting demons they ultimately lost their battles with.
My time as a broadcaster has brought me very close to the workings of the music industry, a literal rollercoaster where artists can be riding high in the charts one week then thrown out with the disappointing midweek figures the next. I have met many artists where the pressure of what is expected of them is weighing heavy on their talented shoulders. One artist, who fortunately is still experiencing chart success, once signed off an interview with me by saying “Thank You” and then declaring: “You never know, we may never speak again!”
This throw away remark was openly a reference to whether or not she was about to have her record contract renewed. She had made it blatantly clear during our chat she was anxious about what was about to happen to her, and her career, despite having achieved great critical and chart success. It was a moment that has stuck with me for many years and, with the launch of ‘Music Minds Matter’, we must always be mindful to keep the idea (and the ideal) of a pop star quite separate from the individual who is singing our favourite songs. The two entities are very different.
The record industry isn’t the only creative sector that should be extending responsibility to its workers. Sitting, like a musical bedfellow, next to the music bods, are the radio workers. Often marred with the stain of self-obsession, beneath the surface most radio presenters are in fact often anxious and tense.
The idea that musicians need be constantly ‘on’ extends to the world of the wireless. There is an age-old adage in the industry that ‘you’re only as good as your last show’, which inevitably breeds a sense of constant doubt and severe fear. If you’re not surrounded by producers and assistants telling you you’re doing a great job; then there’s a high chance you’re alone in a small studio for up to four hours a day, talking to yourself and feeling like a goldfish.
The internal cries of ‘am I good enough?’ or ‘what if the Big Boss is listening’ can often be turned up so loud you’d be amazed any presenter actually ever heard the Clean Bandit song they’d just finished playing.
Recent changes in the industry have led to tightening of opportunities, like a metaphorical noose around the radio world all presenters love and want to protect with all their hearts. It’s no secret that most presenters are self-employed and the anxiety and insecurity that freelance life brings can easily lead to a cyclical fear of failure and this inevitably brings other levels of doubt and nervousness.
I have many friends and colleagues, in all levels of radio, whose mental health has been affected by the jobs that they love; medication and counsellors have become just as common in conversation as the latest jingle packages.
While the passion for radio can feed healthy determination and a desire to succeed, I applaud the music industry for beginning what I hope will be a turning point in creative industries being mindful of the mind. Music, Radio, TV, Fashion…. whatever it may be, keep looking out for each other, because the thick skin sometimes wears thin.