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There seems to be a bit of a mental health revolution in music at the moment. Sony have recently begun offering their artists mental health support and it is becoming a much more widely acknowledged and supported discussion in the arts in general. After my initial ‘about time’ reaction I found myself wondering ‘why now?’.
After all – it isn’t exactly a new thing to have artists struggling with mental health issues. Realistically if you look back over the last 60 years in the charts there’s quite a few classics that come from such a place of mental struggle and turmoil.
Artists have had enough, and frankly I’m relieved. We’ve seen in recent years artists throwing their metaphoric weight around in searches for contracts and money but more recently it has been about mental health. The music industry has always been so cut throat and lonely. ‘You’re not good enough’ or ‘You’re too ugly’ seem to have in the past been commonplace for artists to hear. I’m not sure any other industry outside of the arts would deem it okay in the slightest if when asked for interview feedback on failing to get a job you were told you were too fat, too thin or that your nose was too big for you to be successful, as Lady Gaga infamously heard. For some reason though in the arts it has always just been a ‘That’s just the way it is’ exception. The rewards are big but the risks are bigger and everyone wants their shot at the big time, and no one dares to speak out in case of blowing their chances at getting there. That’s why it’s so relieving when it comes from the top. Adele has always been an exception to a rule in that her voice was allowed the space it deserves to do the talking. It’s that same voice that sees her being one of the true icons of this generation of music talent, and I’d say to be honest she’s basically untouchable at this moment in time. In light of her new 30 album though, Adele has been very vocal about her mental health and the effects it has had on her as an artist – not making music for five years and being frightened to bare all of her emotions amidst the breakdown of her marriage. Adele isn’t alone either; Selena Gomez, Tori Amos, Lady Gaga, and Sam Fender are just those who have spoken out recently, but moving back further in time the list is endless. The great thing about this is that when artists at the top are being so frank and honest about their struggles it sets an example for everyone. In making this magazine I have interviewed some very talented up and coming artists who right from the very start embrace their mental health and openly talk about it – no longer having to worry how they may be perceived and the knock on effect to their careers.
Let’s face it, music is a business and the artists are the money makers - and the unfortunate news is that if something didn’t make business sense it still probably wouldn’t happen. When record labels have huge artists signed to them like Adele who doesn’t want to make music because of their mental health, this is a problem for them. When artists are unhappy or have highly publicised breakdowns, this is a problem for them. More recently, as artists have been more and more vocal about the lack of support received form record labels in terms of mental health, labels are faced with a PR nightmare. To be honest, I’m surprised it took so long for the industry to fully embrace mental health and offer support – because it had to be losing them money. Whatever the reason behind it, it would be harsh so early on to call this nothing but a money ploy. The fact is that they are making an effort, and whilst it is easy to say they are a bit late to the party, we still live in a society where it is only just really becoming acceptable over the past few years to open up about mental health – and we still have a long way to go before we get there. Artists for years have used their mental health to channel into some of their best music and have never felt comfortable asking for help – so can we really blame label execs for not seeing something that was right in front of them? After all, if they had an artist making huge money, making hit songs and becoming a huge star it would be very easy to assume that they were completely fine, especially in society as it was not even ten years ago.
I think a lot of the credit has to go to the musicians. In a developing society embracing mental health they have often been the pioneers. Going public with stories of mental health helps us to accept our own problems, whilst telling us that if they can tell the world surely we can be more open too. Just a scroll through fairly recent news brings up such stories as ‘Ariana Grande donates $5 million worth of free therapy’, ‘Arlo Parks speaks out on lack of mental health support in the music industry’ and ‘Sugababes on ‘overdue’ changes for mental health in music industry’. The fact of the matter is that artists have helped force a change. Being open about their own issues and calling out the industry has no doubt had execs scrambling as their hands are forced – ultimately it demands them to take a look at themselves and make a change. I have no doubt that it is continued artist pressure that has encouraged Sony to start taking steps towards helping mental health and I can only hope more companies follow shortly. It is just relieving to see that the industry is continuing to evolve, and I think this is great news for any artists hoping to make it to the big time who don’t want to sacrifice their mental health to do so.
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