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The occupational life world.

Welcome back, I hope you all managed to get through the good and the bad of the festive


In the previous few blogs I have explored some of the things that impact our mental health as musicians, the positive and negative. In this next series of articles I will be focusing on the occupational component of our experience as musicians.

From my own clinical and personal experience, the occupational environment poses a considerable risk to the mental health of musicians. Factors such as late nights, financial precarity, fame, heavy touring schedules, alcohol and the emotional dysregulation of performing have all been found to negatively impact musicians.

In the classic book Popular Musicians Under Pressure by Wills & Cooper (written in 1988) musicians were asked about cigarettes, alcohol, cannabis, and tranquiliser use as well as relaxation techniques. These researchers reported high levels of stress emanating from significant factors including the precarity of work, low income, work overload, work underload (boredom), MPA (music performance anxiety) and the maintaining of self-imposed standards. The musicians also reported pressure within relationships, the musicians’ lifestyle, and being treated as second-class citizens.

To what extent these findings could have been due to the innate nature of musicians’ neurotic tendencies or the high stress in their environment (nurture or nature) remain unclear (I discussed this in previous blogs).

The research also reported how half of the musicians in the study used alcohol daily, which was assumed to be related to the social aspects of their role. Additionally, 36% of the musicians smoked cigarettes (which was lower than the national average of 42% at that time), 46% reported occasional cannabis use (with 7% being regular users), 12% used tranquilisers and 90% had never engaged with relaxation techniques. The research was the first to include a large sample of popular musicians, yet it was limited in terms of its outdated genre definitions, its male focus and its failure to account for the demands of a modern, technologically evolved demographic.

What can we draw from this research? From a personal experience and my own doctoral research, these themes are still playing out in today’s music industry especially the work overload or underload and being treated like second class citizens, component. I think the music industry is a tricky place, the feast or famine or the buzzing live performance versus waiting around for hours on end to perform. It really plays havoc with our nervous systems. The answer, as always, I’m not sure, but…hopefully this series of writing will prompt a deeper insight into this unique area. And, of course, one important factor in helping all those who may be struggling, is psychological support, whether that be personal therapy or the Peer Support Groups that Tonic Rider offer!


Adam Ficek hosts a monthly show 'Tonic Music' on Totally Wired Radio, where he talks to various guests about music and mental health. You can listen again to any of the previous show on the Tonic Music Mixcloud page.


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