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How psychologists view the music industry.

Adam continues his look at the occupational component of experience of musicians.

Continuing on from the seminal work of Wills & Cooper discussed last week, another early piece of research about popular musicians was a US based study of ten professional, American based rock musicians using case studies, clinical interviews and questionnaires surrounding coping strategies and occupational health, which you can view here.

The musicians were asked about job satisfaction, career history goals, and workload. Within these categories, 60% of the musicians were ‘somewhat satisfied’ with their career goals, with a desire to ‘grow and develop musically’ in the stressful financial precarity of the ‘feast or famine’ environment of the music industry.

The research also highlighted the health risk posed by ‘inconsistent coping resources’, especially during demanding periods of touring and live shows. In the study, high levels of alcohol and drug use were also reported, with 80% smoking cigarettes, 50% using drugs on occasions and 20% describing themselves as problem drinkers (bear in mind, this research was carried out when more people in general were smoking - back in the day!). In all, the research highlighted the main stressors of the rock musicians being finances, job insecurity, the stress of career development and performance anxiety.

The study also illustrated that 90% of the musicians expressed high levels of trait (personality) anxiety, moderate levels of self-denigration, with 50% having only moderate levels of self-esteem. Additionally, 70% of the participants experienced the

profession as ‘very stressful’ (nothing has changed there then!).

This stress was attributed to the lack of financial support and resources, insecurity of job and career development alongside the stress associated with the lack of recognition from the music industry, and the conflict between career and other social roles. The coping patterns used to navigate these demands were influenced by what the researchers called subjective appraisal, prompting either self-agency (meaning how much they actually did stuff for themselves) or cognitive acceptance (just took it on the chin).

These coping strategies consisted of social interaction or personal (problem or emotion-focused) strategies. Despite this, most of the musicians used social support and smoking cigarettes to mitigate their stress, of courses, one is far more healthier than the other! Overall, the report highlighted occupational stressors and coping mechanisms resembling those discussed by Wills and Cooper mentioned in the previous blog.

Both of these research studies are quite old now and are limited by their self-report bias (filling out questionnaires) age, gender and exclusive focus on the occupational environment, yet they do provide valuable insight into the stressors within the pre-digital world, we now find ourselves in. The evolved, modern digital climate of the modern industry has a far wider diversity of style, gender and ages, along with increased challenges such as demanding touring schedules and reduced recording income, differences that highlight the limitations of these 35-year-old studies.

The strength of these historical pieces of research lies in their broader, integrated overview of the different factors of stress and tension, yet the modern, popular music environment creates the need for an updated, holistic set of data for the digital era. Understanding these stressors both historically and in contemporary the environment is vital in identifying problems, many of which are common themes in the Peer Support Groups and other workshops offered by Tonic Rider. If you are a musician and struggling there is support!


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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