In my recent blogs I have explored many of the stressors of being a musician. One reoccurring factor in this area is financial struggle.
The past two decades have seen the introduction of technological advantages within many areas of musicking yet, conversely, there has been a reduction in financial security from recorded music royalties making many musicians more and more anxious. Within the changing music industry environment, the modern musician performs for longer periods of time because of the necessity to offset the diminishing income of digital earnings. This increased touring pressure can have an immense impact on mental health, amplified by the increasingly difficult freelance and temporal nature of the digital environment. Since Covid this has become even more irregular and volatile with many musicians dropping out of the industry all together.
To counteract this insecurity in an ever-competitive environment, modern, twenty-first century musicians are increasingly compelled to adopt a maverick and entrepreneurial approach embracing a wide range of skills to sustain a living. Many musicians now do the marketing, the social media, the recording, the mixing and the performing. As an independent musician who, in the past has done all of my own marketing, social media, tour schedule, artwork, royalty admin, artwork and digital dancing…I can tell you, it’s exhausting, a full time job!
This independent, autonomous and self-reliant approach, together with the portfolio, boundary-less nature of a musical career, significantly impacts mental health through the lack of support and the ‘sharing of the load’ especially if we are solo artists. Within this modern technologically pressured environment there is also a huge overlap between the more traditional definitions and identities of aspiring musician, working musician and celebrity musician in regard to the demanding nature of social media and its impact. These identity and career struggles are a major source of stress for musicians, myself included, and the research suggests how this can often be mitigated through substance use and drinking.
Developing this financial perspective, in a recent US study of income for working musicians reported the need to work two jobs just to cover bills and living costs! Similar findings have been found in various studies of UK-based musicians. This financial precarity and money worries was found to contribute towards feelings of hopelessness and depression, as well as difficulty sleeping, low energy, concentration problems and low self-esteem. Subsequently, these musicians were found to be five times more likely to use cocaine and twice as likely to drink, not surprising really! These studies certainly resonate with me personally and for those musicians that I have played and work with. It’s a story that permeates many of my peers and friendships, the struggle to keep heads above the financial water!
To be honest, I’m not sure what the answer is but I do feel that musicians are not always valued for the hours they put into their art, their commitment to the creative process and the dedication to their musicking. This is becoming more and more difficult as the big corporations squeeze out the middlemen, yet we still choose to do it. Despite the growing industrialisation and commoditisation of ‘musician’s mental health’ entities, musicians are still undervalued and underpaid.
If you are a musician and feel the weight of any of the issues mentioned please reach out for support either at Tonic Rider or the other charities offering scaffolding for all those that music.
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.