Continuing on from last week’s ‘big’ Danish study blog, (suggesting that non classical musicians have a more stressful time in their musical lives), today’s piece explores these potentially stressful factors at greater depth. As a disclaimer here… I don’t particularly think professional musicking is more stressful for popular musicians but let’s imagine it is for the sake of this blog!
TOne huge stressor of the musicking world surrounds the modern phenomenon of touring, a staple part of the popular musicians’ lifestyle, especially in more recent times, where it is even more necessary in order to mitigate the reduction of income within a digital world. This destructive impact of the discombobulating rhythm of tour life also prompts a greater propensity to burnout and exhaustion, where artists seemingly sacrifice themselves for their artistic work.
Within the practicalities of professional, popular musicking duties, touring is often considered one of the more gruelling and stressful factors of the profession. The lack of privacy and interpersonal relationships, boredom, loneliness, and sleep problems all contribute towards the increasing pressure surrounding the lives of professional popular musicians. I have certainly been impacted personally by all of these in my touring life!
Looking deeper into this, one piece of US research explored the prevalence of depression, anxiety and suicidality within the lives of 508 mixed touring professionals from the UK, US and Canada.
Using a self-survey, the study reported how the touring population had a far higher risk of stress, suicide and depression than the non-touring population. The study reported that 67.9% used alcohol on a weekly or daily basis, and 32.7% used marijuana on a weekly or daily basis. Touring professionals were also found to be at an elevated risk of financial stress and to be more likely to lack agency in seeking support, with 53.5% declining to engage with mental health services. This, of course, contradicts other studies suggesting that popular musicians are open to therapeutic intervention, so yet again, another complex area! (see previous blogs for more details on financial precarity and the use of therapy by musicians).
In general, touring professionals were found to have an elevated risk of mental health distress, suicidality and clinical depression. The study also identified factors such as mindfulness, emotional and social wellbeing as potential buffers against these issues. Although the study illustrated the high frequency of potential mental health difficulties, it did not differentiate between the two groups of crew and musicians, or discuss the location of the participants. This would undoubtedly have had a massive impact on the participants mental health! Also, the research was also predominantly focused on the white, male crew demographic, with limited insight into the nuanced struggles of a more diverse musician pool of gender and ethnicity.
As always, this research highlights the difficulties surrounding touring and what can potentially help to scaffold our mental health when on the road. From my own experience, I did find touring very stressful and in my early days I would have used more unhealthy strategies help get me through. As boring as it may sound, I did (and still do) find meditation a great resource especially when performing. For me it just takes the edge off when things get hot (see my previous blog on resources). So, if you’re on the road try to use whatever works for you in regard to mitigating some of these difficult touring adventures.
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.