Brett Leboff, artist manager and drummer, writes about the Tonic Rider programme and how speaking freely about mental health issues in the music industry needs to go mainstream.
I was sent a lovely email by Jade some time ago asking whether I would like to write a blog for Tonic, on a subject of my choosing. You may be familiar with the phrase ‘Freedom is not free’. Well, I looked at the email and thought, “What can I write about that will have any value to anyone right now?!’
I have had my struggles in the last two years, watching my entire income fall away and most of my work grind to a halt. I have had to rebuild from there, which has worked well, but it has been a challenging and fraught process. I was, therefore, not that inspired to talk about my coping strategies, as I was consumed with trying my best to stay ‘OK’, and re-establish myself with new work. I felt no inspiration to write anything at all, as I was still making sense of our new paradigm!
Fast forward to two weeks ago, when I was contacted again by Tonic, this time by Dawn, asking if I would like to write a blog post! Instead of responding with an email to express the above, I decided to reach out on the phone. We had a great chat! We shared personal details about our journeys with mental health, and how we have learned to open up about it. I had previously only met Dawn once, and that was when she was stage managing a Tonic open day at the 100 Club, where everyone in attendance was invited to speak on camera about music and mental health! We probably only said a few sentences to each other that day, and yet there I was on the phone divulging the shocking details of my childhood and early music industry days. At the end of the conversation, she suggested I write a blog with the framing ‘why is Tonic so necessary?’ I was full of praise for the idea, and many other recent moments of positivity that had been facilitated by Tonic, so I said, “Oh, that’s a great framing, I can definitely do that!”
Well, I had in my diary to write this blog post today and, when I woke up this morning, I had a text from a friend: ‘I don’t know if you knew him well, but he took his own life yesterday’. It really is apt to then be sitting writing this now. I didn’t know him well, but I shared ‘a moment’ with him. I was in very uncomfortable surroundings for an evening and he became my best mate for the night. He was full of compassion for my situation and could see me clearly. So, knowing everyone in the room and the format of the night, he looked out for me the entire eve. It feels spooky, and strangely upsetting, given how little time I spent with this guy. The feelings of sadness that washed over me when I found out, and still now, that with all the kindness he put out in the world, which is evident from the masses of beautiful words appearing about him, that he just couldn’t cope and no one really knew it.
What Tonic has done, and is continuing to do, is provide a platform for musicians and music industry professionals, where we know that anyone who is at a Tonic event is likely receptive to the sharing of personal issues and discussing mental health. I also know that, if I was really struggling, I could email or phone any of the Tonic team to share that I am not OK, and that they would help me.
I have struggled with many parts of my journey through the music industry and still experience those low moments. I have gathered more and more tools for dealing with low moods and experimented with different strategies. Just knowing this conversation is starting to become an accepted and normal part of the music industry is an incredible step forward for all of us. Having opportunities for our feelings to be validated, knowing that there are many others out there who struggle, and that it is more normal than we might think, is great. I find the phrase ‘Absolutely everybody has SH*T’ very helpful! But the fact that there is an established and dedicated charity who is there to help anytime, that links us with others who also experience difficulties within this crazy industry, is absolutely priceless.
So, the Tonic Rider programme couldn’t have appeared at a better time. The 6-week Peer Support Groups happening throughout lockdown, regular Mental Health First Aid training, workshops on Acceptance Commitment Therapy, the Ska Choir, and their many other programmes – Tonic really is a vital organisation. I feel it’s pivotal for this conversation to grow and support more of us in the music industry, becoming more effective as time goes on.
I said to Dawn that there was always a vacuum in the music industry for dealing effectively with poor mental health. For the last 20 years of my involvement in the industry, and way before that, there has been a culture of drugs, debauchery and dysfunction.
To see the beginning of a new era where this conversation is pushed into the mainstream of the industry, making it acceptable to speak openly about our vulnerabilities, will no doubt have a profound and positive effect on future generations of artists (and their art), as well as industry pros. This transformation will come as a direct consequence of the work Tonic is doing.
Thank you to all of Team Tonic!
Brett Leboff entered the music industry as a professional drummer aged 19 and continued until the age of 26, when he set up his first management company with friend, mentor and music lawyer Len Bendel. After managing 13 acts in as many years, many of them concurrently, setting up many independent labels and licensing around the world, arranging and conducting world tours, and managing teams of around 80 people worldwide, Brett had a nervous breakdown. Taking two years out to travel and work in humanitarian projects, he came back to set up the management arm of the Diplomats of Sound booking agency, working as a consultant to 10s of acts, and taking on the management of Oh My God! It’s The Church.
Brett continues his work at Diplomats of Sound, as well as managing a new record label Disruptive Element Music from inside the film industry (with co-directors including a Bafta-winning film director and an award-winning film and TV composer).
Brett wrote the book Staying Sane in the Music Game, which was released in 2018 and is an ideal read for those at the beginning of their music career. From the start of first lockdown, Brett made the audiobook free and he has continued to give it away as his contribution to promoting better mental health in the music industry. To get your copy of the FREE audiobook NOW, go to www.stayingsane.org and follow the instructions for the ‘Lockdown Special’ on the homepage.