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Mental Health and the Australian Music Industry

I usually like to rave about sound engineering to some description, but this month I’d like to discuss the topic of mental health in my industry and profession. I’m not going to say that this is a sensitive topic to sugar-coat it as I believe that it still doesn’t get the attention it deserves, and I would like to discuss it openly as it should be. This may be a wordy one, but I feel as though the topic deserves some thought and articulation.

The Music Industry traditionally has fostered poor mental health within the people working within the industry; from my perspective it has also historically attracted a lot of people who have suffered or were predisposed to poor mental health. These reasons alone promote the need to further push not awareness alone, but solutions to the problem. I would like to be open about my own mental health within this article in hope that it can assist others in their own journey to improve their own mental health as I have. A focus on solutions for some reason is forgotten in the media, as is the general topic of mental health in the music industry when it doesn’t suit the media narrative at the time. It is important that we continue to support organisations such as SupportAct, Crewcare, and other like organisations within our industry as we continue to push this issue to the forefront of conversation.

The idea for this focus on mental health came about through a short course I took within RMIT as part of the Diploma of Music Industry, as now within tertiary education mental health awareness (and solutions!) are being taught and discussed openly. I am hoping that this is the beginning of a strong focus on implementing habits and working solutions to improve and preserve mental health. Just earlier this year SupportAct released the results of their Mental Health and Wellbeing in Music and Live Performing Arts Survey. What was found was that persons within this industry disproportionately experienced mental health problems in comparison to the general population. Here are some of the brief statistics, but I recommend looking through all of the findings found following the link below:

  • 66% of participants had high/very high levels of psychological distress, which is more than 4x the general population,
  • 59% had experienced suicidal thoughts which is over 4.5x the proportion of the general Australian population,
  • 35% reported a current mental health condition which is 1.7x the proportion estimated in the general Australian population.

So, what do we do about this situation? I am of the opinion that awareness is essentially pointless for the purposes of healing ones mental health, and that practical solutions are the method for presenting results. My stance is such because I have had to pull myself from an incredibly dark place, and no amount of awareness for my situation would have pushed me to actually attempt to improve my mental state; I think it is acceptable to say that many would also share my opinion. As such, I am going to take the pragmatic approach to this situation and offer solutions and methods to working towards improving ones mental health – it may not be what you want to hear, but it is what works (at least for me, and for many others). Making a large change is not always easy and comfortable, but you will find that usually the right actions are difficult and should make you feel uncomfortable.

Before we begin

I feel as though it is especially important to discuss this topic openly within this specific line of work. The nature of the music industry, its uncertainty (even without a said pandemics influence), long hours, high stress environments, and the sacrifices one has to make to work their dream, it does take a toll on everyone to some extent – all we can do is be better prepared for when the bad times eventually hit us. This is why I am writing this post, just to try and at least help one person be able to get through those bad times, because we all have the capacity to rise above the bad and come out of it better off. I feel personally not enough emphasis is placed upon actionable steps that people can take towards creating a better mental environment for themselves, this isn’t really discussed openly enough – there is a certain stigma and shame associated with mental health still, and yet look at the above statistics.

Before going into a few suggestions for ways that we can go about improving our mental health and overall life satisfaction, I would like to raise a very important point and mindset that should be adopted when going about making uncomfortable changes to ones life and schedule. Any progress is good progress, just get into the habit of ‘showing up’ to the task that you want to habitualise. You don’t have to be good at the beginning, just make sure you put your foot through the doorway and actually start the activity you are wanting to do. Have this mindset, and you’ll find yourself making fantastic progress.

Find a hobby that is completely separate from your line of work

I think this is one of the best ways to begin to heal many mental health issues that present themselves within the music industry (especially burn out). For topics such as these I like to discuss my own story so as to give you a picture or example of what you can do. I began my journey into the music industry through studying and beginning to work as a live sound technician. At this same time, I had also decided to chase another venture, being hiking (this venture has evolved significantly…). Whilst not only sporting great photos of scenic views and physical challenges, It is also completely separate from anything to do with my profession, and allows for a complete disconnect. What’s more is that I have taken this one step further, and incorporated this hobby within my daily schedule through dedicated weight training in preparation of beginner mountaineering in Nepal! This is what a separate hobby can lead to, new passions, a way to seek new meaning, a way to freshen up your working life and your mental health along with it. Now, I would highly recommend everyone to look towards some form of physical activity as their own separate hobby from the music industry, as physical activity in itself has a multitude of proven benefits to mental health. Physical exercise releases endorphins, improves brain health, and boosts confidence and self-esteem along with a number of other benefits. The main benefit that I have found through intense exercise and challenge is the purity of the task, you can see direct results, a direct correlation between the effort you put in, and what you get out of it. This, for me, is incredibly exciting and inspires me to continue to push myself.

In general, having a hobby that allows you to take a step away from your work will freshen up your working life and allow you to potentially find new meaning and fulfillment through another avenue in life instead of being fixated on one task. Having this disconnect should also improve your overall enjoyment of your work, as instead of only focusing on work, you now have other commitments to spend time on, and thus the times where you work now become more valuable. I have connected this suggestion of action to physical activity due to the other benefits that it presents, but another activity that presents strong health benefits is getting out into nature. 

For me, I find hiking to be extremely peaceful. I disconnect myself from technology, and I am left only with my thoughts and the task at hand. All my worries disappear, and I become present within the moment. Connecting with nature essentially allows you to clear your thoughts and foster a more peaceful state of mind, which brings me to my second suggestion.

Develop a meditation and gratitude journaling practice

I began to meditate and gratitude journal earlier this year with the attention of becoming more mindful and optimistic. I’ve had a few instances along the way where I have suggested this practice to others who have seemed as though they could use the benefits of meditation and gratitude journalling, only to find that there are a tonne of misconceptions and negative stereotypes associated with these practices. Firstly, I want to list the benefits of meditation and gratitude journalling:

  • More present and in the moment,
  • easier to focus,
  • in a state of gratitude (your perspective becomes positive),
  • mental clarity, reduced anxiety, and stress,
  • a proven way to dispel intrusive thoughts,
  • emotional stability and heightened ability to understand and process ones emotional state.

The above are just a few that belong to a long list of other benefits. So then, back to the negative stereotypes and such…, I ask now after listing the above benefits, why would you care about what anyone else has to say if you can tap into any of the benefits? People often claim meditation doesn’t work for them, and it is because they don’t attempt to actually build upon the skill. Meditation is a skill that must be improved and developed through consistent practice over an extended period of time. If you stay committed, you will see results, and they could be life changing.

Gratitude journalling is quite simple; write (don’t type) down 3 or more things at some point throughout each day (morning is a good time) that you are grateful for. Actually take time to think about these things, make sure they are different each day, and write down why you are grateful for them. It takes no more than 5 minutes, and if you conduct this task each morning, it will get your mind into a state of gratitude at the beginning of the day and set you on a positive trajectory of appreciation and optimism rather than the usual and common method of seeking out the bad and focusing on it. Gratitude journaling teaches you to focus on the good, it changes your perspective. This coupled with developing a mindful and present state of being through meditation can lead to an entirely different outlook on life.

As I stated above, just start somewhere. Don’t feel ashamed if you can’t focus on the meditation, or if you forget one morning to gratitude journal; just ensure progress is made. When I wanted to turn these practices into daily habits I made ‘habit trackers’ which are essentially just calendars where you tick off the days you completed the task you want to habitualise. Keep these trackers somewhere visible so you can see them frequently. After a while, you’ll eventually form a streak of ticks, and you’ll want to take extra care not to break it.

A great way to start your practice of meditation is through using the meditation app ‘Medito’. It is a free app, they don’t charge you for extra features, and they operate entirely for free – no ads or anything of the sort (I am not in any way associated with Medito, I am recommending them due to the vast amounts of value their app has given me).

Set goals, and strive towards them

Goals can give meaning in times of uncertainty, they can give direction, confidence that you are doing something right. There is a pure satisfaction and feeling of fulfillment to be had when achieving a long term goal you have set yourself, not even just long term, the action of completing a task is fundamental to a positive trajectory and outlook on your actions. If you feel stuck, or feel as though you aren’t working towards anything, it’s likely you aren’t working towards a goal you’ve set, or that you haven’t set a goal in the first place. I have always been extremely goal orientated and focused. Without having this skill with me throughout my life thus far, I would have undoubtably become stuck in ruts of unproductivity far more often and for far longer. Having this goal focused mindset lets me pull myself up from periods of self-doubt, as I can meticulously write down the steps I believe I must take to bring myself towards an objective – and completing these milestones towards a main goal is very affirming of your efforts. I go above and beyond in terms of goal setting, but this is because I have advanced this skill, the benefits can be had no matter the starting point, just to different degrees.

A great way to begin goal setting (which can easily be incorporated with a gratitude journalling practice) is through writing down 3-5 main objectives or tasks you would like to complete. Write down these tasks the night before the day you set out to complete them, it will give you great purpose and drive. Again, don’t be discouraged if you don’t manage to complete everything on your list. Treat it as though if you complete the tasks you set yourself that you have had the perfect day. Think big! Don’t set your sights low, even at the beginning. If you aim high, you may miss your target, but you’ll have still shot higher than if you had aimed low. Also to add, the action of physically writing down your goals is very important, putting pen to paper has more of a mental significance to us than simply typing. It allows us to consider more of what we are writing, and we are more mindful of it. Keep yourself accountable, remind yourself of your goals each day if possible. Spend some time maybe each morning just looking over what you have to do each day along with the long term goals that your daily actions should be working towards.

We can begin to dispel any negative self-esteem through the action of goal setting and completing said goals. Through the completion of the goals we set, we can start to feel a sense of pride and accomplishment, we can remind ourselves of what we have achieved – and we can start to respect ourselves more. This respect can easily uncover the pathway to self-love which is an often misunderstood topic as people with certain core beliefs (such as myself) find it difficult to simply justify the action. Completing challenging goals gives you the ability to view yourself in a high regard. If you view yourself in a negative light, start to give yourself reasons to think otherwise.

I had the goal a year and a half ago to climb the two highest mountains in Victoria (Aus) specifically whilst in winter. This season I managed to complete this goal whilst failing last year. It took time, effort, and a little bit of waiting around for clear weather! You can really do a lot more than you think if you set your mind to something, just get started and see what happens.

Josh Mt Bogong
Mt Bogong - 1986m
Josh Mt Feathertop
Mt Feathertop - 1921m

Closing thoughts

I hope that my suggestions may reach the eyes of the people who need to read them. But reading is one thing, taking action is another. The main reason I have written this post is to inspire action instead of talk and awareness, as they can only go so far. Changes start with change; you can’t hope for anything to change if you don’t put in the effort. It doesn’t take much either, just a little bit more each day. One more step slowly but surely up that mountain. Is it worth taking the hard route? Is it worth taking the time to develop new skills, habits, and hobbies? I can answer these questions with another. Is your mental health worth healing? If you are in a bad place, and want to take your first steps towards a brighter future, consider my suggestions. I have had great success and progress thus far following what I have preached.

And for those who may need a helping hand, someone to guide them, keep them accountable, feel free to reach out. This topic is close to my heart, and It brings me great joy to be able to help others find happiness, be it through music and sound production or another means – I may be a stranger, but if you need someone to help you on your journey I am happy to offer whatever assistance I can.

Let us know your thoughts through contacting us on any of our social media pages, or contact us directly. Your input is appreciated.