Shifting positions: Surviving the industry shutdown
Our work, by its very nature, is outward facing, created for the enjoyment of third parties. Any idea, any urge to create and develop is based on the way we will deliver it for the consumption by people we don’t personally know.
We all see the world as one big land for producing events. In order to be satisfied with our day or project, we need a few thousand eyes to give us approval first. In the end, the outer world dictates our delivery. Everything we do, everything we deliver, show, explain, sell, design, collect or announce is for the benefit of others.
On one hand, it sounds very noble. But, on the other, it is massively hard work for our ego and self-esteem. From a very young age, we face competitiveness, as in this industry no one cares how old you are or where are you come from. Anyone who hasn’t gained approval of their work from the very beginning, eventually will agree that they got stuck in the endless “comparison loop”, or at least, started accepting compliments as given to the product or artist they are representing, and not the person behind with all the work.
As a result, all of us grow and communicate based on adrenaline.
Adrenaline as fuel
We all have our unique ways of producing, communicating and forward planning, but nothing is ever 100% certain. That gap between what we manage to predict and reality is what creates the adrenaline. The difference between our industry and others, is that this degree of uncertainty is so prevalent that no amount of cooperation or experience – no matter how many times it is repeated or copied – can ever ensure anything turns out the same way twice. So it is easy to feed the adrenaline.
Through the adrenaline filter – craving to be the first informed, the first to know about a new tour, a new deal, a new project – we manage to navigate obstacles and overcome challenges, even if we have not seen them before. Why? Because of something bigger than any emotion, bigger than anger, disappointment, joy or sadness: gut feeling.
If you are one of those people who, when faced with an inbox filled with dozens of emails after just a three- or four-hour flight, your first urge is to smash up your laptop, you’ve probably done so over the past few months.
Knowing no-one is waiting for your reply and the sudden disappearance of any pressure to deliver is very hard for an adrenaline junkie
If you are one of those who tends to leave the work for the following day in the office, good for you! Or maybe, you are one of those who plans the rest of the day and night around finding a cosy place to work and while the hours away in a sea of emails.
Either way, none of these scenarios are relevant if you do not have any unread emails. If you don’t have any, you don’t have to plan what to do with them and arrange your hours by that.
Then all you have is yourself – no-one expects anything from you and no-one is waiting for your answer.
Pressure as a habit
Knowing no-one is waiting for your reply and the sudden disappearance of any pressure to deliver is very hard for an adrenaline junkie. As is the nature of this industry, even if you don’t have a NEED for the pressure, it becomes a habit just like anything else.
For some, the removal of this habit of being under pressure is immediately substituted with another pressure-inducing task, that the person will assign for themselves and consume on a daily basis, to keep nurturing the pressure – routine in a new form.
Others jump into a new world, based on consuming new information, nurturing mental health and spirituality and looking at the world as a huge playground. Others just turn off completely. You can find yourself among any one of these fractions, or maybe somewhere in-between.
Turning to a physical activity or challenge works directly to train your ability to deal with pressure.
This kind of pressure fuels a variety of feelings in us and is a very healthy form of motivation. Physical challenges develop discipline, while maintaining the satisfaction of the strength we need to use on a daily basis to push our boundaries and raise our performance. Perhaps most importantly, the results are visible and depend on consistent, long-term effort, just like our event production work.
This industry is still our most vivid and clear form of exchange, so be an active part of it and add value
Focusing on research, turning to self-improvement and learning new skills is another very useful form of pressure. There is a thin line here, though, where you might find yourself stepping away from responsibilities, losing the habit of working hard and forgetting to nurture and feed the discipline you strived so hard to gain.
Playing dead and being ignorant may deliver happy thoughts, but it takes out years and years of hard work just overnight.
Wherever you find yourself, the industry does not own you, but you do leave a trace of yourself within it. This industry is still our most vivid and clear form of exchange, so be an active part of it and add value, as we continue with the unique journey we face right now.
Making friends with the enemy
We are in this together, like never before.
This means that you and your competitor are on the same team. You have not spent months in the same, stagnant situation because your competition is working harder or better then you. No-one is any more clued up than anyone else.
This is why it is so important to nurture useful ways, both for the individual and the collective, to exercise and invest in our two most essential assets right now: creativity and forward planning.
When the curtain goes up, you better be ready if you are planning on sticking around in the live industry. But, until then, there is no point in comparing yourself with anyone else. To focus on yourself is the natural thing to do. There is no better investment.
Starting from our personal decisions, we are now at a crossroads where we can choose how to reframe the industry to make it stronger and more adaptable than ever before.
Lina Ugrinovska is an international booker for Macedonia’s Password Production and the founder of the Mental Health Care in the Music Industry initiative.
A High Cost: How the biz is fighting back against mental illness
People in every profession and walk of life struggle with maintaining a healthy mind, and in an increasingly fast-paced and over-stimulated world, problems including anxiety, depression, insomnia, addiction and burn-out affect all corners of society.
According to the World Health Organisation, one in four people will be affected by mental illness at some point in their lives. Tragically, almost 800,000 lives are lost to suicide each year, equating to one death every 40 seconds. Mental health-related issues, then, are certainly not unique to the live music industry. However, many of the factors that contribute to problems – such as intense stimulation, irregular sleeping patterns, substance abuse, high pressure and loneliness – are often encountered by those within it.
The “competitive, turbulent and stressful” nature of the live entertainment industry, as well as “long working hours, poor boundaries between social and work life, and easy access to drink and drugs” pose many challenges to those working within it, says agent-turned-psychotherapist Tamsin Embleton.
The pressure to gain and maintain success at one end, and job precarity and financial pressures for those starting out in the industry, or working in low-level backstage positions, at the other, can also increase the risk of harmful behaviours.
The specific demands and pressures thrown up by touring present further challenges to those working at all levels and in all sectors of the industry. “Live performers often have issues with loneliness,” states Association for Electronic Music (AFEM) regional manager Tristan Hunt, referencing the abrupt emotional comedown experienced after performing to a fan-filled venue.
“Acts can also struggle with the demands of performing multiple times in a short period, or experience things like performance anxiety,” continues Hunt. “This is combined with access to substances to alleviate those pressures.”
A recent study into musicians’ mental health, carried out by Swedish digital music distributor Record Union, revealed that 73% of artists surveyed had suffered from mental health issues. Those working behind the scenes face similar issues, too. “Artists normally have management and a support network, but the people around them are under immense strain, too,” Andy Franks, co-founder of mental health charity Music Support, tells IQ.
“The doors always have to open, and the show always has to go on. There’s an incredible amount of pressure and euphoria, and when it’s over there’s quite a void in your life,” says Franks.
“Once shared, the problem gets smaller”
A rising awareness
Conversations surrounding wellbeing within the industry have cropped up more and more in recent years. The tragic, high-profile suicide of Avicii, real name Tim Bergling, in 2018, and the death of Prodigy frontman Keith Flint earlier this year, shocked and saddened many and thrust mental wellbeing into the spotlight.
Backstage, professionals attending the ILMC Production Meeting (IPM) in March spoke of the “sad reality” of losing friends and colleagues to suicide, discussing ways in which working conditions could be altered to prioritise the welfare of staff.
Support has sprung up in a variety of forms, from documents detailing modes of best practice, to scientific study into the mechanisms of a healthy mind, and music industry specific helplines to offer a friendly and knowledgeable voice to those in need.
Lina Ugrinovska, international booker at Macedonia-based Password Production, was public about a 2016 burn out. “When I shared my own story, and every step of the way afterwards, I realised that talking about it really does makes a big difference,” she says, “I’m really pleased to see that many initiatives and support centres have been built, and personal stories have been shared.”
Perceived stigma around mental health can often prevent individuals from speaking out, accentuating feelings of isolation and exacerbating the severity of issues. “Once shared, the problem gets smaller,” says Ugrinovska, who began her own initiative, Mental Health Care in the Music Industry, last year. Since then, she has been an advocate for mental health at international conferences across Europe and also formed part of the first decentralised Ni9ht H3lps workshop in Prague.
However, in Ugrinovska’s native Macedonia, as well as the rest of the Balkan region, she says there is “nothing” to support music industry professionals struggling with mental health issues. “The market here is really small and so is the number of people involved in the industry, but we are also facing the same struggles and people do not know who they can turn to,” says Ugrinovska.
The focus on mental health in panel discussions, expert talks and workshops at major industry conferences and events is a good step towards disseminating information about available services, as well as normalising and destigmatising the taboo. “People are hungry for information [about mental health and wellbeing], and they are also keen to find out about it in a slightly more dynamic way,” says Jenni Cochrane, co-founder of Getahead, a 24-hour “festival of the head.”
Fusing education and entertainment, Get Ahead shines the spotlight on employee wellbeing, informs people of where to get help, and celebrates life, according to Cochrane. “There’s no real understanding of the damage mental health issues are having on musicians and other staff, too,” she states, “but collectively, we are all becoming more in tune with it.”
“Peer support is an incredible thing”
Raising awareness and stimulating conversation is one way of removing stigma and encouraging people to voice their struggles. However, complex specificities continue to govern the culture of silence in many parts of the industry, as Lori Rubinstein, executive director of US-based Behind the Scenes Foundation, explains.
“People who are used to being on tour are not used to speaking out – they are the ones who solve the problems,” states Rubinstein, whose foundation provides grants to production workers unable to work due to illness or injury. Being on the road, says the Behind the Scenes executive, means individuals are away from family and friends and often working in a temporary team of colleagues who are unlikely to pick up on changes in behaviour.
The transitory and highly specific nature of touring also complicates the establishment of a relationship with a regular therapist, or other medical professional, who may be sensitive to the situation at hand. To combat these issues, some music industry professionals have taken matters into their own hands.
Music Support came about from the desire to create a service that was “fine-tuned” to the needs of those in the music business, says co-founder Franks. Having suffered personally from addiction issues and finding himself “at a loss” as to how to tackle it, he wanted to prevent others from having the same experience.
The 24/7 helpline offers industry-specific advice and guidance for music industry professionals struggling with mental illness and points them in the direction of appropriate medical help. The initiative has set up backstage areas known as “safe tents” at major music festivals across the UK, including Download, Reading and Leeds Festivals and British Summer Time in Hyde Park, to offer people an “escape” and a space to get some respite and information.
The spaces also host Alcoholics Anonymous (AA) and Narcotics Anonymous (NA) meetings for those struggling with addiction on the road.
“Peer support is an incredible thing,” says Franks. “We don’t necessarily have all the solutions but we can let people know that this is not something they have to suffer alone.”
Offering a clinical perspective is the Music Industry Therapist Collective, a group of psychotherapists and counsellors with a background in the industry. The collective, based in London and Los Angeles, works in person and online with individuals and bands, as well as offering workshops and group therapy. The collective is also working on a best practice guide, the Touring and Mental Health manual, to tackle issues including performance anxiety; relationship difficulties; addiction; stress and burn-out; trauma; and post-tour depression.
Get more stories like this in your inbox by signing up for IQ Index, IQ’s free email digest of essential live music industry news.