Music

The Music Industry Must Do More to Protect the Mental Health of Its Most Vulnerable Artists (Guest Column)

As we come to the end of Mental Health Awareness Month, the music community would be remiss to not critically examine the mental health of the most vulnerable among us — specifically, the child and youth labor that represents a significant portion of our market share, revenues, and slots on the new artist charts. The state of our entertainment union, one that venerates youth above seemingly all else, ironically puts a low value on artist’s holistic wellbeing, putting them in myriad situations that are age-inappropriate, and that are dangerous mentally, emotionally and physically. 

The discussion of youth safety in the workplace is hardly new and as the recent documentary about abuses at Nickelodeon,  Quiet on the Set: The Dark Side of Kids TV, showed, we’ve seen embarrassing and tragic cases of industry putting commerce before conscience. Having only minimal guard rails in place, such practices in the entertainment industry have resulted in mental health damages that oddly run counter to the fiscal goals of the industry itself, but more importantly, cause mental scars on young artists that are carried long into adult life. 

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A study published by JAMA Psychiatry last month echoed what so many other studies have shown: over 40% of adult mental illness — anxiety, depression, substance use and suicidal ideation — is directly linked to traumatic events sustained in childhood and adolescence. The study strongly advocates for policy-driven prevention measures to reduce the rates of youth mistreatment, thereby reducing the rates of serious mental illness in adulthood.

The entertainment industry, and specifically the music industry, needs to enact deep systemic, policy-driven changes, ones that introduce the presence of mental health therapists in virtually all situations and venues encountered by new artists. Shadows, if you will, that protect the artist, thereby indirectly protecting the asset the label has so dearly invested in: the artist themselves.

What would this look like? Just as we require on-set academic tutoring and child labor OSHA protections, the music industry should lead the way and have 24/7 mental health support people shadowing each and every new label signing, helping the artists navigate their new reality of constant adoration, free-flowing money, highly-sexualized environments, the prevalence of drugs and alcohol, and long, unsupervised hours in studios and on the road where rampant sexual/gender-based harassment and assault can and does occur. Labels and publishers would present standardized curricula related to mental health on-boarding upon signing, mental health de-boarding upon termination (ie, when an artist is dropped), gender-based assault/harassment safety best practices, recording studio safety, balanced and healthy touring, and general psychotherapy, among other things.

Some forward-thinking industry players are already part of that change. Nettwerk Music Group builds “wellness budgets” into their artist deals. Limited Edition Music Publishing, a new independent publisher, is doing the same. There are also non-profits including MusiCares, Sweet Relief and Backline that offer valuable assistance. But the list of agencies, labels, and publishers giving only lip service during Mental Health Awareness Month is pathetically long. 

For more than 15 years, I was a senior level A&R guy. Over those years, I signed a number of young songwriters and bands (Disturbed, Michelle Branch, Hoobastank, BRMC, Remy Zero, among others). The industry thrives on the young. Michelle Branch was 14 when I signed her. The stories many young women tell of being harassed, including Phoebe Bridgers and Billie Eilish, very likely could have been minimized or outright avoided with the presence of therapist shadows (and zero tolerance for the men doing the harassing). But as it stands now, mental health initiatives in the music industry are mostly just performative talking points.

Artists are our livelihood. Artists are our passion. We as an industry need to do better, proactively protectingthem at all costs from predatory, dehumanizing behavior that relegates them the status of a disposable widget (and not someone’s daughter or son). To be sure: artists will be dropped, singles won’t be worked, and albums will be shelved — that’s business — but how the artist is treated when these events occur can make all the difference in their lives going forward.

And what’s the payoff? How about fewer artists with devastating identity issues, severe depression, debilitating anxiety, substance use disorders, suicidal ideation and more? How about artists that don’t flame and burn out? How about artists whose creativity is boundless and ever evolving? And how about cultivating a whole generation of young artists who are emotionally, mentally, spiritually and physically at the top of their game — thriving and creating — and not traumatized by the very industry meant to nurture them. Now there’s a legacy we could all be proud of.

David Andreone is the founder of ArtistServices Therapy, a psychotherapy and coaching practice tailored to artists, creatives and creative executives. Andreone has held senior level A&R positions at Warner/Chappell Music Publishing, and Columbia Records, and continues to manage artists and produce TV content.  

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