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Mental Health Awareness in Music

Music is a creative artform that lifts people to experience incredible highs. However, it can’t be written about without referring to the tragic stories throughout its history. This article is written to raise mental health awareness in music.

I invited Stephen Daltry to talk to me about it. Stephen is an experienced life coach who specialises in the music industry. 

An Interview with Stephen Daltrey

First, I wanted to know more about Stephen’s background. Personally, if someone says they can coach me I want to know they have the experience and credentials. Stephen certainly does.

I started off as a club rep in Mallorca! It was good fun but when I came back from Mallorca, I started falling apart. I mean, I literally lost the plot. As a result, I did a couple of years of therapy and found it really powerful. So I decided to train for four years as a person centered counselor and five years as a Gestalt psychotherapist. I was a youth counselor volunteer in Wandsworth, working with 15 to 23 year olds, talking about suicide, drugs, alcohol dependency- all stuff I’d never been exposed to. But, the training I received enabled me to support people, to grow themselves, fix themselves and move forward in their lives.

Stephen’s specialism is in the ‘music industry’, so I wanted to know how he came to be in this business?

I had a background in business and psychology, so I began coaching leaders all over the world, from Kazakhstan to the Middle East. I ran a Nokia Global Leadership program for three years up in Finland, that type of thing. Then, by chance, I got this gig at a very senior level in one of the big, major record labels. As soon as I arrived, I thought, My god, the music industry, this is what I want to be. Why didn’t I think about this 20 years ago? From that day, I’ve specialised as a coach in the music industry. My clients include presidents of record labels, label heads, managers, global performing artists and songwriters. 

I’m also a trustee of a charity, Help Musicians UK, and a mental health advisor to the FAC. So yeah, had quite a career and I love what I do. I’m really there to support people in the music industry, through coaching.

The Difference Between Therapy and Coaching?

When I initially arranged to speak with Stephen, I had assumed he was a ‘therapist’, who helped artists with their problems. However, he wanted to highlight the difference between ‘therapy’ and ‘coaching’.

Therapy is about healing the past to function today. Whereas coaching is about taking you from today and supporting you moving forward. Coaching is an intervention to support artists, or actually, anyone, moving forward in their career. Dealing with anxiety is, generally, worrying about the future. If you can make a plan around the future that eases your worry, it gives you a sense of control. So, coaching can be a good alternative to therapy and very positive too.

Stephen’s previous roles, coaching people in Leadership positions, has given him an interesting perspective on working with artist managers. 

Let me share this concept. It’s called the “Drama Triangle” – rescuer, victim and persecutor. What can often happen if we rescue people, they can end up at some psychological level feeling like a victim and end up persecuting the rescuer.

Stephen gave me an example. Imagine someone who cares deeply about their work and the company they work for. They work tirelessly and feel they only want what is best for the company. However, this manifests itself as exerting too much control over colleagues and not allowing them to determine their own futures. As a result, co-workers complain about them because they feel micro-managed. But now, the person who was too controlling feels like a victim rather than question the motives behind their own controlling behaviour. 

The Drama Triangle

Stephen draws a comparison between the Drama Triangle theory and the Artist > Manager relationship.

Think about an artist manager who is constantly putting the needs of their artists above themselves and their own needs. It’s likely to be a road to failure because if the manager isn’t looking after themselves, they can’t look after their artist either. My response to that is that a manager needs to grow artists by empowering them through a coaching process. Coaching is unlocking a person’s potential to maximize their performance. It’s about helping them to look inside and discover their own answers and grow as a person. Because, if you build people from the inside-out, then they’re much more resilient. With the challenges of social media and of being a performer, the more robust you are on the inside, the more likely you are to withstand the slings and arrows that set-backs and social media can bring.

Internal & External Referencing

When Stephen mentions social media, I think about the discussions that triggered this article and the difficulty many artists feel now that ‘success’ is measured in Likes, Subscribes and Follows.

People, particularly younger people, become externally referenced. What I mean by that is, they look outside themselves for validation. Are these clothes okay? Did I get 500 Likes on my last post? They’re looking outside themselves, for the world to tell them they’re okay. When clearly, ideally, what we want people to do is to look inside themselves and say, “Do you know what? My own choice is okay. The music I make is okay. My clothes are okay”. Yes, of course, I want to get some validation, but I know on the inside that I’m okay. This is the process towards coaching an artist, moving from being externally referenced to being internally referenced.

Stephen helpfully elaborates on the concept of identifying our needs. This is particularly relevant for those artists who may want all the trappings of fame and fortune but not understand the reason behind it.

If you’ve had a very unhappy childhood you might decide that having the world loving me and telling me I’m wonderful is the solution to achieving inner happiness. But, unfortunately, we know from the many examples of tragedies with rockstars, that’s not the case. If you understand who you are and what your need is, you’ll lead a satisfying life. The more you understand and accept yourself, the more you can rely on that wealth of inner resilience, that strength. Hopefully then, you aren’t as upset by social media. Whereas of course, if you think ‘my entire happiness depends on a hundred thousand people on the Internet loving me’, then your whole life is a slave to that.

How Can Managers Help Their Artists?

For my articles I like to get pragmatic, actionable advice for artists and managers. So, my next question is, how does Stephen suggest an artist manager can help their artists? Specifically, how to handle anxiety, something many artists suffer from due to the highly dynamic nature of the music business.

Anxiety and depression are two sides of the same coin, because we’re worrying about a thing in the future. Extroverts tend to turn that uncertainty into anxiety and introverts turn it into depression. It’s actually an energy pushing inwards rather than pushing outwards. 

Stephen suggests four techniques to help.

Techniques to Help Combat Anxiety

Firstly, mindfulness. Living in the here and now, connecting to our bodies, rather than what we’re worried about tomorrow. Our heads are often spinning into the future, worrying about the future. But, your body is in the here and now. A simple mindfulness technique, which you can do before a difficult phone call or anything like that, is just empty your head and connect to your body. For example, focus on your ankle! Put all your energy into noticing your ankle on your left foot. Connect. It’s the here and now that we need to be operating from.

Second is, how we make a meaning from our experience. If I say the word “success” to 10 different people, they will all give me a different meaning.  So, you need to understand your own individual values, attitudes, beliefs, assumptions, how are you looking at the world? Are you seeing a threat when actually you could see an opportunity? The more self-aware you are, the more control you have of your feelings.

The third is being internally referenced, not externally referenced, as I previously mentioned.

And fourth is “worry time”. Some people are constantly worried. The idea is to say, look, instead of spending 24 hours worried, I will give myself half an hour at 12 o’clock, 20 minutes at six o’clock and a half hour at nine o’clock. And you write it down and say, ‘I’m worried about this, worried about that’. And after that, I’m going to stop. It’s a powerful technique.

Worry Time!

This struck me as a great idea. Scheduling “worry time”, so for the rest of the day you can simply get on and enjoy things. Stephen provides more ideas.

As an artist manager, you can support your artists by just talking it through. So they say, ‘well, I’m really worried about paying the mortgage at the end of February’. Okay. So what if you can’t pay the mortgage? What could you do? Who could you speak to? Where could you go? What else could you do? In other words, it’s using questions, coaching questions, to talk them through the future event to help them understand they’ve got some options, some choice and control.

Another technique Stephen encourages managers to learn is ‘Mental Health First Aid’, which can be used to help prevent problems.

As a manager or coach you want your artist to connect to their resources, find their answers and move forward in their lives. I like to make a simple analogy with a tree – a tree needs water, soil and sunshine to grow. For human beings, the three things are, show understanding, don’t be judgemental and be authentic. Amazingly, do these three things and that stimulates a person to connect to their resources and find their answers. 

Techniques For Developing Artists

I was keen to know what techniques a developing artists, who may not have a manager or the budget to afford a life coach, could use.

I suggest, consider your internal and external support. Internal support is that self-talk. You know, are you giving yourself negative self-talk or are you reinforcing yourself? Are you supporting yourself with positive thoughts and positive thinking? If you catch yourself thinking, “I’m a bad person”, immediately think, what’s the opposite of that? How are you a good person? Start to train your brain to think positively. Our brains are machines and we can train them to do anything we want. We might feel they control us, but actually we control them. And just doing that simple technique, eventually your positive thoughts will grow and grow and grow. 

External support is, reaching out and getting support from the environment, from all of the different charities, support groups. Could you connect with other artists and talk to them? Look at the Featured Artist Coalition (FAC) and the lovely, amazing work they do. There’s, so many external organizations to support artists out there. 

Finally a summary from Stephen.

Take ownership. Coaching is about encouraging people to take ownership and self responsibility. My message for managers is grow yourself and grow your artists. Invest in your personal development, grow yourself, grow your inner resilience, understand who you are, be less externally referenced, trust yourself by understanding who you are and accepting yourself. That way, you’ll be more robust in the world. And that’s the basis of what coaching is all about. 

Key Takeaways

  • Artist managers should empower their artists, not ‘rescue’ them. Otherwise it can lead to resentment and persecution.
  • Managers can empower artists by helping them to understand themselves better and provide support when needed, through offering empathy, being non-judgemental and authenticity.
  • Anxiety & depression are largely caused by uncertainty about the future. Working out a plan can help artists cope with the pressures of an often chaotic music industry.
  • Spend time getting to know yourself. What are your values? What drives you?
  • Success is defined differently by everyone. Try to define not only ‘success’ but understand what drives that need. For example, if getting Likes in Social Media is driven by a need for attention or intimacy, then you may become depressed or burnt out by a compulsive need to post your life on Instagram.
  • Understanding what drives your needs will make you better equipped to handle both the positives and negatives of being an artist. 
  • Cope with stress by practising mindfulness. Rather than let your head worry about the future, connect to your body that is in the here and now.
  • If you worry a lot, try setting up ‘worry times’, when it’s OK to focus on what’s stressing you out. But in between those times, get on with your life.
  • Learn to be internally referenced, meaning, you decide for yourself what is right for you, rather than looking to social media for external validation.
  • Think positively. Each time you think a negative thought, make it a reflex to instantly focus on your good points. You will gradually train your brain to think more positively.
  • Take ownership and be responsible for growing as a person. Don’t rely on others or think you can ‘rescue’ others.

Stephen’s new book is released in June 2021. To pre-order, sign-up to his mailing list on his website, stephendaltrey.com

Article Back Story

Some background to this article. I was writing an article about music management and a recurring theme was artist wellbeing. All the managers mentioned the increasing amount of time they spent pro-actively engaging with their artist’s mental health. 

As a society, we are generally better informed about mental health. However, within the artistic community, not understanding the signs of fragile mental health has been one of the saddest parts of music history. Unfortunately, these tragic stories often involve some of rock and pop’s finest talents, from Amy Winehouse, Kurt Cobain, Karen Carpenter, Ian Curtis, Keith Flint, Elvis, Nick Drake and many more, showing no-one is immune.

I’m not a psychologist but I’m going to hazard a theory why this is.

What Makes An Artist More Susceptible To Mental Health Issues?

Being an artist takes a huge amount of soul baring. For many people, getting on stage is scary. Singing or dancing in front of people is scary. Writing a poem about your intimate thoughts, or about a break-up, then reading it out in public would be far too stressful for most people.

Artists do all these things, but in the glare of the public eye. Scrutinised. Adulterated. Mocked. Idolised. Ignored. Often in the most extreme ways. 

It’s a tough ask, even for someone who exudes confidence.

But artists, in my experience, tend to be quite introverted, introspective and fragile. The persona you see on stage is just that – a persona. 

I briefly worked with The Prodigy and had a couple of meetings with the band. Keith was instantly likeable. He was sharp and witty. On stage he had a magnetic stage presence, staring down the audience before launching himself off a balcony. Who could possibly know what demons he was wrestling with when he tragically took his life.

Imagine you’ve just poured your heart into a song. The lyrics are deeply meaningful to you. Opening your heart and soul to complete strangers takes huge courage.

Then reading an off the cuff remark by someone on Social Media that says, “Bit shit this, isn’t it”?

It can be crushing.

More than ever artists and managers need to know there are techniques to counter this. An artist needs the resilience to cope with negative comments said by anonymous people. Or worse, be completely ignored when they’ve just put everything they have into a piece of work.

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