How one YouTuber is using music to combat the pandemic-induced mental health deterioration

Meghana Kakubal
5 min readJan 14, 2022


Graphic by author

Smartly dressed in a dark teal button-up and black slacks, a man stepped onto the L train on a chilly afternoon four years ago. A red binder clip secured a sardine can lid to the guitar he carried in his left hand. His cousin followed him onto the subway with a phone camera in video mode, ready to capture what was about to happen.

The man knew he was doing something unusual. But it needed to be done.

As the train first started moving, the only sounds in the crowded subway car were a couple of soft conversations and the occasional cough. The man, Reginald Guillaume, began his strumming. The loud chords, while melodious, disrupted the dull quiet. He immediately drew looks — some of annoyance, some of interest. Either way, he had everyone’s attention.

“The reason why I’m here today,” Guillaume announced, “is to have you take a little time out of your busy day, and sing a song with me!”

No response. A man seated nearby actively turned away to avoid eye contact. Guillaume wasn’t deterred, though. He continued strumming and picked out a random person to amiably urge: “Wanna sing a song with me? You do, right? You do!”

Guillaume’s insistence stemmed not from a desire to bother the commuters, but from an understanding about the power of music. He believes that music is a pathway to happiness, which many Americans have found elusive in the past year and a half.

The COVID-19 pandemic has significantly affected the mental well being of people globally. A study led by researchers at the University of Australia found that in 2020, the pandemic induced 28% more cases of major depressive disorder and 26% more cases of anxiety than projected, worldwide. There were 246 million cases of major depressive disorder and 374 million cases of anxiety.

Can music truly be a remedy to mental suffering?

Guillaume shares his answer to this question on his YouTube channel, Guitaro5000. In a video series titled “Sing With Me,” Guillaume goes out onto the streets of New York asking strangers to sing a song as he accompanies them on his guitar. The video on the L train was the first of the series, and since then, his channel has accumulated over 49 million views.

Guillaume, now 34 years old, is a born musician and entertainer. As a child, he sang songs, played video game music on a toy organ, and was a self-proclaimed class clown. But later afflicted by debilitating mental health issues, Guillaume was forced to miss out on several years of high school.

At home, unable to socialize, he dedicated his time to practicing the guitar. He found solace in the emotions that were expressed through the lyrics and melody of a song.

“It was extremely therapeutic for me,” Guillaume reflects.

Guillaume’s individual experience is not an isolated incident. Although small, there’s an entire field of study on this treatment: music therapy.

Professor Kenneth Aigen is the Director of Music Therapy at New York University’s Steinhardt School of Culture, Education, and Human Development. He specializes in using music as a treatment for youth with developmental delays, as well as for adults with mental health struggles. In the professional realm, Aigen applies music “to enhance people’s quality of life in a very conscious and deliberate way.”

There are both physiological and psychological applications of music therapy. Physiological music therapy is often rehabilitative, like singing songs to recover speech abilities after a stroke. Or playing percussive instruments after a car accident causes partial paralysis.

The psychological applications are often more creative and improvisational. This can be performing songs for terminally ill patients or an after-school hip-hop program for disadvantaged youth.

Regardless of how exactly it’s used, music therapy has been shown to be effective time and time again. For mental health specifically, a 2017 study published by the Cochrane Common Mental Disorders Group concluded that music therapy “shows efficacy in decreasing anxiety levels and improving functioning of depressed individuals.”

Guillaume comes to that same conclusion after each of his interactions on the street. After someone sings with him, he asks them, “How did you feel before you sang, and how do you feel now?” While each response varies, there’s a noticeable pattern. Many say that they initially felt nervous or troubled in some way. Post-singing, however, they excitedly express that they feel happier and more confident.

The gratification is not just for those who sing, though. The comment sections for these “Sing With Me” videos are overwhelmed with positivity.

“People were pouring their hearts out,” Guillaume says.

Despite the encouraging comments, the view count was low, at around 25,000 views per video. Guillaume understood that this content was incredibly impactful but was discouraged by the low traction. He continued filming, but only uploaded to YouTube sporadically.

Until the summer of 2020, when George Floyd’s murder sparked protests for change and when the COVID-19 case count was reaching new highs. Guillaume’s videos suddenly began to go viral. In the span of a couple weeks he gained more than a million views.

“People were inside and they needed to see something positive to make them feel better about life…People would write [in the comments], ‘Oh man, before the pandemic, I was doing this, I was doing that, and looking at all these smiling people — it just makes me feel better just watching it.’” Guillaume says, explaining the spike in views.

Music’s positive effects are evidenced by the continual growth in viewership and subscriber count of Guillaume’s channel since then. The simultaneous growth of the COVID-19 pandemic, however, has led to further harm of people’s mental well-being.

At home, “a relationship to music is a necessary component of one’s psychological well being,” Aigen says. He encourages people to seek ways to connect with music for their own betterment, whether through cultivating playlists or participating in community music groups.

Guillaume has returned to creating such musical experiences for people on the streets, although with an added step. “Here, let me sanitize that for you,” Guillaume says in recent videos, as he sprays down the microphone he’ll hand to the stranger who’s stopped to share a melody.