Well-being in music requires action, not lip service

© 2016 Azzah B.A. Licensed under CC-BY.

I was heartbroken to hear this week of yet another talented industry colleague suffering a breakdown due to work. But this highlighted a few emerging issues here which demand acknowledgement and action.

Firstly, labels: lip service is not enough. Too many times now I have seen rather empty statements that businesses are “aware” of the issues around well-being in the music industry workplace. However too often the commitment stops there: little is done, and in truth staff continue to struggle in the face of an ever-increasing workload and ever-increasing hours to match.

Mental health in the workplace needs to be proactively monitored. Part of that lies in acknowledging that as a business we have a growing problem here, which brings me to the second issue.

Increasingly, the industry is adopting more and more label service-like models. This shift relies on volume; slim margins force that to be the case. Unfortunately however, this is resulting in ever-more campaigns being piled onto teams, and those teams struggling to cope as a consequence.

This is an awkward truth that as a business we need to recognise and address. Whilst I fully agree that now and then, longer working hours are necessary, there is a clear line between occasional late nights and persistent, round-the-clock working which takes a grim toll on staff. 70 hour work weeks should not be a norm, ever.

By extension, a conversation needs to be had about what services are offered to artists and their managers, and the value that is attached to them. If this is not addressed, we face a race to the bottom in which label services are slashing margins, piling on work — and staff suffer greatly as a result. Equally, the outcome diminishes too; campaigns will not be well-executed when they are one of twenty that someone is managing.

Ironically, we seem to be fixed on reactive approaches to mental health in the music industry. If someone struggles, the answer is often “talk to someone” or “seek help”. But this is not preventative; in reality, no one should be getting to the point where their workload has affected their mental health so badly that they then have to seek support. They should not be getting to that state in the first place.

It will never cease to sadden me reading of the loss of talented, incredible artists due to mental health issues. But there’s a whole other side to this, where those working in music are struggling too, and it doesn’t get covered because these aren’t household names. Labels may talk at length about the tragedy of an artist’s suicide or breakdown, whilst simultaneously ignoring their own endemic, toxic work culture. But this is a problem, and one that — for all the lip service paid — still does not seem to be getting addressed in a meaningful way.

We are overdue a frank conversation between all stakeholders about how deals are structured, what hours are committed to those and how this can be an equitable result for all. Successful business is possible without incurring ruin along the way, and it certainly does not need to jeopardise the mental health of staff in the process. So please, let’s work to find a means to achieve that — we will all benefit greatly as a result.