Until Sunday, the music industry descends on Brighton for one of its largest annual showcases of new and upcoming acts – The Great Escape festival. Among punters desperately seeking access to hotly tipped sets from the likes of Stormzy, Songhoy Blues and Oh Wonder, others will be heading to the accompanying convention for a more measured take on the state of the business.

As well as looking at such topics as the importance of physical product and making sense of cutting-edge technology such as blockchains, one standout strand is titled “What has the music industry ever done for you?” This segment focuses on an issue gaining a higher profile within the industry, mental health, which raises a couple of important questions: are mental health problems becoming more prevalent among musicians? And, if so, what should we do about it?

Music has long attracted its fair share of vulnerable outsiders, many of whose issues have been widely publicised after their untimely deaths, from Brian Jones and Janis Joplin, through to Ian Curtis to Amy Winehouse. Now, though, artists are becoming more open about personal hardships including mental health issues, whether these were pre-existing and exacerbated by the precarious livelihood of a fledgling or stuttering career or the rock’n’roll lifestyle and being in the public gaze of a successful one, or apparently caused by these things. Ahead of the release next month of her sophomore album The Dreaming Room, Laura Mvula has divulged details of panic attacks that she claims were a cause in the break-up of her marriage and nearly ended her career. These started before the Birmingham-raised artist found fame, but became more debilitating as her profile rocketed, especially as she felt the need to keep her travails secret from the industry she operated in.

Mvula had hinted at these issues earlier in her career, referring to stage-fright symptoms that had leaked into occasions when she occupied her public persona. For other artists, it is the challenges of touring that take their toll, or even returning to mundane domesticity afterwards. US solo artist Willis Earl Beal is one of several music makers to have opened up about this, explaining how failure to deal with coming home after life on the road led to the break-up of his marriage. The pressures of touring were so debilitating to Alanna McArdle, singer of Welsh indie outfit Joanna Gruesome, that she quit the band last year after dates in the US.

At the Great Escape convention, Vice is set to preview a series of short films that feature musicians discussing their experiences of mental health issues – Bill Ryder-Jones, Rob Harvey (previously frontman of The Music) and south London MC NoLay. Meanwhile, Help Musicians UK – formerly the Musicians Benevolent Fund – is launching a research project at the festival to find out the true scale of the problem. The charity that looks after musicians facing hardship is certainly finding more demand for its services, though chief executive Richard Robinson, who will speak at The Great Escape, says there’s not enough evidence just yet to say whether that is down to increasing stress or greater understanding about mental health and publicity for his own organisation.

“It’s making sure we build a service that delivers mental health support to musicians of all genres and instead of doing this piecemeal, we want to get the picture right,” Robinson says. “We want to make sure we are talking to the right people, getting case studies and understanding people’s experiences of dealing with mental health issues.” Help Musicians UK’s aim is to fund a study much more comprehensive than the online survey of its members two years ago that found, among other things, that three-quarters of respondents had suffered from performance anxiety.

Source: Brighton’s Great Escape festival providing a forum to raise awareness around musicians and mental health | Music | Culture | The Independent

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