Sally-Anne Gross, Principal Lecturer in Music Business Management, and Dr George Musgrave, Senior Lecturer on the Music Business Management MA course, have recently published a book based on their original research into the mental health of music professionals published in 2017. The new book delves deeper into the meaning and practices of music making and asked what are the implications for music makers, educators and society.

Book cover for Can Music Make you Sick?

In the new book, Gross and Musgrave explore the professional lives of music makers, and in doing so, highlight how important music is both for individuals and our communities, something the current pandemic has brought to light.

The book ‘Can Music Make You Sick? Measuring the Price of Musical Ambition’ explores the lived experience of musicians through empirical research and interviews to challenge misconceptions and demonstrate how the industry’s often unstable working conditions provide the perfect storm to foster mental health struggles in music creators.

In 2016 and 2018, Gross and Dr Musgrave were commissioned to conduct a study of over 2,000 music makers, from MOBO winners and mercury prize nominees to artists performing at local venues, to discover their lived experiences and working conditions. It was revealed through the study that over 70% of respondents reported high rates of anxiety, and 68.5% of respondents reported depression.

Through a series of interviews, the researchers found that the key themes that affected wellbeing of musicians were status of work, status of value and status of relationships. Financial challenges due to being self-employed and difficulty in being able to define success left musicians questioning whether their profession is classed as a ‘career’, and prevented musicians from accessing adequate wellbeing support. 

Musicians often connect their identity to their ability to create, turning to a digital community of fans, artists and industry representatives where their wellbeing is commonly undermined. Chasing the markers of status also frequently relies on privilege and the right network of connections rather than hard work.

Anti-social working hours, touring schedules and an ‘always on’ mentality driven by oversupply of music and lack of boundaries also lead to musicians struggling to know when to stop working, resulting in isolation and a lack of meaningful relationships.

The research also highlights the key challenges faced by female musicians, who have experienced inequality of access to a career and unfair treatment such as sexual harassment. 

In their newly published book, Gross and Dr Musgrave raise questions about what the industry needs to do to provide a duty of case for those working within it, and what best practice must be implemented to support and care for creators.

Talking about their research, Sally-Anne Gross said: “When we did our research and wrote this book, we could not have predicted that it would be released during a global pandemic that threatens all our lives but that has also already had a devastating impact across the music industries.

“This moment really brings into sharp focus the things we value and need to support and we believe that music plays a vital role to our sense of self and community that really impacts our well-being and our mental health, all of which need urgent support right now.”

Find the full book on the University of Westminster Press website.

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