CMA Awards 2018

5 Questions For Help Musicians CEO Richard Robinson: 'It's Not Just Musicians Like Chris Cornell and Chester Bennington Who Suffer'

Courtesy of Help Musicians 
Richard Robinson

With the tragic deaths of Chris Cornell and Chester Bennington still fresh in the mind, the issue of caring for artists’ health and welfare has been thrust back into the spotlight. Formed in 1921, U.K.-based charity Help Musicians provides help and care to musicians across all genres and at all stages of their career and lives. In response to what it calls a “mental health crisis” in the industry, the charity has launched Music Minds Matter – a fundraising campaign to launch the world's first dedicated 24/7 mental health service for people working in music.

“From Mozart to Van Gogh, from Thelonious Monk to Kurt Cobain and from Michael Jackson to Chester Bennington and my dear friend Chris Cornell, great artists have always had to deal with not only their own high expectations of themselves, but that of the public and the industry. The pressure manifests itself as everything from substance abuse to suicide and its dangers are even greater in today's social media driven world,” says Association for Electronic Music ambassador Nile Rodgers in support of the Music Minds Matter scheme.

“For generations, the music industry has lost some of its brightest talent and future stars due to the scourge of mental health and related issues,” Help Musicians UK CEO Richard Robinson tells Billboard. “Musicians’ mental health is not a domestic issue. It’s a global issue and we have to work together to try and find a global solution.”  

Billboard: You’ve said that there’s a “mental health crisis” in the music industry. How are you proposing to address the problem?
Richard Robinson: Last year we conducted the world’s first academic research into music and mental health and from doing that research it became clear that mental health is a huge issue in the industry. Out of the 2,200-plus musicians and industry representatives that we spoke to 70 percent of them reported having issues with depression, anxiety, panic attacks and similar. So we felt it was our role to take the lead on this and try to create a service to ensure musicians and the music industry has a point of call 24/7.

Therefore, we are putting £100,000 ($130,000) into a mental health heal fund and we’re asking the industry to match that pound for pound so that people working in the [music business] have somewhere to go at moments of crisis. We need to make sure that 2017 is seen as a year of change for musicians and mental health; that our creative minds and those who work in the industry are protected and supported during their most difficult moments. 

Why launch Music Minds Matters now?
We’ve seen a 25 percent increase in calls to our London office relating to mental health since December, so it’s clear that there is an increase in mental health issues in the music industry. We have to tackle the root cause here and not just the symptoms. The service that we’re looking to launch builds on the foundations that we have laid over the last 100 years. Clearly, it’s not just famous musicians like Chris Cornell and Chester Bennington that have been suffering. It’s also grass roots musicians who don’t know where their next pay check is coming from.

More must be done to help musicians and prevent suicides. Arm in arm with the music industry, we have to pool our resources to ensure that we provide a gold standard service due to the unique life of a musician and those in the industry. If we don’t work together to find this solution, then I believe we will continue to see this rise in statistics and people reporting issues.

What are some of the specific mental health issues that people working in the music industry face?
For working musicians there are poor working conditions, including the difficulty in sustaining a living, anti-social working hours, the total exhaustion of trying to be creative 24/7. There’s also the physical impact of a musical career and for grass roots artists the lack of recognition that being a musician is actually a career.

When we did our survey, we also saw issues relating to being a woman in the industry, ranging from balancing work and family commitments to sexist attributes and even sexual harassment. In terms of higher profile artists, there’s also the fact that nowadays you are in the public eye through social media 24/7.

It is almost a nonstop lifestyle and that’s the same for executives, promoters and crews. What we’re trying to do is provide a backbone to ensure individuals have the support they need, when they need it. There are some fantastic organizations across the world that provide counselling and peer-to-peer support, like MusiCares in the U.S., and we want to work with all of those organizations globally. Musicians’ mental health is not a domestic issue. It’s a global issue and we have to work together to try and find a global solution.  

Do we need more artists and spokespeople throughout the music business talking openly about mental health?
Unfortunately, there is still very much a stigma attached to mental health. It differs from country to country how quickly that stigma is decreasing, but we do need more role models and ambassadors across the whole industry, across every genre, who are prepared to talk about the issues that they have had or are facing. Because there will be grass roots musicians or even music fans that are suffering exactly the same kind of issues. With the right type of role models sign posting solutions, mental health, depression, anxiety and even addiction will become something that we can all talk about in an open way.  

Where do you believe the responsibility lies when it comes to an artist’s duty of care – with their manager, label or with the individual themselves? 
It is a grey area. We have always talked about the initial duty of care resting with the individual to make sure that they get help - or friends help them find the right support. It’s important that we don’t label the music industry as being to blame – whether it’s managers, labels or whatever. Everybody has their own battles. All we can do is wave a flag for musicians and the music industry and say that now is the time for taking mental health seriously. We’re well beyond the blame game. We’ve got to find solutions.