Rostrum Records' Benjy Grinberg: 'We Have to Erase the Stigma of Mental Health Issues'
“Can Music Make You Sick?”, a study released by the charity Help Musicians UK, reports an alarming statistic: 70 percent of musicians have suffered from anxiety or depression. A growing number of artists are talking openly about their mental health battles to help de-stigmatize the issue and advocate for more psychological support. But what about music executives who are silently performing their own juggling acts in this stress-laden industry?
Benjy Grinberg, founder and president of Rostrum Records (KT Tunstall, Mod Sun, Teammate), shares his personal battle with OCD:
"Being that I’m such a private person, this is not an easy thing for me to write about. But I feel that it’s important we share these types of things with each other. My name is Benjy Grinberg. I have been working in music since 1999 and I started Rostrum Records in 2003. I have also struggled with bouts of anxiety at various points in my life. I’ve been good at hiding it, but I’m not interested in hiding it anymore.
While I have suffered from time to time with different kinds of anxiety, a year and a half ago I was diagnosed with OCD. Most people think of OCD as a lot of handwashing and step counting. While there is some of that, it can manifest itself in many different ways. And, interestingly enough, I’ve had my worst bouts with anxiety when things were going well in my life. You’d think stressful situations alone would bring it out, but it isn’t that simple. When you have an anxiety disorder, anxiety can pop up for no identifiable reason.
The music industry isn’t the best place for an anxiety-prone person. The ups and downs are wild. Rejection and failure are abundant, and we focus on our artists so much that we can lose track of ourselves. Here's the truth: artists are sensitive, but so are we. We feel, though, that we have to project this tough, nothing-can-bother-me persona to fit in. Just because we work in entertainment doesn't mean that we’re all gregarious and outgoing.
To that point, and to my very core, I’m an introvert. I don’t like attention, which has made my life in music more difficult. I feel awkward at times because I can be so quiet. Often when I’m at an event, I’d rather be at home.
Also, introverts can often be misunderstood. And that goes double for introverts that have anxiety issues. My internal ruminations can make it seem that I’m not interested in what you’re saying. I don’t mean to look away or appear aloof. There’s just a lot going through my mind, and I’m horrible at small talk. However, that doesn’t mean I’m shy. I may be quiet and introspective, but I can fight like hell for my artists.
It took seven years from inception for Rostrum Records to really hit its stride. I didn’t mind the grind, though, because I was on a mission to get our artists the recognition they deserved and to make Rostrum a formidable company in the industry.
I went through a lot of stressful situations, hustling to get our artists heard. It’s difficult to be one of the only people who believes in an artist. And there were many times when I wasn’t sure how to pay the bills. These are the things you think would cause immediate anxiety, but they didn’t. And then … THINGS TOOK OFF.
All of a sudden there was success, money and accolades. We had hit songs and huge tours. From an outsider’s perspective everything looked great, but on the inside, my anxiety came back hardcore.
Success can be scary. Sometimes scarier than failure. I didn’t realize that until I reached a level of success I had never reached before. Change is scary. Having money for the first time is scary. And the idea of not being as successful as you are right now is scary. I was working so hard and didn’t quite realize how unhappy I was until that intense anxiety crept back into my life.
Therapy wasn’t totally alleviating the issues, and things got harder for me mentally. Anxiety can be tricky, and the way it exteriorizes can change. Things started to upset me that hadn’t upset me before. It felt different from the anxiety of my early 20s (panic attacks). I was getting caught up in these “thought loops,” which were triggered by random, trivial incidences. It was paralyzing.
As my symptoms worsened, my psychologist diagnosed me with OCD. What you think would be tough news was actually a relief. Oh, OK, there is a name for this? If you really think medicine will help, I’m open to it.
I also began exercising more, eating a healthier diet, meditating and living a much more balanced life in general. I’ve had the incredible support of my wife who has been very understanding and patient with me. The more I let her in on my issues, the more she has been able to help me.
And I have to say that I have never been this happy before. I’m more relaxed and resilient. My wife and I started a family. I love being a husband and a dad. I love my company and the people I get to work with. And the boundaries I have created with our artists have been so important. It’s necessary to have your own space and time to take care of yourself and your family.
I’m hoping that by opening up and describing my situation, I’ll help other people feel less alone. If you’re going through some difficult times, you need a support system. Don’t feel embarrassed to reach out to family, friends or professional help to talk about your issues. You’ll likely find out that what’s bothering you is more common than you think. And let’s be more sensitive to each other. You never know what others are going through.
I know these are uncomfortable topics to discuss, but we have to help erase the stigma of mental health issues. These issues may arise, but there is no reason you have to face them alone. I think more of us are dealing with similar issues than we like to admit. Let's admit it and work on it together.
And as my Grandma liked to say, “This too shall pass.”