Music Industry Tests Mini-Grants to Help Artists Recover: 'I Want to See Rappers Name-Checking Their Therapists'

Macklemore
Kevin Winter/WireImage for MusiCares

Macklemore speaking at the MusiCares’ Concert for Recovery on May 16 in Los Angeles. 

Is the music industry’s increased ­spending on mental health making a difference?

The high-profile deaths of artists like Chris Cornell, Lil Peep and Chester Bennington in 2017 led to a spike in funding by music companies on mental health research and groups that provide resources to uninsured artists. But while spending has increased by 25%, the number of artists reporting mental illness issues and self-medication for depression has grown slightly, frustrating mental health advocates.

"I’m tired of watching people die from this disease," said Macklemore on May 16 during MusiCares’ 15th annual Concert for Recovery in Los Angeles, where he accepted an award and paid tribute to rapper Mac Miller, who died of a drug overdose on Sept. 7 at the age of 27.

As the music industry assesses how it allocates resources, many are shifting toward a more targeted approach, forgoing large grants and endowments to organizations in favor of smaller, direct payments to individuals in need of counseling, hospitalization or rehab.

MusiCares, The Recording Academy’s charitable arm, is increasing the number of grants it awards to individual artists for recovery and emergency programs. In 2018 it spent $6.5 million to help 8,600 members of the music industry, a new high-water mark for the organization and an increase of 20% over 2017. Some record labels are experimenting with their own mini-grants. Royal Mountain Records -- the Canadian label home to Mac DeMarco and U.S. Girls -- is offering $1,500 to its artists for mental health and addiction-related services.

There’s a recognition that a solution for mental illness in the creative space can’t be scaled, and that money is probably better spent on direct outcomes, says Phillip Schermer, founder/CEO of Project Healthy Minds, which focuses on closing treatment gaps for mental illness among artist and creator communities.

A recent survey by Swedish digital distributor Record Union found that 73% of independent musicians have experienced anxiety, depression or other mental health disorders. Among those ages 18-25, 80% of respondents reported negative mental health effects from their music careers. Of those who reported symptoms of mental illness, only 33% ages 18-25 said they had sought treatment -- but 51% said they had self-medicated with alcohol and drugs.

Schermer says the problem is exacerbated by a lack of health insurance in the indie artist community and concerns that attending therapy or seeking treatment for addiction will be looked down upon by peers.

"We’ve got to make therapy cool," says Maverick’s Nick Jarjour, who has been working to create programs that end the stigma many artists face asking for help. That includes one-on-one artist mentoring, pairing sober producers and musicians with younger artists who need help with addiction issues and trying to get artists struggling with addiction and mental illness into therapy much sooner, when early symptoms are identified.

"We need to stop ignoring drug abuse and signs that a person is struggling and close to a crisis," says Jarjour. "It can be as simple as asking someone, 'Are you OK?’ The goal is to try to promote therapy in the culture. I want to see rappers name-checking their therapists and bragging about how many days sober they are."

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