'People Are Forever Chasing An Idea of Success': 10 Things We Learned at Paris Electronic Week's Mental Health Panel

Paris, France
Borut Trdina/Getty Images

Paris, France.

The seventh-annual Paris Electronic Week kicked off Wednesday at Gaîté Lyrique with a day full of panels and workshops discussing the topics at the forefront of electronic music. Supplemented by nightly interactive performances taking place throughout the city, the conference caters to both the industry professional and everyday electronic music fan.

The first day’s lineup included panels on electronic music in video games, how to integrate emerging artists with headlining acts and audiovisuals as the future of electronic music performance.

However, one dialogue that stood out from the rest was “Focus on The Mental Health of Artists,” presented by the Association For Electronic Music. After the tragic death of EDM powerhouse Avicii in April of last year, the electronic and dance music community as a whole has started to reevaluate the ways in which mental health is duscissed as well as treated within the community. Including this discourse at an event like Paris Electronic Week, where professionals are able to directly connect with artists and fans, is certainly a testament to that effort.

Moderated by AFEM regional manager Tristan Hunt, the panel featured DJ and producer Louisahhh, music industry life coach Ariane Paras of Olympia Coaching and Tamsin Embleton, a psychotherapist from the Music Industry Therapist Collective.

Below, find 10 key takeaways from the discussion.

Understanding Mental Health Is Essential to Sustainable Careers

It is clear that mental health is an ever-present issue in the music industry. Embleton advocated for a proactive approach in order to foster a realistic and rewarding career.

“The work that [Music Industry Therapist Collective] does is really about building sustainable careers,” Embleton said. “How to develop resilience, how to predict what the difficult areas are and how we can support artists through that.”

The Dichotomy of Success

Throughout the panel, Louisahhh was extremely open about her own battles as an artist, including addiction and feeling ashamed to be struggling despite success.

“There’s no feeling of loneliness quite like coming back to a hotel room sober at 7 a.m. and feeling the euphoria of being connected to a bunch of people wear off,” Louisahhh said. “But that’s what living the dream looks like. That’s success. There’s a lot of people who want this job, but at the same time, it’s hard.”

Due to this dichotomy, Paras encourages artists to define what success means to them, instead of what it may mean to others.

“Everyone wants success, but what I find is that no one spends even one minute to define what success is to them,” Paras said. “People are forever chasing an idea of success, but if you’re miserable 99% of the time until you get there, you can miss the point.”

Mental Health Is An Industry-Wide, Global Crisis

Although this panel focused specifically on the electronic scene, concerns about mental health in the music industry – and in general – are nothing new. As Louisahhh pointed out, it affects not only artists but everyone involved, down to the listeners.

“I don’t know if it’s necessarily unique to electronic music,” Louisahhh said. “But I think that, because it is an issue in this industry, we have to gather our resources and make it important to discuss – not only for our artists, management and booking, but also for our fans.”

Musicians May Have Underlying Vulnerabilities On Top of Occupational Stresses

It’s no coincidence that mental health is an important topic to discuss in the music industry, as artists are often more prone to struggling with it than the average person. Embleton gave the shocking statistic that in the UK, men are three to four times more likely to die by suicide than women, and male musicians are another two and a half times as likely.  Therefore, a male musician is nine times more likely to die by suicide than the average woman.

“This suggests that people who are drawn to the music industry for its transformative effect and the joy of playing at clubs or festivals may have underlying vulnerabilities,” Embleton said.  “They have the highest levels of childhood trauma. This makes them vulnerable to addiction and to high levels of psychological difficulty.”

The Industry Is Rooted In Pressure and Fear

Due to the advent of streaming diminishing artist revenue, Paras said that artists are under more pressure than ever to tour constantly, using DJ Fresh as an example.

“DJ Fresh had several health scares throughout his life and eventually he was diagnosed with terminal cancer,” Paras said. “But he still found himself negotiating the amount of off days he would have to take with his doctor."

Managers and Artists Should Have An Ongoing Dialogue About Mental Health

After thoroughly addressing the mental health struggles many artists face, the panel turned to solutions. They emphasized that having an open line of communication concerning mental health between artists and their management teams as well as trying to cultivate a collaborative relationship rather than a parental one.

“Regressive behavior can be encouraged by the parental dynamic often experienced with managers,” Embleton said. “This is a little bit like what you see in the Avicii documentary. His whole body is saying ‘I can’t do this,’ and he verbally says it again and again, but everyone around him is like, ‘It’s okay! It’s just a party.’"

Artists Must Learn to Balance Work and Play

Within the industry, there is an issue of boundaries, further blurred by drug and alcohol use.

“You’ve gotta remember that it’s your job," Embleton said. "What do you need to do to do your job? If it’s popping pills or doing a gram of coke, then you’ve got a problem."

Don’t Shame Self-Care

On tour, Louisahhh tries to make her routine as structured as possible, even if that involves rituals others may find strange. “As soon as I dropped the shame of what I needed for self-care, my life got a lot easier,” Louisahhh said. “Working on having a deep anchor for self-love will carry me through the surely turbulent seas.”

Self-Awareness Is Key

Along with self-love and self-care comes knowing one’s own weaknesses and watching out for them in sensitive situations.

“Get to know your sore spots; the parts of you that are difficult or get hurt in certain scenarios,” Embleton said. “You are a separate being from the industry and need to figure out what that part of you needs.”

A Ripple Effect Is Possible

There is a bright side: Paras insists that once one’s mindset toward mental health is changed, others will naturally follow suit.

“Invest in yourself and your health. Not only will you benefit immensely, but you will have an effect on everyone around you,” Paras said. “As you feel happier, healthier and more fulfilled, you’re going to have this ripple effect. This is how we transform the industry, by transforming ourselves first.”

Paris Electronic Week continues at Gaîté Lyrique today (Sept. 27) through Sept. 29. See the complete schedule here

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