In recognition of Mental Health Awareness Month, Billboard has partnered with Ian Davis and Brandon Holman of The Mindful Creative on a series of conversations with music artists and executives about the self-care practices they use to keep themselves on track, both during the pandemic and beyond.
Today’s installment is with Anthony Demby, founder of Humbleriot, a company launched in 2011 that fuses music and cultural programming with social impact. Previous clients include Sonos, Google, The Infatuation and the Obama Foundation. Currently, Demby is working as music supervisor on Comedy Central’s South Side, a comedic look at life on Chicago’s South Side. Prior to Humbleriot, Demby gained experience working at labels including Mercury, Arista and Aftermath, as well as management company DAS Communications, where clients included John Legend, The Black Eyed Peas and Natasha Bedingfield.
First I had to separate mental health from mental illness. I feel like people often make them the same and they’re different, you know, and I think everyone has mental health challenges. So once I got clear on that, I started looking at different parts of my life that were uncomfortable for me.
Whether that be the loud voice in my head telling me I’m not enough, or just the way I’m navigating my day-to-day life. So my mental health is a direct reflection of how I’m seeing myself and experiencing myself in that moment. Well-being for me is the core of everything that I do. It’s my way of putting gas in my tank, or putting the oxygen mask on myself first so I can breathe air into the rest of my ideas and my life. So whether that be through my meditation practice, my breath work, working out, reading things that inspire and uplift me — all those things contribute to just my overall diet. To create space for myself, I start my day before 9:00 A.M.. That’s my time.
I’ve been meditating for almost about 13 years at this point, it’s become the foundation of how I live my life. And I normally do around two a day. It slows my reality down so I can see what’s what and know how to navigate certain things. Also, I’ve gotten recently into breath work, which has been transformative for me. I’ll be honest with you, every time I do breath work I cry at some point, it just cracks me open every single time and I’m thankful for that release. And I think I’m able to use that when I start to feel stuck or unresourceful. So if I’m on my computer all day, looking at screens all day, I have to stop and step away and just go do some deep breathing. Or if I’m trying to work through something, reading helps with that. And also I’ve incorporated spending time in nature into my practice as well, so if I’m just working all day, I’ll stop and go walk to the park in Brooklyn, circle back and jump back into my work.
I had a moment last year, I was doing my 50th Zoom yoga class and I just wasn’t feeling me on the screen. I missed being in the studio, I missed being with people and it wasn’t feeling good. And I remember I was in some pose and I was like, “Eh, it’s okay to not be okay. It’s okay,” out loud to myself to give myself permission to feel whatever I was experiencing at that moment, and I think by doing that it creates a safe and brave environment.
You shouldn’t be shamed for having a challenge, we all experience things, so just reframing that and providing resources to speak with different communities of people [is important]. There’s no catch-all for everyone, so doing the work to know that certain folks need certain things to deal with trauma, to feel safe and brave to discuss things, to be able to do the research and work to find various methods of support and make it available and accessible to people, that’s what I’m passionate about.
With people of color, it’s one thing to hire a black person in the company as part of your initiative, but things do need to be put in place to support that person as they go through the company, and that also comes from putting people of color in decision-making seats to advise how those things move forward. So creating diversity around leadership and opportunity, and also praising someone for their value and their voice. And putting the conversation around mental health in the forefront and not making it something to be ashamed of or have guilt around for putting it on the table and putting it in the room. It’s always in the room, whether it’s addressed or not, but making it part of the conversation.
I’m not going to lie, I was definitely part of “team no sleep” when I first started my company — for most of my career, especially in the music business, it’s a rise and grind culture. I think the change for me is when I was managing artists and I wasn’t taking care of myself and I was giving every ounce of energy I had to other people, and my life suffered in regards to that and I had to step away. So I think now I just create boundaries. I do my best not to feel guilty about stepping away.
We tend to think that if we stop working the world will fall apart, and guess what? It won’t. So just having that awareness and knowing that if I leave this for half-an-hour to an hour, this project can still get done. I’m not an EMT driver so this probably is not life or death for another person, so I can step away and get back on Slack in an hour and just recalibrate and center myself because it makes me more valuable when I tap back into it. The thing is, if we live in this always-on mentality, eventually we’re going to go off and then there’s no work getting done. My self-care practice is designed to increase my capacity so I can hold more, but even though I can hold more, I don’t fill up more.
As told to Lyndsey Havens and Ian Davis.