Mental Health and A Life in Electronic Music

The conversation regarding mental health keeps coming up in our community, and it’s critical that we address it. Having discussions with others who are similarly creative-minded and have walked a similar path is a great place to start — you are not alone. 

Musicians are three times more likely than the average person to experience anxiety and/or depression in their lifetimes (Gross and Musgrave, 2017). Life in the music industry has frequent travel, late nights, irregular schedules, unhealthy environments, the pressure to maintain a social media presence, networking obligations, substance abuse, and financial uncertainty. This combination of factors can be emotionally draining and potentially contribute to a decline in mental health.

This summer AEMCON’s co-founder, Andrew Williams, conducted a panel discussion at Bass Coast Music & Arts Festival to better understand the prevalent mental health problem in the music industry. The artists who participated in the panel had fantastic insights on how to stay healthy and happy in the electronic music industry. Yip Wong aka Deft (UK, 20/20 LDN), Jenny Lee from IMUR (CAD), and Sara Spicer aka Lion-S (CAD, Shambhala) joined him to discuss this topic.

Here are some highlights & the full video from that panel:

The full recording our AEMCON's panel discussion about creativity, career, and mental health at the 2019 Bass Coast Festival. Video by GLovely Clouds.

Andrew: What was one situation where you realized that you over extended yourself, what did you learn from your experience, and what were your actions after that?

Sara: My whole life as an entrepreneur, I’ve been in this ocean of many mistakes or learning experiences due to stress. A particular time in my life was about 13 years ago when I was self-employed, being a lone wolf, and not understanding how to ask for support, or even realizing that I had so much support around me. I was saying “yes” to too many things, pretty much everything. At the time I was booking and curating Shambhala, for the entire festival. I don’t know the exact year, but leading up to year 10, it was a lot smaller then, but still way too much work for two people. Plus, I was trying to go to school, so I moved to Vancouver for like 6 months, and I then I decided that since I’m there I might as well put on a show at The Commodore, and plus I was DJing every weekend — it’s just non-stop. I used to be afraid to say “no,” thinking that if I say no to a gig, then maybe people will think that I’m not interested.

I had a bit of a light bulb moment when I was about 30, when I was listening to a nutritional biochemist talk about aging and how aging is a sea-saw of damage and repair, and that basically it’s not about the rotations around the sun, it’s about the difference between biological age and chronological age. I realized at this moment, hearing this guy talk about this seesaw of damage and repair, that I was totally turbo aging myself. In my early 20s, I thought that I was a superwoman — that I could do this. But, I wanted longevity. I sit here at the age of 43 now, thankfully, because of what I learned from this guy. That it's about pushing up on repair and down on damage, super self-care, saying no is okay, creating healthy boundaries, and just having that trust. I did have a breakthrough, and I've learned how to create multiple streams of income, so that's my vehicle to have the freedom, so that I may live and breathe my art. We're all on this journey together, and my husband can attest to this, that I still get very stressed out. 

Photo from last year’s Safer Scenes: Moving Beyond Call Out Culture - Panel. Leigh-Anne Hazard (@miss.hazard)

Photo from last year’s Safer Scenes: Moving Beyond Call Out Culture - Panel. Leigh-Anne Hazard (@miss.hazard)

Andrew:  You're all active artists. You're all on the road quite consistently. What type of things do you do when you're on the road to stay healthy and happy, and do your strategies change the longer that you're on the road?

Yip: I don't tour that often, it's quite sporadic when I go and do shows. It's very dotted around the year, so I don't get into a routine. I have to keep checking in on myself. I'm a natural worrier. I worry a lot. I focus more on the negatives than the positives, so when I come out to these shows I'm always worried that I’ve forgotten something. All the small things run through my mind. I try to tell myself to focus on the fact that I'm able to do this music thing for a living; I get to meet people with my music, and I get to play the music I like. 

It took me a long time to be comfortable talking to people. I was very insecure when I was growing up, and obviously doing this kind of work you have to be social, you have to network. You have to be able to turn it on and off. I found that really difficult, for the first five or six years or so. I came to find that talking to my friends and family while I’m abroad is helpful, in order to get out what's going on in my head;  insecurities and stuff like that. It temporarily relieves that stress. You're passing your burden on to someone else, but you know you're doing that with people that understand you, and they'll talk you out of it, and you'll be fine. 

Andrew: Would you describe yourself as an introvert?

Yip: Yeah, I think now I've learned when I can turn it on, and when I can turn off. Now I know when I need to say, “I'm gonna stop, I’m gonna go and sleep or just chill out, read, or watch TV.”

Andrew: Does it take you quite a while to recover from these tour dates to the States and Canada?

Yip: Yeah, I think it does because I go from the regularity of being in my own studio, and go out to these environments, where you're just surrounded by people all the time. You kinda ride a high, and then you come back, and it's nothing, you know not nothing, but there is silence. The high has disappeared. It takes a while to adjust to that, but I think that's just part of the process. You learn to appreciate it for it, and not focus on the negative of the down. 

Andrew: Looking back 10 years, what advice would you give yourself? 

Jenny:  There's a lot of things that I would tell myself four years ago. Something that still comes in handy for me, is practicing patience and perseverance. You might really want something at a particular moment and think that you really deserve it, even if you didn't get it. Sometimes that can be devastating. However, trust that it honestly wasn't the right time. There will be a time. It will come in the future. And you'll be more grateful, years later, when you get that thing that you didn't get three years before—when you thought you were ready and deserved it. Because—honestly—you probably didn't deserve it at that time, and that's why you didn't get it. I know it sounds harsh, but this happens to me every day of my life. An example of this is: I've been applying to play at Bass Coast for three years now, and every year we would get rejected. It was so disappointing because I thought it would be such a good fit. This was the first year that we didn't apply, and The Librarian saw our set at Shambhala last year, and then she saw us play in India; which is crazy because we all live in Vancouver, but she had to come to India and see us play. So, she asked us to come play Bass Coast, and now we're playing the main stage on a Saturday night! 

Module Creative Agency (@mcg.captures)

Module Creative Agency (@mcg.captures)

Some main takeaways were: set boundaries, listen to your body when it needs to rest, ask for help when you need it, manage your expectations, be patient with yourself, and be grateful for what you have. We have a beautiful community of talented and driven individuals. It’s important to remember that we are all there to support each other. If one of us succeeds, we all succeed. 

This conversation continues at AEMCON with the Mental Health and Self-Care for Artists Panel, and Addiction & Recovery in the Music Industry Panel. In these sessions, we will discuss the emerging mental health crisis and how it intersects with the dance music community. We will explore strategies for artists and electronic music professionals to deal with substance abuse issues and how to maintain a healthy life in the scene.

Maintaining sobriety within club culture can be challenging. You might want to check out Anthroposcene: Dry Disco at Lukes at the Central Library, November 16. Mr. Beltline, Ra/Sol, Jonathan Crane, and Anput will provide the soundtrack to this evening that will celebrate the sober side of electronic music culture. Presented by Boring Little Girls Club, Pink Flamingo & Anput, this pop-up party is proof that you don’t need to be drunk to dance!

If you are ever feeling overwhelmed, or need someone to chat to please seek out AEMCON door staff or volunteers — they are trained to help. AEMCON volunteers will be wearing RED AEMCON shirts and are ready to assist you in any way possible. The Calgary Distress Centre can provide crisis support, counseling, and referrals — 24 hours a day, at no cost; 403-266-4357. Learn more about Harm Reduction at AEMCON here.

Throughout October, we’ll slowly be releasing conference sessions and show announcements. Learn more by heading to the online schedule. See you in the class room & on the dance floor!