More News

Sarah Woods On Music Minds Matter & The First UK Musicians’ Census

February 16, 2024 by Team Downtown

Sarah Woods (wide)

Late last year, Downtown's Mental Health Employee Resource Group (ERG) donated to Music Minds Matter, the UK's leading mental health charity for musicians and music executives.

The Downtown Journal spoke to Sarah Woods, Chief Executive of Help Musicians and Music Minds Matter about the latter's ongoing mission and the results of the first-ever UK Musicians’ Census.

Tell us more about Help Musicians and Music Minds Matter.

Help Musicians and Music Minds Matter are both charities powered by a love of music, helping to support those who create it and work hard to make it happen. Help Musicians has been providing help to musicians in need for over 100 years, adapting to the challenges musicians face along the way. Although we’ve seen a lot of change during that time that impact musicians' lives and careers, some challenges have been constant. 

Training to be a musician has always been expensive, income is often unsteady due to the ups and downs of a career and the pressures of being self-employed. The precarity of employment means that there may be no safety net in times of injury or illness. In more recent years, we’ve seen a rising need for mental health support, which is why Help Musicians established its sister charity Music Minds Matter to support the positive mental well-being of everyone working in music.

How has Music Minds Matter developed as a charity over the last few years?

Music Minds Matter has been a 24/7 mental health support line for everyone working in music since 2017. With a commitment to widen our mental health provision and grow our reach and impact to support the positive mental well-being of everyone in music, whether they are a musician, manager, studio engineer, promoter or label owner, we established it as a new charity in 2022. From its inception, Music Minds Matter has evolved its support offer to respond to changing needs, from a helpline to counselling and introducing peer support groups, online sessions to learn more about coping techniques in recent years. Ensuring whatever the needs are, there is something to support better mental well-being at any time of day. 

You’ve been releasing findings from the first-ever UK Musicians’ Census. What led you to commission the report?

The Musicians’ Census was a joint project in partnership with The Musicians’ Union. We embarked on the project to create a deeper understanding of the challenges musicians are facing so we, as a charity, could ensure our resources are used to deliver the greatest impact and that our broad range of services are meeting the needs of musicians today. It was the largest study of its kind with nearly 6,000 musicians responding and we’ve learned a lot about income, well-being and the experiences of particular groups which will not only inform our support streams but also provide a benchmark to monitor change against in future years. 

Tell us about the census and what the findings revealed. 

Careers are more multifaceted than we perhaps realized, with creators holding on average three roles in music. While diversifying income streams is necessary to create a sustainable career, it can make honing primary artistic outputs more challenging. A musician’s average annual income from music is £20,700 with 23% of musicians telling us that they cannot support themselves or their families from being a musician. Furthermore, over half (53%) of musicians need to sustain their careers by sourcing other forms of income outside of music.

With so many financial and work pressures it’s perhaps not surprising that mental wellbeing is an ongoing challenge for many. Almost a third (30%) of all musicians reported experiencing negative mental wellbeing.

There were specific groups of musicians who reported lower mental well-being, including studio/mastering engineers and live sound engineers (38%), producers (37%), and musicians working in dance music (35%), rock and alternative (33%) and rap (33%) having the highest rates.

It shows a worrying trend around those who are new to the music industry suffering the highest rates of negative mental well-being. What are the causes and how can they be addressed?

Sadly, those who are just about to start their professional journey reported the highest rates of negative mental well-being by career stage. 41% of students studying music reported negative mental well-being, highlighting the need for dedicated support for those in the very early stages of their careers. While we can’t say for certain why this is happening, the Census showed that there is no clear route for career progression as an ongoing challenge. If we combine the competitive nature of the sector with no linear pathway for 'success’ there is a lot of pressure. Managing expectations is a key challenge. It’s also worth noting the considerable impact of unstable finances and the impact of the wider economy when trying to build a financially sustainable career.

There is also a clear issue with poor mental health creating barriers to career growth, alongside a worrying number of respondents suggesting they might leave the industry. What can businesses in the industry do to help support these groups?

Networks are more important than ever - the Census showed that not knowing anyone in the industry was a career restriction for 25% of respondents. Many roles in music can be isolated so creating moments where we can come together, learn and share is vital. In the age of social media, hearing from others about the realities as well as the opportunities can not only provide valuable career insights but also be a source of reassurance.

Where possible, we also all need to play a role in recognizing how we might prevent potential issues before a potential crisis hits. Whether it’s highlighting support resources during Mental Health Awareness Week or being more open about how we’re feeling to help create a more open culture around mental health struggles, we need to build understanding about how to build more positive mental well-being and where to turn for help in those vital early stages.

Are there any genres that are particularly at risk? Why is this case and what can be done to support artists and executives more?

The Census revealed that musicians working in dance are facing a lot of challenges. They reported higher rates of low mental wellbeing than musicians working in other genres (35% in dance versus 30% of all respondents) and earn considerably less - 35% of electronic musicians earn £7,000 or less from music (versus 14% of all respondents), with the mean income for electronic musicians being £18,000. They reported slightly higher rates of self-employment (74% in dance versus 72% of all respondents) which inherently means less financial stability. It perhaps wouldn’t be unfair to assume these musicians work more unsociable hours, which can lead to fatigue and make relationships outside of work more difficult.

In terms of what can be done, we certainly need to work collaboratively as a sector to support those who need help. As mentioned, networks and connection are of huge importance to addressing these issues; by bringing people together, online and in-person, we can share insight and experiences and which hopefully help people better navigate some of the issues that can lead to poor mental well-being and begin to tackle some of the isolation that may come with this industry. 

What resources are available to artists and executives through Music Minds Matter and its partners?

We understand that a range of help is increasingly important when it comes to mental well-being; how you’re feeling and how you like to communicate will have a big impact on what support is right for you. 

Anyone working in music can speak to a trained advisor any time, day or night via the Music Minds Matter helpline (0808 802 8008), but if you’re not ready to talk, our online platform, Explore, can help you make sense of emotions and guide you to further help.

For others, connecting in real-time with people who understand can make a real difference. That’s why Music Minds Matter also provides Peer Support Groups through our partners, Tonic Rider. These weekly meetings are structured over six weeks and feature the same cohort of peers, providing a space to speak, share, and be heard by others who may be experiencing similar challenges. 

We also provide online self-care sessions offering techniques and strategies to work through challenging times, equipping anyone working in music with coping mechanisms to use on an ongoing basis. 

You can browse all of Music Minds Matter services here 

What work will Music Minds Matter be focusing on in 2024?

We have big ambitions for 2024 to reach more people who work in music to build positive mental well-being and to raise awareness of the support available if you are struggling. We’ll also be improving the online experience for Music Minds Matter, creating more digital tools and content, and want to work with others in the industry to create more partnerships that support the extension, reach, and impact of our services. 

As a charity, donations are essential to our work so whether you can give funding, help with a community fundraising challenge, or advocate for Music Minds Matter to help spread awareness in your networks we really need more people to get involved. Music gives so much to all of us, so let’s give back and properly support those who bring the gift of music to all of us.  

 Learn more about Music Minds Matter here and read the full report here.