The Struggles of an Artist in The Modern Industry
The term 'Tortured Artist', like many others, has its roots in truth. In a time where the music industry is more cash starved than ever, the pressures that come with pursuing a career in music are more intense than ever. With returns growing ever smaller, many gigging musicians find it difficult just making ends meet despite dedicating every moment of their day to their craft. While we all hear about the struggles of the rich and famous, it could be argued that the artists that have it the hardest are the young up-and-comers trying to support themselves solely with their art. All of these pressures with money, time, and numerous others add up to make the path of an artist one of the most detrimental to your mental health. To help me gain an insider perspective of the struggles of a young artist, and how it impacts their mental health, I sat down with award-winning guitarist and improviser Megan Roe.
After she graduated with a music degree, Megan was making some money with her band J Frisco playing renown jazz festivals up and down the country, but this wasn't enough to fully support her and she found herself having to get a full time job alongside her budding music career. Maintaining a balance between the two proved to be difficult; “All my holidays from work were used up within the first few months for festival dates I was playing with J Frisco, which often meant that it wasn't a time to rest because it was still work for me. Trying to balance both my music and my job made it incredibly difficult to be fully on top of my game in either – but you can't just stop, because that's the minimum pace you need to go in order to make enough for rent.”
The crushing weight of constant money worries and the immense workload required just in order to stay afloat will rapidly start eroding anybodies mental wellbeing. When asked about her experience with this, Megan said; “It's really difficult because it's a lot of stress and a lot of pressure. When I had more time it was easier to manage my organisations and my band, but when you have to give 40-plus hours of your time every week, your health can suffer and it can be hard to stay on top of things and make sure everything is running smoothly.”
A relatively new aspect of being successful as an artist in today's industry is having a strong social media presence – and this means using it a lot. This often makes it difficult to 'leave your work at the office' as you are reachable 24/7, not just the traditional work hours of 9-5. This increased blurring of the lines between work time and personal time is something that has steadily increased since the advent of social media – and its something that is fast becoming the accepted norm.
“People just harass me” she jokes. “But in all seriousness, it's incredibly difficult to 'switch off' because most of the organisations/projects I run are online brands which require social media all the time – and that means that people bombard you on social media all the time, which can be really damaging to your mental health and impact other aspects of your life.”
“As an artist you don't use Facebook, Instagram, and Twitter for the same things other people use them for and it can become a real source of stress and make you worry a lot.”
Research into the negative effects social media has on mental health is still very much in its infancy – but the findings we have so far seem to point to a correlation between the amount of social media a person consumes and their mental health. Having a presence on social media is something that pretty much all bands and artists see as unavoidable part of following this career path – but is it absolutely necessary in order to be successful?
“It is. It absolutely is.” Megan asserts. “I know people will say 'nah, nah it's not about that', but if you want to play the festivals, and thats what a lot of people want to do, they are GOING to look at your social media. They want to see you engaging with your audience, building a fanbase, and doing what you can to promote your gigs – no one is going to book someone with 20 likes when they can get someone with 20,000”
The constant pressure to constantly monitor social media, the huge time costs, and the difficulty they have with switching 'work mode off' often leads to artists having an unhealthy work-life balance. Not having time to relax and switch off, not matter how sustainable it seems at the time, will only lead to major troubles down the road. These troubles can manifest as anything from spectacularly burning out, to more serious stress-related health issues like a stroke or heart attack.
“Theres not a lot of time for relaxing, it's pretty much non-stop – it has to be. To do everything to the standard that it needs to be done, it takes a lot of time. Basically to do music, you need to run it like a business. The reason that a lot of bands fail is that they don't have the people power behind them to put in the time it takes”
The pressures of being a success in todays industry appear to be much more numerous than ever. From the immense amount of time you have to dedicate in order to barely scrape a living, to the diluted separation between personal and work life, the realities of being a musician is something rarely seen by those on the outside. Once a performer walks on stage, or an artist displays their work for all to see, the long path that lead to the finished product can become obscured and the struggles forgotten.