How Musicians Survive the Road in a Post-Covid World
Life on the road may sound glamorous to some, but burnout and mental health challenges have affected musicians of all stripes since they first stepped on stage and struck a guitar chord on tour. The pandemic has worsened the load with many artists nixing tours and dates in favor of self-care.
The new book Touring and Mental Health – Music Industry Manual (out now via Omnibus) seeks to help musicians navigate the lows. It’s edited by Tamsin Embleton, who used to have a career managing artists and tours. Now, she’s a therapist and the founder of the Music Industry Therapist Collective (MITC), which comprises mental health practitioners with music industry backgrounds. Embleton, along with MITC members, cowrote the manual, which provides guidance for those on tour, addressing a range of issues from addiction to navigating interpersonal band relationships and the self-care essential for maintaining wellbeing. Divided into six parts, it’s not meant to be read straight-though, rather for readers to skip around to the sections that address any issues they are currently facing. “[It] is designed to dip in and out of as you see fit,” Embleton writes of the manual. Radiohead’s Phil Selway, Nile Rodgers, and Four Tet’s Kieran Hebden are among the musicians interviewed.
Tours impact everything from navigating a personal life when far away from loved ones to heightened anxiety that comes from performing.
“You get caught up in just trying to gauge how everybody else is doing onstage, the actual technicalities of what you’re doing in your playing, trying to dampen down the voices in your head going – ‘Oh shit, you’re shit!’” Selway explains of music performance anxiety in the book.
Though the research is still in its early stages, research suggests that Covid lockdown restrictions have had a wide impact on mental wellbeing in the music sphere: 87 percent of musicians in one survey experienced a deterioration in mental health, and a broader survey of music industry professionals found 26 percent experienced moderate to severe levels of depression, as the book cites.
Christy Merriner, a member of MITC who used to worked in management with artists including Lou Reed, tells Rolling Stone that one of her clients had “a psychotic break and had to be hospitalized, and didn’t make music for almost a year, and is just now coming back from that and then just made their first track and like, over a year,” she says. “It’s amazing, it sounds great. But it really set him back. And it really made him question not only his abilities, but his own sanity — ‘Am I even stable enough to do this? Is this going to happen again?’ So there’s been a lot of stress there.’”
MITC colleague Jodi Milstein, who contributed a chapter to the book and worked with acts such as Soundgarden, Sheryl Crow, and Lionel Richie before becoming a therapist, tells Rolling Stone the music world is hitting a turning point when it comes to mental health and the importance of not “running people into the ground.”
The book, written by those who know the grind themselves, provides strategies and a road map to prioritizing mental health. “I really see the industry having a lot more awareness and taking it more seriously, as far as running people into the ground,” Milstein says. “I think the number of suicides that have occurred, and taking certain lifestyles into consideration — that people are aware that there is a mental health component to everybody…It’s a piece we have to pay attention to.”