Choosing to be an independent artist is a leap of faith. LA-based producer Holly Woods claims she didn’t realize how much goes into a one-person career when she started. Being independent comes with a lot of different responsibilities, not many realize that struggling with mental health might be one of them.
It can be extremely rewarding, but for many, it takes a toll on their mental health. Independent artists are tasked with wearing many hats, such as building a brand, navigating legal issues, and booking events, all in addition to being the star of the show.
“I am constantly working as the artist, the agent, the manager, the PR person, the social media manager, the graphic designer, etc.,” she says. “Unfortunately, at its core, the music industry is a business. A very cutthroat one, at that. In businesses, people work to make money.”
Independent artists enjoy complete creative control over their careers. It’s one of the things that makes staying independent so attractive. Ask Chance the Rapper, who has remained independent throughout his entire career and plans to continue doing so. But for many, the drawbacks can be especially painful.
“I don’t have built-in fans to a label or company that are easily finding me through that,” says the young artist. She cites a genuine connection with fans that she’s made on social media, and most recently Tik Tok, to help her foster her own community of support.
But still, working without the guidance of a label can put a ton of pressure on artists like her. Once just a wide-eyed, eager musician, they’re now assuming all kinds of roles. So, who’s left to care for their mental health?
The Damages of Social Media
Holly Woods points out that on the flip side, social media can be damaging to musicians. “Nobody is showing the mistakes, the hardships, the failures. So, I think that makes people compare themselves to an unrealistic portfolio of perfection. We’re only human. Everyone has such big dreams and so much passion behind them. With dreams that big, it is really easy to be intimidated by the amount of work it takes to make them a reality, especially when nobody else is showing that not-so-glamorous side online.”
According to a study conducted by Statista Research Department, an alarming 80% of independent artists between ages 18 and 25 admitted to struggling with stress, anxiety, or depression due to their roles as musicians.
“Writing music is my release. But, I will say some days it’s my medicine and some days it’s the poison. It’s all part of being an artist, I guess.”
Mental health in the music industry is a topic too taboo for much consideration until recent years. Historically, many musicians signed an unwritten contract with fans to uphold a particular image each day. Artists have more often than not felt pressured to glorify unhealthy habits like substance abuse and poor relationships. People only remark the harm when an artist finally succumbs to their demons for the last time. Unfortunately, this is the narrative that many artists adapt and sometimes take to their graves without ever seeking help.
However, a new narrative is now working to save our artists—it’s okay to not be okay; it’s okay to ask for help. Many of us strive to entertain this mantra in our own lives. Why should artists be held to a different standard when struggling with their own mental health?
“I think that in the music industry and society in general, people are finally opening up to the idea of mental health as not such a taboo topic, which is so incredibly necessary for things to progress,” she says. “I see much more support now than I ever did, even just before the pandemic. You can’t survive in the music industry without your health, both mental and physical, and I am really glad to see everyone taking this more seriously, and I hope that it continues down that path in the future
A refreshing cultural shift is taking place. Thanks to documentaries, podcasts, public discussions, and a large number of artists opening up about their mental health struggles, the stigma around the topic is being lifted. Logic famously aided in normalizing asking for help in his 2017 song “1-800-273-8255” with Alessia Cara and Khalid.
Just Talk About It
Holly Woods leaves one final note, “I think that if people are more open with their real feelings, more opportunities for support will open up. I think having a therapist on your team should be just as essential as having a manager, agent, lawyer, etc.”
We can continue to advocate for our artists’ mental health by welcoming discussion with open arms. If we can’t talk about it, we can’t fix it. Many labels provide mental health resources readily available to their clients. Independent artists often don’t have direct access to these programs, so the music community has an even greater responsibility to them. Exercise this power by respecting their time off and valuing their privacy when they ask for it. By taking preventative action against mental health issues, we must continue to demand change. If you’re struggling with your mental health, it’s important to seek help.
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