Andrew Foster - Mental Health In The Music Industry
Updated: Jul 11, 2019
narcissist /ˈnɑːsɪsɪst/ noun
1. a person who has an excessive interest in or admiration of themselves. "narcissists who think the world revolves around them"
Apparently 1 in 6 people suffer from mental illness at some point in their lives. Personally I’d put that figure much higher. Maybe even 6 in 6.
Everyone has what my therapist would call ‘difficult feelings’ and its such a dark misty wood of a subject that it’s hard to define exactly what depression and anxiety really are and what is just a justifiable reaction to something that has upset you. Nature or nurture, learnt behaviour, or a literal serotonin drop in the brain, whatever the reason, its best to understand that mental health is still very much in its infancy as to how it can be tackled and the diagnosis given. None of what I’m going to explore here should be taken as read and anyone who thinks they need help MUST NOT take what I’m saying as a blanket approach for all musicians/people. This is me talking about my experiences and relaying them back to you, the reader, for your own journey. It’s to hopefully act as a safety blanket for those that can relate, or those that cant spot where they are heading.
Mental health and the music industry go hand in hand like cheese on toast. I have been a musician now for 20 years. I’ve played every toilet venue from Portsmouth to Liverpool and have trod the boards with aggressive intent. Most gigs I’ve played have their fair share of people in crisis, had a crisis, or are on the path to one.
It’s a certain type of person that wants to perform, especially those who want to make it their source of income. I’m not talking about the weekend warrior who sings ‘Wonderwall’ down the local every now and then. I mean the hardcore who often refuses point blank to take anything else as seriously as they do their music.
Unfortunately there's often some kind of childhood disconnection that has led them down a narcissistic approach to their life. It often comes hand in hand with trying to prove something...either to your family or even yourself. It takes huge resilience and determination to pursue a career in the arts. One which leads a hefty amount of people down a dark rabbit hole that can have ramifications for that person for years to come.
Now, its impossible to talk about mental health without the article descending into Eeyore style sadness and self pitying. My caveat for that is this. I have had some of the best experiences of my life onstage. I've played with or met nearly all of my childhood heroes. I've worked on Later with Jools Holland and Top Of The Pops, worked in an A grade film/audio studio looking after celebrities and comedians. I've toured the country with people buying my music. Played to thousands of people at festivals. Been in the music press and done live sessions for radio across the country. I've silenced a room and nothing can prepare you for that control. If you have done it you’ll know, but this control is something ill explore later. Blah Blah Blah ‘insert music credentials here’... I have worked very hard alone in the music industry for many years.
Determination is something nobody can take away from me. I forged connections over months of careful intricate patterns of reliability, being affable and just plain hammering away until they answered me! I have worked full time and also gigged in the local area and in London to then get up the next day, thus leading two lives.
What's this got to do with mental health in music? Everything…
Validation is something that I find consistently through the music industry in performers. Everyone wants to be loved and excepted but this gets turned up to eleven when you put yourself out there to be scrutinised and judged. Any musician worth their salt has to be a narcissist to a certain degree as you are trying to succeed in a world with no pay rises, no interviews, no assignments, no mid year review and no exams. Its not even if you are any good as this is purely subjective. Its just whether you have something that captures the imagination of people and they buy into you. I don't like the idea of luck as this suggests we have no control at all...but it is...its luck. We love the romance of the Ed Sheeran story of busking and being homeless. Then rising up from the mire to play Wembley with just a travel guitar. The truth of the matter is its a story, a great one maybe and Rags to Riches is something we are all fascinated with. But a story all the same.
Some people get lifted out of the merry go round by being in the right place at the right time. That's not taking away from the grafters but you cant value your success in music by the work you put in. The music Industry is full of very well rehearsed myths and is no different or purer than any city job. I’ve seen a good few Jeff Buckely’s touring the country that are probably working in the Carphone Warehouse now. It’s this dicey road that can very easily cause a creative sensitive soul to completely lose touch of what made them do it in the first place. Which is usually to communicate and make a career communicating through art. How lovely an image is that...
Playing to a packed venue songs that you have crafted in your rented bedroom alone… but then having to go back to a world of offices and grey the very next day, It can take its toll. The chase for acceptance and making money from music has so much danger attached to it in terms of mental health. Its a difficult balance when you are straddling both worlds of pretend ‘rock star’ and Joe Bloggs trying to stay afloat.
My experience in my 20 years definitely led me to a certain type of madness, no question.
I have tried everything in my power to not spend my working life doing something I despise. This is partly due to watching every adult I knew growing up struggling, surviving hand to mouth or being just plain unhappy. Our time working is usually most of our lives and I was dam sure I wasn't going to spend it whining about David Brent not treating me right in the workplace. I've always had a huge imagination and have always loved creating things that didn't exist and I wanted people to think of me like that. I'm not looking to be the next Oasis, Coldplay or Muse, I just want a modest amount of money to keep on doing what I'm doing, eat, and have a Radox bath. In the back of my mind I've always thought it would come and work very hard in order for that to happen.
Even though I am shining a light on the darker side of the industry. I do want to make clear and address the fact that I wouldn't take any of my experience back. Its exciting and you do live life at a higher emotional state and colour than a lot of people you will know. I think its just important to talk about the other side of the picture on social media...which neatly brings to me to the ego.
I'm trying to be self aware enough to not make this purely a cathartic piece which runs the risk of stroking my own ego. I've become very aware of my ego of late and as a musician you need it to be successful to a degree.
We are all selling little pieces of ourselves online nowadays. Its an often covered subject of late, the ramifications of our selfie sticks (Selfie Sticks RIP). But as a musician you're not selling sink plungers or tyres...you're selling a carefully created world in which you're trying to entice people to buy into. Its a very odd exchange between perception and reality. This journey of your ego can get you in a sticky battle with your own head. You can start thinking in the third person….’What would Andrew Foster think about this!’ Very bizarre and self absorbed, but I wont be the first musician to document a gig alone and paint a picture of what I want people to believe.
Its a tricky mental health battle of years of ludicrously huge highs and people making the assumption that you're successful. To then crushing lows and dislocation to the real world due to thinking you were above the grind everyone else was experiencing. Believe me this applies to even the biggest of artists. You are buying into a story.
I remember a conversation with songwriter Chris Helme one night after many a JD (don't get me started on the music industry and addiction!) where I was this huge ball of frustration and anger. On the subject of not being signed and not earning enough he said… ‘When is it you think you will have made it? When is it enough? You are doing it now, people buy your records you're gigging and you are at the top of your game. It stayed with me but logically I knew this lovely sentence wasn't going to bring me security. Security anxiety (like most self employed people) is something that is a common worry in the music industry. It effects everything from relationships, mindset, and friendships. Causing anxiety, depression and dislocation. After years of musicians trying their hand in various linked jobs doing session work, studio work and the like to pay the bills they can find themselves in arrested development. Watching everyone around you settle down makes you an outsider. Its not even like I wanted the picket fence and the Volvo but when everyone else has that you start to get more and more dislocated from your friends and family chasing a dream.
These musings are concerned specifically with mental health in music. I have suffered with mental health issues for most of my life. I've had panic attacks, OCD, phobias, anxiety and very dark thoughts at various occasions that haven't been directly caused by the music industry. I must stress that its in me intrinsicly and therefore has been exacerbated by my decision to chase being a songwriter.
Being a good musician is often about being in touch with the magic of being able to communicate sensitivity and emotion whether its anger or love. Unfortunately the music Industry is a very cold hard place for someone of this disposition to thrive in so a balance must be struck. You must look after yourself in an environment that can be fickle and cruel for the sake of your mental health.
Its a business and anyone who has succeeded has treated it as such or they have ended up in a right mess. Kurt Cobain still needed toilet paper, Ian Curtis still tripped up the curb sometimes, Bob Marley still had to wash his clothes and Amy Winehouse and Janis Joplin still had to sort out their periods. These people aren't gods and goddesses, they are just extraordinary people that have managed to succeed. The rock and roll story can make you a Pacman in a maze chasing the ghosts of what you THINK you should be.
We mustn't let the story of what we think being a credible artist entails to destroy us as its an illusion...a story. Make yours a balanced one.
After all this being in the music industry can be some of the most euphoric and life affirming moments you will ever have in your life that you wont be able to replicate. But treat her with respect and suspicion… she’s a cruel mistress for the human brain if you don't! If you see a fellow musician going down a dark path then talk to them about it. I guarantee you they wont come to you first. It’s hard enough them battling their own journey negotiating expectations of themselves let alone admitting it maybe getting the better of them.
People with mental health issues can be awkward and slightly irritating! But in a time where the western world is waking up to the fact that maybe all this chasing ghosts has ramifications, you definitely will not be the first person to book an appointment with your Doctor. We all struggle in our own way and if we all talk more about it we may get to the bottom of why mental health issues are so prevalent now.
I could tell the horror stories and coping mechanisms I’ve had and used. But I wanted to keep this about a journey in the arts. To make this specific, knowing that there are many people on a similar journey and maybe it would speak to them. Feel free to comment, share or message me.
So Andrew Foster is signing this article off, taking a selfie, then trying to get you to part with you're cash for a piece of Music/Art/Soul!
Andrew Foster is dead...long live Andrew Foster.
Stay safe xx
Chester Bennington – Linkin Park * Scott Hutchison * Chris Cornell – Soundgarden * Avicii – Acclaimed Dance Producer * Keith Flint – The Prodigy * Patrick Doyle - Veronica Falls drummer and solo musician * Keith Emmerson – Emmerson, Lake & Palmer * Jóhann Jóhannsson - Golden Globe winning composer * Dolores O'Riordan – Cranberries * Josh Fauver - Ex-Deerhunter bassist * Sam Mehran - Test Icicles * Butch Trucks – The Allman Brothers