This month (February 28), marks the release of Sound Advice – a new book written by music industry journalist Rhian Jones and PhD researcher and musician Lucy Heyman that offers a health-focused performance and career manual for aspiring and established musicians and those that work with them.
Published by Shoreditch Press on February 28, Sound Advice has been edited by Popjustice founder Peter Robinson and academic, musician and author, Gareth Dylan Smith.
Billed as a “bang up to date guide to the increasingly diverse structure of the music industry with advice on improving performance skills, money management, cultivating creativity, social media, dealing with criticism, fame and fans, Sound Advice also explores the mental and physical health problems many musicians may face in their careers."
Chapters cover substance use and addiction, eating disorders and body image, musculoskeletal issues and touring, vocal and hearing health, among other subjects to help enable artists to prioritise their mental and physical health while cultivating successful, sustainable and fulfilling careers.
Sound Advice includes original interviews with leading researchers, health experts, business executives and a host of artists including Laura Mvula, Will Young, Imogen Heap, Wayne Hector, MNEK, Nina Nesbitt, Lauren Aquilina, Ella Eyre, Jonathan Higgs, and Lady Leshurr, among others. Readers will also find quotes and advice from a long list of successful artists including Ed Sheeran, Lily Allen, Amanda Palmer, Matty Healy, Gary Numan, Billie Eilish, James Blake, Taylor Swift, Justin Bieber, George Ezra, Loyle Carner, Alicia Keys, Dave, and Mabel.
The book has been widely supported by some of the biggest companies in music: Universal Music, Sony Music, Warner Music, Live Nation, IFPI, Spotify, Hipgnosis Songs, Vevo, PRS for Music, Polydor Records, the BRIT Trust, and PPL.
Here, co-authors Rhian Jones and Lucy Heyman explain how they hope the book can be an invaluable resource for anyone working in the music industry…
What was the original inspiration behind writing Sound Advice?
Rhian Jones: “I’d closely followed the music and mental health conversation that started around the time the Amy documentary was released in 2015, and ended up writing a few articles questioning the support that was available for artists, going to lots of panel discussions and speaking to people in the health and music world. I’d spent a few years reporting on the music business at that time (primarily at Music Week!) and it made total sense to me that the industry should prioritise the health of artists who are often faced with a lot of pressure in their jobs. It’s changing now, but back then, there wasn’t much evidence of support and understanding. The idea for the book came to me while I was on holiday (as often happens when you give your brain a break) – I knew I wanted to write a book, I’d enjoyed writing ‘self-help’ style articles for my blog about getting into journalism, and trying to move the music and health conversation into preventative action was (and still is) a subject I’m really passionate about. Luckily, I’d met Lucy through her research and over a catch-up coffee one day, we both realised we’d had the same idea for the book and similar motivations for writing it, and decided to do it together. I’m not sure I’d ever have gotten it done on my own, to be honest, and I definitely didn’t have the in-depth health knowledge that was required to make sure that vital part of the book was sound, so I’m forever grateful that our paths crossed and that Lucy was as keen to get it done as I was!”
Lucy Heyman: “As a vocal coach I started to notice artists coming to me with health issues that were impacting their ability to perform, so I enrolled on an MSc looking at musicians’ health to find out more. Whilst learning about the issues they faced, I was surprised to find that a lot of them were preventable with the right information and support. I think it was at this point that I realised how impactful a book could be that combined health information with real-life stories from artists and interviews with experts. Later on, I conducted a research study looking at the health and wellbeing of artists, and found that many didn’t feel equipped with the skills to do the job they had to do. For example, singers playing stadium gigs had never been taught how to warm up their voice, musicians were drinking through performance anxiety as there was no other support available, and they all said that they felt unsupported with their health issues. It was then really clear that more resources were needed to help these artists, and a book in particular would be an effective way of getting the information across. It was so serendipitous that I met Rhian shortly after, as one of the main goals of writing this book was to make it really engaging and accessible to all. As a journalist, Rhian had a clear idea of how to do this and really set the tone from the start. She also brought so much expertise about the business and finance side of things, and how these topics impacted health. To echo what she said, I would never have been able to create this on my own so am incredibly grateful that we shared our plans that day and that we now have a finished book in front of us as a result!”
Who is the audience you have in mind for this book?
Rhian: “We hope it’s relevant for people at all stages of their careers. The book opens with two chapters that focus on the structure of the music business and money management, which might be more relevant to young musicians. That said, we have all heard the many horror stories about artists at all levels signing contracts without understanding the implications, and the situations they get themselves in as a result of being in the dark about how the music business works and managing finances, and these chapters will help shed some light on both of those things. The rest of the chapters, and especially the health-focused ones, are pretty universal. In terms of who will benefit the most, young musicians who haven’t yet encountered health issues as a result of their career will find lots of information that’s going to help stop ill-health from happening in the first place. There are a few things, like vocal, hearing and musculoskeletal (MSK) issues, that can be prevented fairly easily if taken seriously from the get-go. But looking after your health and growing personally and professionally is a life-long task, and we’ve written it in a way that speaks to musicians, and those that work with them, regardless of career level.”
It was really important to us to highlight that it’s not just hugely successful artists who are at risk
Lucy: “We’ve also just heard that there is now a plan for the return of live music, which is brilliant news, but some musicians may be feeling anxious about getting back onstage after a year without gigs. There’ll probably be a sudden increase in the amount of playing or performing that is done, and it’s in these times that a musician is really susceptible to injury. We hope, therefore, that the book will be able to provide a lot of support about how to plan and practice effectively for the return of performance, avoid injury, manage any anxiety that might come about, look after vocal health, plan for a healthy tour and lots more.”
The title is interesting – normally you’d expect it to say ‘the ultimate guide to a successful career in music’ but yours, commendably, puts the word health not only in it, but before success. What did you learn in the course of your research about mental health in the music industry. Were you surprised by just how much of a problem it is?
Rhian: “When looking at the prevalence of mental health issues in music, because of the research I’d already done before writing the book, and witnessed what Amy Winehouse went through (who I’m a huge fan of), I wouldn’t say that I’ve been surprised. I can totally understand how the challenges of the job and the music business environment can have a negative impact on someone’s mental health. It’s really competitive and unstable, there’s a lot of luck involved in whether you’re successful or not, and if you do reach a certain standard of perceived success, there’s a lot of pressure that comes from being in the public eye, and the touring lifestyle is incredibly demanding. If I was travelling from gig to gig in a car all day, or often lost out on sleep due to nights spent on a plane, for example, or if I felt pressure to look a certain way that took a lot of effort and brain space to maintain, and felt like I wasn’t in control of how I want to spend my days, my mental health would be pretty shot!”
Lucy: “It wasn’t the prevalence of mental health problems that surprised me, but the vast array of physical health issues, and their impact on mental health. Research has suggested, for example, that 74% of musicians experience musculoskeletal issues, which is nearly three quarters of the professional workforce who are suffering. A similar percentage have also been reported to have hearing issues. Within the industry, I don’t think these problems get as much air time, which is surprising when you think that physical and mental health are so interlinked. In the book, the director of the British Association of Performance Arts Medicine, Claire Cordeaux, describes how pretty much everyone who comes in to their clinic with an MSK issue like those I’ve described above, will also have a mental health issue connected. I think as an industry we need to raise awareness of how we can support all of the health issues that musicians experience, both physical and mental, if we want to bring about meaningful change in the long run.”
It wasn’t the prevalence of mental health problems that surprised me, but the vast array of physical health issues, and their impact on mental health
The narrative about mental health and dealing with immense pressure in the music industry often revolves around artists in the media – how important was it to you to highlight the ways in which the people behind the scenes are just as susceptible to these pressures?
Rhian: “It was really important to us to highlight that it’s not just hugely successful artists who are at risk and that that category of musician is in the tiny minority. Throughout the book, we’ve reiterated that the average salary for a working musician in the UK is £23k, for example, and that most musicians will have portfolio careers that can also be made up of teaching or having an unrelated part-time job. While these people are unlikely to have to deal with fame, performing onstage to thousands every night and then going back to an empty hotel room, media scrutiny and demanding fans (all subjects we cover in the book), they are likely to be self-employed, to have to deal with criticism, play live shows and maybe tour, sing or play an instrument, be exposed to loud sounds, be at risk of suffering from mental ill-health (as we all are), substance use and addiction and disordered eating and body image issues (subjects that we also cover in the book). When it comes to the pressures that people working on the business side of music face, that’s not the focus of the book because there’s not yet comprehensive research that outlines how much of a problem this is, and because the music industry is made up of lots of different companies and roles, offering help for someone who is a crew member on tour, for example, is likely to be very different to what a major label A&R, or someone working an office job at a collection society needs. That said, there are messages throughout the book that will be helpful to anyone, regardless of their job, and if you work in music and especially directly with musicians, it’s a pretty vital (and interesting, hopefully!) read that will help people understand more about the business they work in and be better able to support themselves and those around them.”
Lucy: “As Rhian described, the role of a professional musician can be diverse. Anyone reading this will probably know the general statistics of success in music – for every ten artists signed to a label, only one will make a profit, and for every artist who gets signed there are many more who don’t ‘make it’. So, beyond the major label artists there are thousands of independent DIY musicians who also need to be supported in their careers. Their challenges may be slightly different to the those signed to a major – in some cases, they might be on low incomes or struggling financially, balancing two jobs to pay the rent, and will probably be under immense stress of a different kind. Also, many of these artists are their own managers and self-release, so they need to understand how the industry operates and how to apply for funding. We’ve included information in the book that covers all of this, and will hopefully be relevant regardless of career stage.”
The book also addresses some physical health aspects of the music industry. Are there any physical conditions that need more awareness in your opinion that are parts of our everyday lives that go unnoticed?
Rhian: “Physical health is where Lucy’s expertise has been brilliant — I found the vocal health chapter fascinating, for example, because it’s crazy how many young artists will go out on tour without knowing what they need to do to look after their voice, and we’ve all seen the headlines about high-profile artists needing to cut tours short or cancel shows due to surgery, which can be prevented with the right training. Hearing is another big one — when you’re young, you don’t think twice about going to or playing a gig without ear plugs or rehearsing in a loud studio, but that can lead to a number of hearing problems that might even impact a musician’s ability to do their job in future, which is really sad because it’s such an easy one to prevent."
Lucy: "I’d just add to this that, anecdotally there’s been a rise in burnout and exhaustion within the music community over the past few years. It’s not surprising when you look at the intense workloads that artists and music professionals are under, and I think we are going to need to find ways to support people better with that.”
There are interviews with big names – both on the stage and behind the scenes. Is there any advice (be it business or otherwise) from a big name in the book that struck you as revelatory?
Rhian: “I loved hearing MNEK talking about dealing with imposter syndrome, which you probably wouldn’t imagine coming from someone who is so successful. Likewise, we’ve got a brilliant quote from Ella Eyre talking about how the success she had really early on in her career was a “weird high” to come down from as she realised that it just wasn’t going to continue on that level. We’ve got a great quote from Will Young about the time his ego ran away with him and put his relationship with his manager in jeopardy, and Imogen Heap talking about how drinking regularly in her early career meant she wasn’t able to be properly present and in control of it. It was also fascinating to hear Ed Sheeran talk about how he felt after ticking off all the major career goals, which we sourced via his interview for Hay House. There are loads of gems beyond this!”
Lucy: “For me it was Nina Nesbitt talking about the importance of sleep for looking after her mental health, Hannah Peel talking about the deceptive nature of social media ‘wins’ and Laura Mvula stepping up her ‘bullshit barometer’ when she needed to protect her health.”
You can pre-order Sound Advice here.