Between rock and a hard place

Published 12 September 2018

It's long been suspected that their hard-living lifestyle means rock musicians suffer for their art. Now a University of New England (UNE) researcher is investigating the personal toll a musical career can take.

Honours student Paul Godfrey is going back stage - into the psychology of Australian rock and pop performers - to discover what pressures they face and how it affects their mental health.

"It's no secret that musicians, as part of the wider creative industry, suffer for their art at times," Paul said. "The hours of performing and touring can be long, and there are tensions between enjoying what you do and being passionate and creative, and the problems that may come with making a living or the fame associated with it. I'm interested in what that does to a person."

Paul was inspired by a report published by Entertainment Assist in partnership with Victoria University in 2016, which concluded that creative artists in Australia (including musicians) experienced significant mental health issues, including depression, anxiety, relational breakdown and even poverty. It found that over one-third of performing artists reported mental health problems and 25% had attempted or committed suicide.

The relationship between sleep and depression, and how readily musicians access mental health support are two of the key components of Paul's research.

"Having many friends and associates in the music industry, I've long heard stories about poor mental health, but I think it is still largely shrouded in secrecy and a certain stigma persists," Paul said. "Performing musicians are often working late hours and on weekends, and I suspect they are not always good at taking care of themselves. I'm also hearing that many musicians cannot access support or don't feel that the right support exists for them."

The life of a performing artist can certainly be demanding. It's a competitive and often unhealthy environment known for its lack of financial security. Performers are also heavily scrutinised in today's digital world. "Most musicians now have their own social media profiles; they are closely watched and criticised," Paul said. "They may have their performance persona, but what happens when the show's over? What really goes on behind-the-scenes?"