Owen Vyse is a tutor on both the Creative Artist and Music Production pathways at ACM Guildford.
With a wealth of experience under his belt – which includes working with the likes of Spice Girls, Oasis and BB King, to name a few – we caught up with him to discuss wellbeing in the music industry for Mental Health Awareness Week.
Why do you think musicians can be more susceptible to mental health issues and what can they do to prevent them?
I think musicians are particularly susceptible to depression as our lives are framed by the gap between expectation and reality, multiplied by the instability of the career path, the unfairness of the business model and the difficulty of transitioning back to being a ‘civilian’. And all this is magnified by the probability that, as artists, our brains experience things more deeply, imagine things a little bit more vividly, and are emotionally that little bit more vulnerable than ‘civilians’.
One of the best indicators of happiness and robust mental health is a good link between the life you expect and the life you have; for ambitious musicians this can be difficult to achieve.
How to combat this? Well, essentially you need to cultivate a sense of gratitude for the good things you have and set aside the anger about the things you don’t have. Remember that your work has the same artistic, intrinsic and therapeutic value regardless of how many people like it.
Another impediment to mental health familiar to performers is transitioning back to ‘normality’. When your ‘job’ is to be cheered and clapped and screamed at and lusted after, it’s difficult to adjust to being ‘civilian’ again. Obviously this is more acute the longer your life has been based in the alternate reality of celebrity, but every performer will recognise how particularly boring and pointless and dreary and colourless school or jobs can be the day after a great gig. The buzz you get from being special and important and the centre of attention is intoxicating – and like all intoxicants it can be harmful to your mental well-being. My advice here is don’t let it go to your head. A little perspective and self-deprecation go a long way towards keeping you happy.
What are the warning signs to look out for in band-mates for wellbeing issues, and how can you support your friends?
Watch for narcissism. Watch for excessive use of intoxicants. Watch for signs of mental exhaustion or changes in temperament: is your shy band mate suddenly loud and hyperactive? Is your confident singer oddly quiet and listless?
In terms of support, remember that a good sense of humour and an Us vs The World attitude can help get bands through tough times. Remember that some of the small gigs you do now will be some of the best gigs you ever do – even if you’re playing stadiums one day. Remember to enjoy everything good that happens – regardless of whether it’s ‘successful’. Be kind. Be generous. Be a good listener. If you’re really worried about someone, don’t keep it to yourself. Tell a tutor, a doctor, a counsellor, or a parent.
What’s your advice for maintaining good mental wellbeing in the music industry?
My advice is very simple: place value on music for its own sake and never allow your value to be determined by popularity. Music is essentially limitless and infinite. You can never learn everything about your instrument; the best players in the world are constantly practicing and experimenting. You can never write the perfect song; artists are always driven to create something new, something better, something deeper. If you have this attitude to music – that it is a means of understanding yourself and expressing what you learn – then none of the problems discussed above can truly hurt you. If you are doing music to be rich and famous, you’re embarking on a potentially very unhappy life – one that is dependent on luck and the judgement of others. If you’re doing music because it nourishes you and makes you feel alive, then that feeling can last you for the rest of your life – no matter what.
When I was younger I thought I wanted to be a famous rock star; having lived the life and seen what it can do to your mind and spirit I now know that it can come with a price. A love of music comes with no price at all.
Oh, and do some exercise and keep your promises.