Lifestyle Challenges for Musicians: What Can Be Done?
It’s easy to tick off the names of prominent musicians who have died of drug abuse or mental health issues. Hank Williams, Elvis Presley, Jimi Hendrix, Janis Joplin, Jim Morrison, Kurt Cobain, Amy Winehouse, Whitney Houston, Michael Jackson, Richard Manuel, Nick Drake, Tim Buckley, Keith Moon, Sid Vicious, Gram Parsons, Lowell George, Mike Bloomfield, Hillel Slovak, Dee Dee Ramone, Prince, Mac Miller and many others have succumbed to substance abuse or suicide. But the problem is not restricted to celebrities; for every well-known musician, there are hundreds struggling to make a living. Musicians live lives of constant travel, little sleep, loads of stress, and exposure to alcohol and drugs; some population-based research has suggested that musicians use recreational and addictive drugs at approximately twice the rate of the general population. In spite of that, surprisingly little research has been done to explore specific risk factors that are associated with working musicians and their lifestyle.
Recently, Tulane University’s School of Social Work has teamed up with the Send Me A Friend group. Co-founded by prominent New Orleans musician and songwriter Anders Osborne, who struggled with his own sobriety issues, and Bill Taylor, the director of the program, Send Me A Friend began in 2016. The group enlists musicians with over one year of continuous sobriety who can lend their services to active musicians struggling with mental health or addiction issues. After an NPR article in 2017, the number of volunteers skyrocketed; currently there are more than 2000 volunteers. I spoke with Taylor, who pointed out that many people really have no idea how hard it is to live in the world of traveling musicians.
“Some of the most challenging situations are when musicians are in early sobriety and have to go back to work, almost always in bars or where they are exposed to drugs and alcohol. They really have no choice; the industry has changed. At this point musicians make money by performing, since streaming has taken away historical sources of income: recorded music, whether vinyl or CDs. We want to find out what we can do to improve this environment so it’s a safer, more welcoming place for those that choose sobriety.”
To help determine more effective ways to help, a collaboration grew out of discussions among Osborne, Taylor, and faculty members at Tulane’s School of Social Work. Working with Dr. Patrick Bordnick, who has a 20-year history of research into addiction, they have developed a study and questionnaire that will “help identify and implement interventions that work for this particular community,” according to Bill Taylor.
They hope to recruit as many musicians as possible to provide anonymous data regarding their life challenges. All professional musicians can help by simply responding to the 30-question survey to help determine “the lifestyle challenges they regularly face in their profession.”
If you know a professional musician who would be interested in participating in the survey, they can access it through the link below. Data collection began this week and will continue at least through June 2020. For those interested in either volunteering or would like to support from Send Me A Friend, they can be contacted through the other link below. We lose many musicians every year to behavioral and abuse issues; let’s do everything we can to help.