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Report shows musicians are tired, stressed and struggling

Findings of the first New Zealand Music Community Wellbeing Survey are out, and they paint a pretty alarming picture of the lives of kiwi musicians. More than half of all respondents showed signs of problem drinking, don't get enough sleep, and earn less than $25,000 from their music work each year. Of the 140 participants who described making plans to commit suicide, 100 revealed that they had made a suicide attempt.

95bFM reporter Sam Smith spoke to the general manager of the New Zealand Music Foundation, Peter Dickens, about the significance the findings might have for the music community.

Sam: Could you summarise the main findings of the survey?

Peter: The idea was to investigate and give some scope and scale to issues that we thought existed in the music community in New Zealand. 1350 people responded, which is a fantastic result, and some of the main findings were that half the respondents on average were spending less than twenty hours a week working in a music environment, so it is clearly tough to make a living. We also found that over 65% of men and 51% of women showed a positive indication of problem drinking in the community, which is obviously a major concern, and also there were quite horrific statistics to do with suicide as well. So clearly there are some issues we need to address in the music community.

What was your reaction to the findings?

I think with some of the findings we were definitely surprised at the scale. We realised that these problems existed, but we didn't expect it to be at that rate. Part of the idea of the survey was to bring some scale and scope to things that we knew were anecdotally out there. So we knew we had lost lots of valued colleagues in the industry to suicide; we knew that there were issues with easy availability of alcohol and substances in the environment; we knew that work hours were incredibly long; and of course we knew there were economic difficulties in trying to make your way in a small market such as New Zealand. Of the findings that really did make us raise our eyebrows, I think it was the level of help that the music community itself gives to musicians is not quite as cohesive as we thought it might have been.

Do you think the survey and service made an impression on people in the community?

As a result of the initial findings of the survey, we went ahead and established the Music Foundation Wellbeing Service, which is an online, on-the-phone, and in-person professional counselling service specifically for people in the industry. That's had an amazing response, the feedback that we've got has had a greater response than any kind of other industry support line or counselling service that's been put out there of its type, and the feedback that we are getting from that has been fantastic. There have been people that have said things like, “I have never been able to talk to anyone about this before in my life”... the relief that there is just somewhere for people in the music industry to go now is really heartening.

Do you think the music industry does enough to support people who work in it?

I think that it is really hard, because it is not a huge industry, so it doesn't have those big advantages of scale to draw upon when it is trying to put in place support for people that work within it. I think that there needs to be a greater awareness of health and wellbeing in the industry, and we need to think about how we incorporate health and wellbeing into the culture of working in music, and be accepting of people sticking up their hands when they really need help.

Do you think issues such as mental health, drinking, lack of sleep are all a byproduct of working in the music industry?

The variability of the hours, the nature of the work and the time that it needs to happen means it is definitely a contributing factor to music workers finding it hard to maintain those really good foundations of health and wellbeing - these are things such as good sleep, good nutrition, and looking out for yourself when you think you have been doing it a little too hard. It's very easy to get carried away in the industry and find yourself doing back-to-back days, particularly in the backroom and production side, where you can be working seven to eight days straight when twenty hours is the norm.

What needs to be done to support people more in the industry?

We are working on four areas that we are hoping are going to make a positive difference. The first is to get more data, to find out what is happening on the ground and the Wellbeing Survey was about that. The second is we are trying to provide more support on the ground for people that are in trouble in the industry, and that is where the Wellbeing Service comes in. The third thing is we are also looking to work with those people that are entering the industry, that are going into the performing arts degrees and the music degrees, making them aware of the strains and pressures of working in music and how best to address those. And the final thing is working with industry groups like the New Zealand Managers Forum, APRA, and the rights organisations to try and make more information available and to heighten awareness of these kinds of issues.

Are you confident some of the issues raised in the survey can be addressed?

We feel we are already addressing some of the issues. What we have managed to do with the Wellbeing Service is that we have had some people who have not felt comfortable putting up their hand and asking for help before and now they have, and as a result they have had some tailored professional support to address the issues they have been facing. The feedback so far has been that we have been making a difference, but there is a long way to go.