A recent project by Over The Bridge, a Toronto charity, seeks to raise awareness on the ill mental health of musicians by releasing “new” music from artists who died young and who suffered from mental health problems. The project, titled "Lost Tapes of the 27 Club" has, once again, emphasized the mental health crisis facing many in the industry.
“Mental illness and substance use disorder in the music industry is not a new problem. In fact, it has been normalized and glamorized for almost a hundred years.” Says Over The Bridge.
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The folks at Over The Bridge used an innovative new AI program called Magenta which scanned 30 songs by each of the chosen artists: Nirvana, Amy Winehouse, Jimi Hendrix and Jim Morrison/The Doors. The AI program then analysed vocal melodies, chord changes, guitar riffs, lyrics etc to generate “new” music by each of the artists.
The team behind "Lost Tapes of The 27 Club" hope it will re-infuse public interest in the need for more mental health support for those in the industry. Sean O’Connor spoke to Rolling Stone about the project’s message saying “What if all these musicians that we love had mental health support?” and emphasised the normalizing of mental health issues in the music industry, “in the music industry, [depression] is normalized and romanticized … Their music is seen as authentic suffering.”
The project then brought in artists who have been working for years as established tribute acts for the artists featured. Eric Hogan, an Atlanta born frontman of Nirvana tribute band Nevermind: The Ultimate Tribute for Nirvana, commented on the authenticity of the AI generated lyrics for the “in the style of” Nirvana recreation: “Drowned in the Sun”, especially noting the line “The sun shines on you, but I don’t know how”.
Over The Bridge have reiterated that the project is not for profit, they do not plan to sell the tracks, only to raise awareness. Michael Scriven, a rep for Lemmon Entertainment who partner with Over the Bridge said, “Sometimes just the acknowledgment of one other person saying, ‘I’m feeling the same way that you are’ is enough to make people at least feel that they’ve got some sort of support.”
Over the Bridge also run Zoom sessions that you can find out more about over on their Facebook page, where they also offer other kinds of support.
As Over the Bridge states on their homepage, problems with mental health and substance abuse in the music industry is nothing new and has long been neglected and normalized. The pandemic has, as with many creative industries only highlighted these issues.
In March of this year, UK charity Help Musicians released a study on the impact of the coronavirus lockdowns and the Brexit deal’s complete lack of support for touring musicians, many of whom rely on having touring dates in mainland Europe to increase their income and exposure.
The study surveyed over 700 musicians and found that over 80% reported deterioration in their mental health state over the past year. 59% commented that the impact of Brexit on the music industry as well and the year of lockdowns, venue closures and festival cancellations had compounded the problem and 96% said they were worried about their financial stability in general.
25% also noted the possibility of leaving the industry all together after a year of struggle and of the prospect of working under the new Brexit regulations. Speaking on the seriousness of the situation, Chief Executive of Help Musicians James Ainscough said, “we can’t sugar coat these findings – we are facing a mental health crisis amongst musicians on an unprecedented scale.”
Help Musicians have been offering extensive and ongoing financial support throughout the pandemic but have noted that this is only one facet of the mental health crisis facing thousands of musicians.
James Ainscough said “we have also had to completely revamp the mental health support we offer to address this rapidly unfolding crisis. Musicians who cannot work don’t just suffer financially, they grieve for the creativity and connections that their music usually brings.”
Although these issues have been compounded by the pandemic, they are certainly not new and charities such as Over the Bridge and Help Musicians have been campaigning for years towards industry wide reform into providing better mental health care to those working within the industry.
“Music Minds Matter”, a 2016 project by Help Musicians, University of Westminster and Music Tank released a study that asked the question “Can Music Make You Sick? Music and Depression”.
They found that out of over 2000 participants 71.1% reported having experienced panic attacks and/or high levels of anxiety. 68.5% reported experiencing depression with only 30% of which claimed they would seek to or had already sought help. 55% felt there were gaps in the provision of services for musicians.
Considering that this study was from five years ago and in between then and now, the affects of Brexit and the pandemic will only have exacerbated already existing issues within the industry, there is reason for serious concern in how people working in this industry will be able to bounce back without the proper support.
Music can change people’s lives, both from the listeners end and those making it. However, it puts the artists who create it in vulnerable positions, both mentally, emotionally and financially.
For this most beloved industry to survive, the public as consumers need to be aware of this crisis, advocate for better mental health care of those who work within it and support not for profit charities such as Help Musicians.
You can find Over the Bridge’s collection: "Lost Tapes of The 27 Club" on their Youtube.
If you are a musician who needs urgent help or simply a listening ear, please call Music Minds Matter now on 0808 802 8008.