Sound Advice

Interview: Rhian Jones and Lucy Heyman talk Sound Advice

Ahead of the release of Sound Advice: The Ultimate Guide to a Healthy and Successful Career in Music, M spoke to authors Lucy Heyman and Rhian Jones.

Maya Radcliffe
  • By Maya Radcliffe
  • 2 Mar 2021
  • min read

Sound Advice is the ultimate industry-backed guide for both seasoned professionals and those just starting their career.

A book written by journalist Rhian Jones and PhD researcher and musician Lucy Heyman, Sound Advice was released 28 February and covers topics from performance skills and money management to mental health, substance abuse, eating disorders and vocal health.

With interviews with leading researchers, health experts, business execs and a host of artists including Laura Mvula, Will Young, Imogen Heap, Wayne Hector, MNEK, Nina Nesbitt and Lady Leshurr, the book is designed to teach you how to cultivate sustainable success in the popular music industry without compromising your health.

M spoke to Rhian and Lucy ahead of the book's release to find out why a guide like this is so vital and why the industry is lacking when it comes to promoting good health.

Maya Radcliffe: Can you start by introducing yourselves? 

Lucy Heyman: I’m a vocal and performance coach and a PhD researcher. I work one-to-one with clients, and I also do a lot of work with the British Association of Performing Arts Medicine. I work as a well-being coach for them and I run a lot of workshops on all manner of performance related health topics.

I also conduct research at the Royal College of Music into the health and well-being of pop musicians. I’ve been working in music for about 17 years. I started off in management and as an artist, and then during that time slowly transitioned to where I am today.

Rhian Jones: I’m a music business journalist, which has always been my speciality really. I started my proper professional career at Music Week and I stayed there for three years. I rose up through the ranks to news editor. Now that I’m freelance, I’ve written for publications like The Guardian and The Independent, Music Business Worldwide and Hits.

'It’s a 24/7 industry. We see people rarely having a day off, incredibly challenging touring schedules. When they’re touring, they’re taken away from their support networks, so all their loved ones and their friends, all of these things. There are so many stresses facing musicians.'

 

Maya Radcliffe: Why did you decide to write this book and who is your target audience?

Rhian Jones: We both have our different reasons for writing it. It was quite amazing really, the way that it came about, because Lucy and I had both had the idea for a very similar book, but separately, before we’d even met each other.

I became interested in that conversation primarily from being an Amy Winehouse fan, and watching that story play out and how devastating that was. It left me with lots of questions about how many sanctions there were, for music artists, in terms of health in the music industry.

I remember The Great Escape had a Mental Health Day for the first time back in 2016 and that sparked off a lot of conversations. I followed all of that and was all the time asking, ‘What’s being done? What needs to be done?’ So I thought, ‘Why not a self-help style, health-focused book for musicians?’.

Then when Lucy and I realised we had similar ideas, we started working on it together. She brought the health and research perspectives that we really needed in order to make sure that it was solid from both of those angles, which is not my background.

Primarily, it’s aimed at musicians.  Obviously that covers artists, but also songwriters, producers, composers and session musicians. It’s also relevant for people who work with them, like managers and people who work at labels and publishers. The aim is to help give them an understanding of the sort of health problems that the people they are working with might come up against.

Maya Radcliffe: Lucy, from your perspective, why did you want to write the book?

Lucy Heyman: I was working as a vocal coach in a university and had lot of music industry clients. I started to notice a lot more health issues related to performance in the students I was working with as well as performance anxiety. I was noticing a lot of actual physical vocal health issues and I wasn’t trained to deal with those.

I started to do an MSc in something called ‘Performance Science’, which is essentially looking at all the issues that musicians might face, and what the research says is the best way to deal with them.

My background was in the music business. Years previously, I found that all the research was geared towards musicians working in a classical music genre. This research had resulted in the most amazing health and wellbeing programmes, books, websites, all kinds of support. For everything else ‘non-classical’, all the research I found was quite outdated.

So I conducted my own research project in 2017 and what I saw was that a lot of artists and musicians hadn’t had proper training for the job they were doing.  Many were performing really big gigs without basic understanding of how to do the job that they were doing.

I spoke to artists who didn’t know how to warm up their voice or they didn’t know what to do if they got nervous and had performance anxiety. All  these small things were contributing to a much wider picture of extreme stress that these musicians were under.

I think there is a real gap in the knowledge of the job they have to do, as well as wider health messages that don’t necessarily get out. For me it was also about taking some of the research that exists generally to support musicians.

That’s where Rhian was amazing, because actually we both had the goal of wanting to make sure that it reached a really wide audience and that it wasn’t just some kind of academic tome. Rhian did a really amazing job of making sure that it was accessible and really well-written.

'There are so many headlines of really high-profile artists pulling out of shows or festivals, or cancelling tours, because they’ve had to go and get some vocal health help, for something that perhaps could have been prevented.'

 

Maya Radcliffe: You used Amy Winehouse as an example there. I think when a lot of people think about mental health issues among performers, or physical health issues, you do initially think of that kind of huge performer. But what you’re saying is that, actually, it’s prominent at every level.

Lucy Heyman: Absolutely. With a lot of the musicians I’ve spoken to who are starting out, I see a picture of people not understanding performance anxiety. They get nervous and they don’t know how to manage it. For example, you can have an alcoholic drink before you go on stage because it calms your nerves. Maybe that’s fine if you’re gigging once every couple of weeks and it’s just one drink. But once your profile grows and suddenly you’re gigging every night, and you’re reliant on that drink every night. And then the drink becomes two drinks.

This is just one tiny example, and obviously, I’m not suggesting that this is what causes addiction, but you can see a picture of how unmanaged, small health issues can actually grow into something more complex.

Maya Radcliffe: Why do you think that a lack of mental and physical health care is so prevalent in the music industry?

Lucy Heyman: I think when we look at the music industry, it’s really important to separate out the job of a musician and the environmental issues that an industry causes. We can talk about mental health in the music industry, without being specific about the issues that musicians themselves face.

Their jobs are incredibly physically and mentally demanding, and I think sometimes we forget that, especially for musicians who maybe have a very physical presence on stage. They’re going to need the same physical health support that maybe an athlete does if they’re doing that every night. They need physiotherapists because they’re probably going to experience pain and things like that on a regular basis. These physical issues also have an impact on mental health.

The British Association of Performing Arts Medicine say that it’s very rare for someone to come with just one issue alone, like presenting with just a physical health issue. Alongside that physical health issue, there will often be a mental health problem too. Musicians are very susceptible to experiencing poor physical health, and I think that’s why we see very high levels of mental health concerns in the music industry, in musicians.

But then, if you take that particular person who is very susceptible to these issues and you place them in an environment that doesn’t support their health, that’s going to exacerbate things.

It’s a 24/7 industry. We see people rarely having a day off, incredibly challenging touring schedules. When they’re touring, they’re taken away from their support networks, so all their loved ones and their friends, all of these things. There are so many stresses facing musicians.

It has been known as quite a rock ‘n’ roll environment to work in. If people want to find that party lifestyle, they’re going to find it.

Maya Radcliffe: So, because the kind of rock ‘n’ roll party lifestyle is something that is celebrated in some ways, do you think that exacerbates these issues?

Lucy Heyman: I’m really heartened to hear that things are changing. I think that everybody on the tour now knows the job that is expected of the artists and the musicians, and I think that is protected in a much greater way than it has been in the past. Tour managers are making an effort to give artists the health support they need. In the past, it definitely went with the territory, but I really see a lot of changes now.

I also see a lot of young artists who have read a lot of what’s been in the papers over the last five years and they’re actually quite scared. But I think some of the awareness around this topic has meant that the next generation of artists are trying to really look after themselves and make sure they can do everything possible to have a long and healthy career.

Rhian Jones: I totally agree with everything that Lucy’s saying. But also, the rock ‘n’ roll cliché and the tortured artist cliché, isn’t necessarily conducive to seeking help.

It should be a bit out of control, and it should be a bit rock ‘n’ roll and if you’re experiencing mental health issues, then maybe you’re just a tortured artist. Then, perhaps you won’t go out and seek the help that you need, because you just take it as part and parcel of you, as a creative being, and also the career that you’ve chosen.

That was something we were really keen to dispel in the book, the myth of the tortured artist.

'We can all get carried away with the achievements of other people or the goals of people that we’re working with, and it can make us lose touch with our own intuition and our own awareness of our own body and mind.'

Maya Radcliffe: What kind of physical health issues do you see arising most commonly among performers? And things that people should maybe look out for that they might otherwise miss?

Lucy Heyman: In one study of 226 popular musicians, research has found that 74 percent of participants experienced musculoskeletal problems. The rates of pain among musicians who play instruments is unbelievably high.

A lot of people have taught themselves how to play the guitar which often means they don’t have the right posture, which again is fine, if you’re gigging once every couple of weeks. But once that career goes to a professional level and they have to be playing all day, most days, that’s when a lot of structural issues will actually come into play. So a lot of musculoskeletal issues and also, for singers, vocal health issues are a huge problem.

I think it’s worth saying that, although musicians do experience a huge amount of physical problems, the majority of them are preventable. With things like musculoskeletal issues, if you get seen quickly by a specialist physiotherapist then those problems can be addressed.

BAPAM offer free health assessments, where you can actually go with your instrument and they’ll check that your posture is correct, and they’ll give you exercises, if need be, to adjust and to strengthen your body.

A lot of vocal health issues are also preventable. It’s when they’re left untreated and people carry on singing through issues, that they then cause longer-term problems.

We also see a lot of hearing issues, especially in older musicians where the guidelines around safe levels of sound were a little more lax, shall we say, in those days. That is definitely improving.

The Musicians’ Union and Help Musicians now run a scheme where they offer subsidised, customised ear plugs, which is brilliant.

Rhian Jones: Like Lucy was saying earlier, physical health problems can lead to mental health problems, because if you can’t work, then that can lead to mental health problems. That’s why it’s really important to treat issues as soon as you start experiencing them.

Maya Radcliffe: Do you find industry workers experience similar health problems and mental health problems?

Rhian Jones: Well firstly, there hasn’t been any widespread research on the business side of things yet. So we can’t say that definitively. We’re all human beings and we all have mental health and we all have physical health, and we all experience problems in those from time to time. And that goes for people who are working in music, but also people working in fashion or finance or lots of other industries. That said, there are specific roles in music that do come with that added pressure.

In A&R there is a lot of pressure to sign the next big artist and to find a hit. So if you’re on an artist’s touring team then, as we cover extensively in the book, that’s a very tough lifestyle for anyone, whether you’re on stage or behind the scenes.

As we know, the music industry has halved in value over the last 15 to 20 years. It’s obviously building itself back up again now. But there is, I think, a culture of having a lot of work to do and not enough hands to do it, because of all those workers that were lost.

The music industry hasn’t yet built itself back up to the place where it’s perhaps profitable enough to have a really robust workforce. Or maybe companies are taking advantage of the fact that the employees they are working with now are trained to do more work, with less capacity. That brings about a lot of pressure.

It's an industry that a lot of people want to work in. So some employers, I think, can take advantage of that, perhaps without even knowing that they’re doing so.

'Don’t suffer in silence, because the sooner you get help and are treated for a health-related issue, the better your chances of full recovery.'

 

Maya Radcliffe: Is it possible to measure how much money is lost from tours that are cancelled, as a result of either people’s mental health or physical health?

Lucy Heyman: As I mentioned before, the vast majority of issues for musicians are preventable, with the right knowledge about the issues, with self-help approaches to prevent issues happening.

If there are issues that are presenting themselves, that there is signposting to the correct place to deal with it. You can get lost in generic practitioners, who don’t know about specific performing health-related problems.

One of the biggest problems has been that in the past, musicians haven’t known that there has been any support available. They haven’t known about the issues, they haven’t known about the support available, and they haven't known where to go. Certainly, when I was studying, there was nowhere to go. You just suffered in silence and there weren’t the organisations that there are now.

I don't think we can predict how quantifiable it will be, but getting the right health messages to the right people, and signposting them to the right support, will hopefully be the way that we improve health in musicians.

Rhian Jones: I don’t think it’s possible to quantify, but we do know that quite a lot of very high-profile tours get cancelled or postponed due to vocal issues, for example. That happens all the time.

There are so many headlines of really high-profile artists pulling out of shows or festivals, or cancelling tours, because they’ve had to go and get some vocal health help, for something that perhaps could have been prevented if they had taken care of their vocal chords before they started playing these very heavy tours. So that is one aspect of it.

In terms of how much that would cost the live music business, I mean in terms of how much the live music business generates a year globally, it’s probably not that much. But, on an individual level, for the people who work on those tours, and the individual artists and managers, it’s a significant amount of money to lose, and work to lose, as everyone has experienced this year.

Maya Radcliffe: Can you give me an example of something particularly insightful you learnt from an interviewee?

Rhian Jones: MNEK talking about suffering from imposter syndrome, which, if you look at him and the success that he’s had, is probably quite surprising, because he’s done amazingly. But even he suffers with imposter syndrome, which I thought was quite reassuring.

I loved Ella Eyre’s interview. She was talking about how, right at the beginning of her career, she had a lot of really high-profile success. She won a Brit. She went to Number One with Rudimental. Then after that high, she had to completely recalibrate, because aged 16, that was her first experience of the music industry. So she was like, ‘Oh, great, this is how it works, this is just how it’s going to continue.’ But of course, that’s not how it works. So, ‘It was a weird high to come down from,’ is her quote. It’s just a bit of a reality check.

We’ve also got a great quote from songwriter Wayne Hector, who I know, and readers will probably be very familiar with. He was talking about how, when he started getting success early on his career, he started getting a bit of an ego and he had to have his friends talk him down a bit and help him put his ego in check.

I loved hearing from someone who was so successful, but also just such a kind and lovely person, which just proves that you can be successful, but you can also be balanced at the same time.

Maya Radcliffe: If there’s anyone working in the industry reading this that are suffering with either mental or physical health problems, what or who should be their first port of call?

Lucy Heyman: I’d say there are a number of charities that offer helplines. Help Musicians has a great Music Minds Matter service. So if you call one of those helplines, they will triage you to the best possible support.

There is also Music Support for people in recovery and who are experiencing addiction issues. We’ve got the PRS Members’ Fund, who are able to help with all kinds of things.

I’d say my first piece of advice is that if anyone is struggling, just talk to somebody, get some help. Call one of these helplines or speak to your GP. But don’t suffer in silence, because the sooner you get help and are treated for a health-related issue, the better your chances of full recovery.

Maya Radcliffe: What are your number one rules for looking after yourself when you’re working in the music industry?

Rhian Jones: Get to know yourself and take your health seriously and learn about the kind of environments that work well for you and the kind of environments that don’t. The sort of work situations that will bring out the best in you, and the ones that won’t and obviously, avoid the stuff that doesn’t work for you. I think that’s so important.

We can all get carried away with the achievements of other people or the goals of people that we’re working with, and it can make us lose touch with our own intuition and our own awareness of our own body and mind. I think the most important thing is being in touch with all those things.

Lucy Heyman: Yes, I agree. And if you’re working with a team, being very clear about the support you need and how you can work most effectively.

Sound Advice is now available to buy online.