Can Music Make You Sick?: Measuring the Price of Musical Ambition

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University of Westminster Press, Sep 29, 2020 - Music - 198 pages

“Musicians often pay a high price for sharing their art with us. Underneath the glow of success can often lie loneliness and exhaustion, not to mention the basic struggles of paying the rent or buying food. Sally Anne Gross and George Musgrave raise important questions – and we need to listen to what the musicians have to tell us about their working conditions and their mental health.” Emma Warren (Music Journalist and Author). 

“Singing is crying for grown-ups. To create great songs or play them with meaning music's creators reach far into emotion and fragility seeking the communion we demand of it. However, music’s toll on musicians can leave deep scars. In this important book, Sally Anne Gross and George Musgrave investigate the relationship between the wellbeing music brings to society and the wellbeing of those who create. It’s a much needed reality check, deglamorising the romantic image of the tortured artist.” Crispin Hunt (Multi-Platinum Songwriter/Record Producer, Chair of the Ivors Academy). 

It is often assumed that creative people are prone to psychological instability, and that this explains apparent associations between cultural production and mental health problems. In their detailed study of recording and performing artists in the British music industry, Sally Anne Gross and George Musgrave turn this view on its head. 

By listening to how musicians understand and experience their working lives, this book proposes that whilst making music is therapeutic, making a career from music can be traumatic. The authors show how careers based on an all-consuming passion have become more insecure and devalued. Artistic merit and intimate, often painful, self-disclosures are the subject of unremitting scrutiny and data metrics. Personal relationships and social support networks are increasingly bound up with calculative transactions. 

Drawing on original empirical research and a wide-ranging survey of scholarship from across the social sciences, their findings will be provocative for future research on mental health, wellbeing and working conditions in the music industries and across the creative economy. Going beyond self-help strategies, they challenge the industry to make transformative structural change. Until then, the book provides an invaluable guide for anyone currently making their career in music, as well as those tasked with training and educating the next generation.


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About the author (2020)

Sally Anne Gross is both a music industry practitioner and an academic. Back in 1993 she was the first women to work as an Artist & Repertoire manager at Mercury Records UK and in the same year she chaired the first ever panel on women in the music industries at ‘In The City’ music conference in Manchester. She was also a founder member of Out on Vinyl the first ever UK record label for the LGBTQ community. Sally Anne has been working in the music industry for nearly three decades as an artist manager, record label director and international business affairs consultant. In her current role at the University of Westminster, she is the program director of the MA Music Business Management where she teaches Intellectual Property and Copyright Management, Artist & Repertoire and Music Development. In 2016 she founded ‘Let’s Change the Record’ a project that focuses on bridging the gender divide in music production by running inclusive audio engineering and songwriting workshops for people identifying as women or non-binary. She is a regular speaker on the international music industry conference circuit from SXSW to Tallinn Music Week. She is interested in working practices in the music industries and the conditions of digital labour and specifically how they impact on questions of diversity and equality. Sally Anne has four grown-up children all of whom work one way or another with music, and although she always identifies as a ‘native’ Londoner, she actually lives in North Hertfordshire.

Dr George Musgrave is an academic based at both the University of Westminster in the Communication and Media Research Institute (CAMRI) and at Goldsmiths (University of London) in the Institute for Creative and Cultural Entrepreneurship (ICCE). His interdisciplinary research interests include mental health and the music industry, the nature of creative careers, processes of cultural intermediation and entrepreneurship. His doctoral work in the Centre for Competition Policy (UEA) examined how competition is experienced by musicians. He is an alumni of the University of Cambridge. He is also a musician who has signed both major recording and publishing contracts (Sony/EMI/ATV). Prior to signing his deals, he was the first ever unsigned musician to win a place on the MTV ‘Brand New’ list, and has been described by BBC Radio 1Xtra DJ MistaJam as ‘Middle England’s Poet Laureate’. He has worked with artists such as Mike Skinner of The Streets, and his music has been supported by Ed Sheeran, Plan B, Ellie Goulding and others. He has performed across the UK at festivals including BBC Radio 1’s Big Weekend, Reading/Leeds Festivals and Wireless Festival. He lives in London with his wife and daughter.

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