Lucy Thraves


‘Can music make you sick?’ A new book exploring music and mental health

2:10, 9th October 2020

A new book, ‘Can Music Make You Sick: Measuring the Price of Musical Ambition’, is the largest ever study into mental health in the music industry. It reveals that music makers are three times more likely to experience anxiety and/or depression than the general public. We spoke to the authors, industry veteran turned academic Sally Anne Gross and musician and lecturer George Musgrave, about their work and findings. 

What is the basic premise of the book?

The book looks at the concoction of factors that make musical careers a challenge: the online abuse and harassment, difficulty in being able to define success, the achievement-expectation gap, financial precarity, the oversupply of music and the anti-social working hours which makes maintaining relationships challenging. These factors amongst many others provide a perfect storm to foster mental health conditions and raise questions about what best practices need to be implemented to best support music creators.

How did the study originate?

Can Music Make You Sick? was originally a piece of research that we were commissioned to undertake by Help Musicians, University Of Westminster and MusicTank. When we first released our findings in 2016, the revelation that the musicians and music industry workers we surveyed were three times more likely to experience anxiety and/or depression than the general public, attracted global headlines – to this day it is the biggest and most widely cited study into mental health in the music industry.

Over four years, we extended our research to delve deeper into the lived experiences of professional musicians working in the contemporary music industry. Using our empirical research and interviews to challenge the myths that circulate the industry, we demonstrate how the industry’s often unstable working conditions provide the ‘perfect storm’ in accelerating musicians’ mental health struggles. Our work has turned on its head the notion that musicians are themselves prone to mental health problems. Instead, we have found that it could actually be the pursuit of a career in music that undermines wellbeing. 

What were the findings?

The three different themes of analysis in the book are: 

The Status of Work – a knife edge of financial precarity due to being self-employed and freelance – something the pandemic has brought into sharp focus – leading to profound and destabilising questions about the value of a musician’s work.

The Status of Value – musicians connect their identity to their ability to create, turning to a transactional digital community of fans, artists and industry wherein their wellbeing can be threatened in an environment which increasingly fashions them as entrepreneurs who are ‘in control’, but who of course are not.

The Status of Relationships anti-social working hours, touring schedules, an ‘always on’ mentality driven by an oversupply of music and not enough boundaries, causing isolation and straining relationships, whereby private and personal relationships are often reconstituted as economic ones.

The book also highlights the key challenges faced by women musicians who are experiencing inequality, discrimination and appear to be struggling the most with their mental health – with 77.8% of female musicians we surveyed saying they struggle with panic attacks or anxiety, compared to 65.7% of males. 

We want to encourage discussion and raise difficult questions about what the industry needs to do to affect transformative change, and what best practice needs to be implemented to best support and care for music creators, begging the question; ‘Are we churning out too many musicians for the industry to manage?’  and ‘What does this research tell us about the cost of being a musician’. Is the price of musical ambition simply too high?’


‘Can Music Make You Sick?’ can be purchased online below:



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