How Ed Sheeran got me to thinking about musicians, mental health and how we use social media. Part One.

A strange headline for a blog I hear you say. Ok, so it wasn’t actually Ed and something he did or said directly but what happened online and the recent media coverage did set me to thinking about the often taboo subject of mental health, particularly among musicians. It does start with social media though.

 

Ed Sheeran headlined Glastonbury Festival last weekend and much was said both online and in the media which was both positive and negative, this was swiftly followed by a slew of social media posts praising and berating the artist, some well thought out and considered and many less so, resorting to name calling and in many cases just spiteful bile.
Maybe I felt this was a little closer to home; as like many on my local music scene here in Norwich I’d seen Ed many times gigged with him and knew what a nice hard working guy he was. I felt happy for him, not bitter and jealous of his success.

Sadly this seems par for the course on social media now but why? Are we desensitised due to the disassociation granted us by being able to be relatively anonymous? A feeling that its ok to say what you like, how you like, to who you like, from the safety behind the screen of your device or laptop?

Trolling is seen as a part of online life now wether we like it or not. The likes of Katie Hopkins on Twitter spewing her bile and controversial remarks with a lightning fast immediacy in 140 characters. Easily and direct to world.

Does this give us license to follow suit and consider that the same attitudes apply to us? Do we feel we can say what we like however inappropriate now? Freedom of speech after all is a right the majority of the planet can enjoy. So surely we can? Where is the line in the sand? When do we overstep the mark? What happens when it crosses into real life?

This last question has been bothering me for some time. As a musician the internet is now an environment we increasingly find ourselves having to inhabit. Social media to streaming services, selling ourselves and our art online. Many positives can be found for the independent musician in this digital age but so to can the many negatives.
These negatives I’ve found spilling out of the digital realm and into the everyday real world with at times alarming consequence and impact.

There’s already much said about social media and its effects on mental health. They are clear to see and we do seem to be getting a grip on some of these problems one by one slowly.
It’s still such a new thing for our simian brains to wrestle with, all that 24 hour constant information, all those ‘other peoples lives’ little windows into the thousands of lives often seemingly better than our own. We know now this isn’t the case and we have quickly wised up to the difference between the real world and the online one.

So what about when these attitudes do cross into real life?

Musicians notoriously have had a reputation for not always being particularly kind to one another.

The Ramones famously used to talk about how all those bands of that era and the scene they came out of would try and ruin each others gigs.
Artists have famously played in bands together while openly despising each other. So no surprise it still happens now then? In local scenes across the world cliques and hipster social groups form who exclude others. The tribal mentality reigns free. Friends become promoters and only book their mates bands and their mates, mates band. You get the picture.

But something I’ve recently witnessed is how it’s changing into something else. Again the event of social media has led to a place where it’s difficult to escape the cliques and closed social circles. I’ve read the same about kids being bullied online by peers from school. No longer is it confined to the playground and the walk home where once behind your front door you could at least gain some respite. It’s out there in the ether in the form of Twitter, Facebook, Snapchat, Instagram and so on.

This happens in my world now to. I mentioned as a musician we all use these mediums to communicate with fans and each other, to seek and book gigs and advertise ourselves. It’s pretty much unavoidable.

Of course this means we leave ourselves open now to the same issues.

For the most part my online life as an artist has been just fine and I’ve gained new friends and other wonderful positives like Crowd Funding, but also I’ve felt the opposite head on.
I’ve been subject to comments from these people who see it acceptable to be abusive. Had the indignity of people from these closed groups tell me I don’t fit in and never will. Play our game or be ignored. The inevitable “Your shit mate”. I’ve been told if I didn’t show my face at the right gigs I wouldn’t get a gig myself. If I had to leave a shared bill gig early I was not deserving of being part of the ‘Scene’; regardless of the fact I would only leave early if I had other commitments and would often have preferred to stay and support my fellow acts. I’ve been accused of being aloof at times, awkward and opinionated, and the later accusation isn’t way off the mark I suppose sometimes! I do have opinions. The others? Hopefully not.

I have friends involved in varying forms in the music industry and some of those have had it on another level altogether from full online bullying and threats of violence to things I cannot share with you. Shocking stuff that involved Police. Things that have turned into actual physical real life incidents of violence and abuse.

You only have to look at recent times and the awful death of Sophie Lancaster in 2007. Beaten to death for being a part of different musical culture to others. For being what many would label a ‘Goth’ because she looked different and enjoyed expressing herself in a vibrant way she was cruelly murdered. Have we not learned anything? Perhaps we just need to regularly remind ourselves?

This lack of tolerance, all be it far less extreme for me, is something I’ve come across personally from other people involved in music. For what? A differing opinion or being involved with music you now deem not cool? Or people you deem not worthy because of your ‘Hip’ viewpoint on the world? Or maybe because I don’t shallowly align myself with the ‘right people’ to gain success or have the right ‘look’ anymore.

For the record, I think its WRONG. NOT ACCEPTABLE. EVER.

There’s space for everyone. Diversity is healthy and not something to fear.

I now realise these are people perhaps too shortsighted to see past either their egos, or cliques, or willing to accept others scenarios different from their own, or certainly show empathy or consider the impact of their words or behaviour on others.

I love playing music. I love to write. I love to sing and perform. I’m pretty well versed on using these ‘Tools’ given to me by Social Media but sometimes I feel could switch it off and never return.

I have a rule now and it’s this; Only ever say something on Social Media you’d be willing to shout out your front window or to another person face to face. I don’t believe all of these people would say the things they say in real life? What is the answer though? I’m not sure I have an answer. I do think we as musicians and as a society need to have a difficult conversation about how we behave and react online. Respect seems to have been lost.

We need to talk about this. We need to think about our impact on others through what we do and say online. I do feel social media brings a certain element of narcissism and detachment from people and to me that’s unhealthy.

Talking about these issues can make change, create awareness and only be a positive thing.

From a personal point of view as a person who has suffered from depression and anxiety at times throughout my life these things have had a negative impact on me from time to time. I’m learning how to deal with it but many can’t.

Just take a second to consider the next time you want to use your ‘freedom’ to say what you want online, who or how it might impact others. I don’t in anyway want to curb your freedom but it doesn’t do any harm to think about it.

So to the elephant in the room, the big taboo among many musicians still is. Mental Health.

In part two of this blog I’m going to explore this more.

 

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