I am crediting Fiona McGugan, general manager of the music manager’s forum of the Guardian for part of this article.
In the music industry, there is probably no greater working relationship than that between an artist and their manager. A good modern music manager will protect their client’s emotional, mental and physical state just as passionately as their business interests. It’s a role that can make all the difference for artists who may be struggling with the demands of stardom, along with any other mental health challenges they harbour.
“If there’s one thing that’s for sure, it’s that success and adulation never made any human being any more normal,” says Marc Marot, a former UK record label boss and chairman of Crown Talent Management, which represent Ella Henderson, Becky Hill and Jay McGuiness on its music roster. “What we’re trying to do for our artists on a daily basis is make them more extraordinary. So we’re setting people up to have a different way of thinking to the rest of humanity. Then we wonder why they think differently!”
Recently, there has been an increased awareness of mental health in the creative industries. The stigma surrounding mental illness appears to be fading, if slightly. The recent death of Chris Cornell from Soundgarden has forced more discussion around mental health, addiction and adequate care across the music industry.
“I think it’s come to the forefront more recently,” says David Enthoven, a veteran of the business and co-founder of management company ie:music, which looks after big names including Robbie Williams, Will Young, Passenger, Lemar and Ladyhawke. “When I came in, nobody had heard of anything like Alcoholics Anonymous or Narcotics Anonymous. It was around, but you just didn’t talk about it, and a lot of artists died young in the 60s because of a drug overdose or too much alcohol. I think it was almost seen as a badge of honour to get up on stage and be completely wrecked.”
The demands on modern-day musicians are far greater than they were in those days, he adds. “There weren’t camera phones back then, so you couldn’t be caught in unguarded moments. Things have definitely changed and your faults are magnified and spread.” Enthoven is particularly well qualified when it comes to looking after artists struggling with addiction. Now in his 70s, he himself had a serious drug problem 30 years ago. But rather than try to bury his experiences, he is ultimately able to draw on them to help troubled artists.
“If anybody asks, I am immediately here offer to help,” he says. “I think artists are more susceptible to having issues – whether its mental issues or drug-related. Much of it is to do with self-esteem and fear. Most of the artists I work with are sensitive in certain areas, they have heightened awareness, heightened sensitivity, and a lot of them do have low self-esteem. That’s interesting because they go out, become somebody else and perform. I think they are very brave. I have one artist who is almost physically sick before going out on stage but she is so determined and wants to do what she is doing so much that she pushes through that fear.”
If the demands of being a prominent musician are greater than ever, and management companies are shouldering an increasing responsibility for their clients’ overall well-being and career, then it is often the manager who is the first responder if mental health deteriorates. But, as multi-skilled as they need to be in many areas, managers are not qualified therapists. So how do they handle complex mental illnesses if they begin to emerge? For Ellie Giles,, who looks after Bill Ryder-Jones, the most important thing is simply to lend an ear.
“All you need to do is listen and work out what help they need,” she says. “Great managers in any industry are there to work out what an artist or person needs and then mentor, support and advise them. Ultimately that’s what management is: it’s enabling and empowering that person.
“When it comes to managing people with mental-health issues, it’s all about working out where their head is at. Are they actually in the middle of an episode or not? It can be a hard judgment to make but it’s ultimately the only thing you can do. Then it’s about finding help.”
Just as a suffering artist needs the support of their manager, the manager themselves must rally the wider team to bolster that support before seeking out professional help where necessary. “The problem for many young managers is they’re on their own, so they don’t have resources around them,” says Marot. “Perhaps your artist has got a major record deal but, because the manager is young and inexperienced, they don’t know how to reach out to people or they think that doing so is a sign of weakness when it isn’t.
“It’s got to be confronted as early as possible,” he adds. “The Amy Winehouse lyric about not wanting to go to rehab was aimed at a manager, legend has it, but you can’t be put off having that confrontational conversation early and trying to break the pattern of self-harm, stress, or whatever it is by seeking professional help quickly rather than trying to cope on your own.” Although artists and managers seem increasingly able to face these battles, there is a consensus that more needs to be done across the music business as a whole.
There is a lot of talk about the earth’s “sustainability”; maybe it is time we start talking about an artist’s “sustainability.”