Interview: Bernii Mac | NARC. | Reliably Informed | Music and Creative Arts News for Newcastle and the North East

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On Thursday 16th May, Bernii Mac’s Becoming The Artist, in association with North Tyneside Council, presents a music industry panel discussion on mental health and well-being in the music industry at The Exchange 1856. The free event aims to bring awareness, understanding, compassion, and education of mental health, healthy coping mechanisms and equality in music, as well as offer an opportunity to discuss experiences, ask questions and suggest ways in which the industry needs to change.

Offering advice and opinions are a fantastic panel of guests including James Therfall (BBC Introducing in the West, Vice), Mo Pleasure (session musician Michael Jackson, Regina Spektor, Bette Midler), Eve Horne (founder of We Are The Unheard, Peak Music, and co-director at Move The Needle) and Geoff Kirkwood (Man Power)

The event will be followed by music from new musical Artists Talk Like Tigers and Lrockett.

We catch up with Bernii Mac to talk about the event and mental health in the music industry…

Was there any particular incident or study that made you want to put this event on? 
Yes, my life! haha. The music business is amazing in many ways because we get to bring our music to the world, and our love of music and, of course, the listener is at the heart of the whole industry but at the same time, it is a business and not always an easy one to navigate. I see managing well-being as two things. 1. how we take care of ourselves including setting our boundaries and 2. what kind of environment we are working in.  The message I am helping to spread through my work, and this event, comes directly from my experience; starting out as a young Artist in both the UK and America. Over the years, I found that my well-being started to suffer due to being in an ongoing pressurised environment that was harsher than expected. I noticed I wasn’t alone. I now work as a vocalist, vocal teacher and mentor of new Artists and see some of the same pressures emerging for the next generation.  How we cope with those pressures can manifest in various ways and sometimes they are not healthy. I think we could avoid some of those pitfalls and enjoy our careers more if mental health and wellness were out on the table, without judgment, from the get-go and if we, as an industry, continue to develop a foundation of support to catch each other. 

What specifically about the music industry do you feel can impact someone’s mental health?
It can vary because of the different roles but on the whole, the fact that we are often self-employed or freelancing means income isn’t always consistent. Nor is work/life balance. We tend to work unsociable hours. When our family and friends are out socialising, we go out to work because we are the entertainment. It can be isolating for the same reason plus hours alone working in the studio. Touring, especially on a major scale, can have its challenges.  Whichever role you have on the tour it can be pressurised.  You’re often away from loved ones for long periods, and it’s way too easy to have a couple of beers too many on the tour bus to wind down with everybody else whilst you’re travelling to the next gig.  Being a performer on stage, even the stage of social media puts you more in the firing line for people’s opinions on how you look or how you perform. It can be quite a brutal industry and you need to learn how to handle that. There is also a whole other thread of conversation around equality, safety and inclusivity. 

What’s been done to address the problem and what needs to be improved?
I would say that since the pandemic, there has been a general shift in awareness when it comes to mental health. Thankfully more people are speaking up about it in music too.  When, for example, an Artist needs time out for their health it is being listened to more than it was. I have also heard that major labels have started to put protocols into place to support their roster. How much of that is from a ‘have to’ perspective and how much is from compassion and care for their colleagues I can’t comment on as I have never worked with majors.  I have heard a few times from those who do that more needs to be done though.  There are now more charities and online/in-person workshops that independent Artists and crew can access to support themselves and also independent services.  For example, I run a membership called Bernii Mac’s Becoming The Artist which focuses on community and connecting new musical Artists to mentors and self-care professionals to give them coping skills through online workshops and soon-to-be in-person workshops. I would personally like to see improvement in the consistency of the above happening and for mental health to be fully destigmatised through education. I would like clearer protocols and routes to get help in place for those touring for example. The same way it would work in other industries. I hope people can speak freely about what they are going through without fear of judgment or the risk of losing work.  

Tell us about the event and what you think the panel will bring to the discussion.
I am excited about the panel! They have tons of real-world experience in music and care deeply about this topic and people. It will be a unique evening offering an interactive experience with talented professionals who are at the top of their game from all over the UK and America talking openly.  They bring slightly different perspectives and advice because they work on different sides of the industry. James Threfall is a radio/TV presenter, Eve Horne is a music producer and founder of We Are The Unheard campaign for equality in music. Mo Pleasure is an Artist, instrumentalist and musical director for the likes of Michael Jackson, Mary J Blige, Earth, Wind and Fire. Geoff Kirkwork, founder of Man Power, DJ,  composer, and music producer.  Tom New is the sound engineer for The Counting Crows, formerly Queen and I am a session vocalist and top-liner who has always been fully independent. I didn’t feel the evening would be complete without showcasing two independent musical Artists so we also have the super-talented L’Rockett and Talk Like Tigers performing! 

What do you hope people will take away from the event? 
Honestly a fantastic night! General awareness, information, practical steps they can take to look after themselves, and perhaps a sense of hope and further understanding of how the business is progressing and how we play our part in that. Mental health can be an intense topic but this will also be a night of sharing, learning and chatting with like-minded people and listening to new music!

If an artist reading this is struggling with their mental health, then where should they go to seek support?
Firstly, I know it can be tough going. There is a lot that goes into being an Artist. Please do share what you are going through with somebody who you trust and who is open-minded. You can go to your GP and seek out therapy in traditional ways but there are also charities such as Help Musicians and Music Minds Matter who offer help for free. Start to surround yourself with people who understand. I know it’s not always that easy but do your best. Please be gentle with yourself, listen to your needs and where you can take the pressure off yourself. I found it helpful to focus on the simple things for a while such as walks or songwriting just for the love of it again, spending time with loved ones, and things I enjoy. It can make all the difference.

The event is free. To book your place, click here.

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