Sony Music takes initiative to support the mental wellbeing of artists

In Japan, where mental illness is still widely considered a taboo subject, the music unit of Sony Group Corp. launched a pioneering project to provide its signed artists with mental and physical health care.

The company, which has stars such as LiSA and Akiko Yano on its books, acted in response to the consequences of the coronavirus pandemic on the professional lives of performers.

Since artists’ work styles and contracts vary, taking care of their health falls primarily on the artists themselves or their talent managers, unlike corporate workers, whose employers submit reviews to them. regular health.

Under the new program that started in August 2021, Sony Music Entertainment (Japan) Inc. is offering its artists and creators 24-hour free online medical counseling, face-to-face counselling, and mental and physical examinations regular.

Shinji Obana, SMEJ’s vice president of global business strategy, said the kind of support provided by the new initiative, dubbed “B-side,” is very hard to come by in Japan, unlike in Europe and the United States. United States, where music companies cooperate with non-profit organizations to support the mental well-being of their artists.

“The regular mental exams, which started as a trial in the spring (of 2021), have been very well received by the artists,” says Obana, adding that some said they appreciated the company’s effort as it there had been no such measures before.

Industry adviser Yuri Ishii says the assumption that artists are happy with working long hours and other hardships they face in pursuit of their music is detrimental to artists’ mental well-being performers. | KYODO

“The number of people receiving advice is still small and cannot be disclosed, but artists, creators and staff are gradually starting to use it,” he says. Currently, about 400 to 500 people can benefit from B-side’s services.

Obana says the coronavirus pandemic prompted SMEJ to act as the company’s talent management department “expressed the need to help their artists as an organization” due to the difficulties artists were facing to organize concerts and fulfill their role as performers in other ways.

The company also plans to hold internal workshops for all employees to raise awareness about mental health and create an environment where people can talk more openly about the subject within the company.

Advisers who have worked in the music industry hailed the B-side initiative as “groundbreaking” in a country where people are reluctant to talk about mental health issues.

But they say the measures are not enough to fundamentally improve the situation.

Yuri Ishii, an industry adviser who has worked at major record companies for more than 30 years, including as an executive, says people in high positions in the industry need to let go of certain assumptions, namely that artists are happy to work long hours because music is what they love. and that the struggles they face go hand in hand with the job.

She says many seniors in the industry still expect young artists to endure and overcome hardship to build careers, based on their own experiences of surviving long hours and harassment to succeed. .

“Such hard work has paid off in the past as results have followed following an economic boom, but for those under 40, it doesn’t necessarily work,” says Ishii.

Young artists now have a variety of career goals, from performing in major concert halls to showcasing their work online, but if their elders don’t understand these changing aspirations, it can lead to harassment, including imposing a style. unsustainable labor to emerging artists. interpreters, she said.

Artists are also likely to believe that anxiety or pain is a necessary source of creativity, a view often shared by fans and producers. On top of the pressure to create a new song today, the artist is expected to promote it on social media whether he likes it or not, experts say.

Masahiko Teshima, an artist-turned-industry adviser and teacher at the Muse Academy of Music in Tokyo, says the weight of such an expectation could prevent artists from getting the rest they need, even if they get tired. feel stressed.

Industry adviser Masahiko Teshima said many artists he knows see social media use as a heavy burden that leaves them vulnerable to online harassment.  |  KYODO
Industry adviser Masahiko Teshima said many artists he knows see social media use as a heavy burden that leaves them vulnerable to online harassment. | KYODO

Teshima says many artists he knows, including those who graduated from his school, find using social media services “a heavy burden,” in part because it makes them more vulnerable to online attacks. line.

While Sony Music’s initiative has been important, he says, it’s also a “transition period” for fans to educate themselves about mental health, as such knowledge “could act as a brake” and prevent someone to send abusive messages directly to an artist.

“If fans, artists and record labels can create a basis of respect for the health of artists, I think the situation will improve,” Teshima said.

Advisors in Japan say many of the underlying issues are common to other industries and that public awareness of mental health care can be boosted if more artists become able to speak out about its importance. They cited foreign examples, such as American singer Billie Eilish or South Korean boy band BTS, who spoke openly about the challenges they face.

Teshima says artists are often described as “a canary in a coal mine” because they tend to suffer before others in society in exchange for starting something new.

“Japanese society lacks knowledge about mental health but has prejudices against it,” says Teshima. “But hopefully the potential of music and the arts will provide a signal for big change.”

Sony Music’s Obana says the company is willing to share its experience and collaborate with other companies in the industry. It is also open to cooperating with health care organizations to support artists, as is already done in Europe and the United States.

“I think a lot of people have realized in the middle of the pandemic how much they are helped by entertainment,” says Obana. “We want to create a better environment in which the artists, who have encouraged us, can work while remaining healthy.”

In line with COVID-19 guidelines, the government is urging residents and visitors to exercise caution if they choose to visit bars, restaurants, music venues and other public spaces.

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