Derk lottman

FEATURE: Sony Music, an industry leader in supporting the mental well-being of artists

In Japan, where mental illness is still widely regarded as 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 in its books, has acted in response to the toll the coronavirus pandemic has taken in the professional lives of performers.

As artists’ working styles and contracts vary, taking care of their health is primarily the responsibility of the artists themselves or their talent managers, unlike workers in companies, whose employers offer them regular health check-ups.

The Fuji Rock Festival opens in Yuzawa, Niigata Prefecture on August 20, 2021. The open-air music event, until August 22, is taking place with significantly discounted tickets due to the coronavirus pandemic. (Kyodo) == Kyodo

As part of the new program which began in August 2021, Sony Music Entertainment (Japan) Inc. is offering its artists and creators free 24-hour online medical advice, face-to-face counseling, and physical and mental exams. regular.

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

“The regular mental checkups, which started as a trial in the spring (of 2021), have been very well received by the artists,” Obana said, adding that some said they appreciated the company making the effort. because there had been no action like this before.

“The number of people receiving advice is still small and cannot be disclosed, but artists, designers and staff are gradually starting to use it,” he said. Currently, approximately 400 to 500 people are eligible to take advantage of B-side’s services.

Obana said the coronavirus pandemic prompted SMEJ to take action as the company’s talent managers department “expressed the need to help their artists as an organization” due to the difficulties faced by artists. artists to organize concerts and fulfill their role as performers.

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 topic within the company.

Advisors who have worked in the music industry have hailed the B-side initiative as “revolutionary” 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.

The photo shows industrial adviser Yuri Ishii during an interview in Tokyo on November 17, 2021. (Kyodo)

Yuri Ishii, an industry advisor who has worked in major record companies for more than 30 years, including as an executive, said people in powerful positions in the industry need to drop certain assumptions that artists are happy to work long hours because music is what they love. and that the difficulties they face go with the job.

She said that many older people in the industry still expect young artists to endure and overcome hardships to build a career, based on their own experiences of surviving long hours of work and harassment for to succeed.

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

Young artists now have a variety of career goals, ranging from performing in large concert halls to showcasing their work online, but if their elders don’t understand these changing aspirations it can lead to harassment, including imposing an unsustainable working style for young talents. artists, she said.

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

Masahiko Teshima, artist turned industrial advisor and teacher at the Muse Academy of Music in Tokyo, said the weight of such an expectation could prevent artists from getting the rest they need, even if they are feeling stressed.

Photo shows Industrial adviser Masahiko Teshima during an interview in Tokyo on November 30, 2021. (Kyodo)

Teshima said that many artists he knew, including those who graduated from his school, find the use of social media services “a heavy burden”, in part because it makes them more vulnerable to online attacks. .

While Sony Music’s initiative is important, he said, it is also a “transition time” for fans to educate themselves about mental health, as such knowledge “could act as a brake “and prevent someone from sending abusive messages directly to an artist.

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

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

Teshima said 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 is prejudiced against it,” Teshima said. “But I hope the potential of music and the arts will provide a signal for a big change.”

Obana of Sony Music said the company is willing to share its experience and collaborate with other companies in the industry. She is also open to cooperate with health organizations to support artists, as is already happening in the United States and Europe.

“I think a lot of people have realized in the midst of the pandemic how much entertainment is helping them,” Obana said. “We want to create a better environment in which the artists, who have encouraged us, can work while remaining healthy.”

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