Sony Music takes the lead in supporting artists’ mental well-being

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 on 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.

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, says the kind of support provided by the new initiative, dubbed the ‘B-side’, is very difficult to find in Japan, unlike in Europe and the United States. , where music companies 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.

Industry adviser Yuri Ishii said the presumption that artists are happy to endure long working hours and other struggles they face in the pursuit of their music is detrimental to mental well-being. interpreters. | KYODO

“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 says. Currently, approximately 400 to 500 people are eligible to take advantage of B-side’s services.

Obana says the coronavirus pandemic prompted SMEJ to take action as the company’s talent manager department “expressed the need to help their artists as an organization” because of the difficulties artists face. 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.

Yuri Ishii, an industry advisor who has worked at major record companies for over 30 years, including as an executive, says people in leadership positions in the industry need to drop certain assumptions, to knowing 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 says 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 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 industry advisor 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 feel stressed.

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

Teshima says that 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 abuse. online attacks.

While Sony Music’s initiative has been important, he says, it is also a “transition time” for fans to learn more about mental health, as such knowledge “could act like 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 say many of the underlying issues are common to other industries, and public awareness of mental health care can be heightened if more artists become able to speak 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 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 is prejudiced against it,” Teshima says. “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. It is also open to cooperation with healthcare organizations to support artists, as is already happening in Europe and the United States.

“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.”

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

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