Can Music Make You Sick? Measuring the Price of Musical Ambition

Gross, Sally-Anne and Musgrave, George. 2020. Can Music Make You Sick? Measuring the Price of Musical Ambition. London: University of Westminster Press. ISBN 9781912656646 [Book]

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Abstract or Description

Grant Hutchison (Frightened Rabbit):

“This book should be mandatory reading for every label, booking agent, manager and tour manager in the business of music and touring so we can all better understand what’s really involved in living the life of a professional musician and the role we all have in making that life as liveable as possible”

Emma Warren (Music journalist and author):

"Musicians often pay a high price for sharing their art with us. Underneath the glow of success can often lie loneliness and exhaustion, not to mention the basic struggles of paying the rent or buying food. Sally-Anne Gross and George Musgrave raise important questions – and we need to listen to what the musicians have to tell us about their working conditions and their mental health"

Crispin Hunt (Multi-Platinum Songwriter/Record Producer & Chair of the Ivor’s Academy):

“Singing is crying for grown ups. To create great songs or play them with meaning music's creators reach far into emotion and fragility seeking the communion we demand of it. The world loves music for bridging those lines. However, music’s toll on musicians can leave deep scars. In this important book, Sally Anne Gross and George Musgrave investigate the relationship between the well-being music brings to society and the well-being of those who create. It's a much needed reality-check, deglamorising the romantic image of the tortured artist”

Adam Ficek (Psychotherapist [Music and Mind]/BabyShambles):

“ A critical and timely book which is sure to kick start further conversations around musicians, mental health and the music industry”

Joe Muggs (DJ, Promoter, Journalist [Guardian, Telegraph, FACT, Mixmag, The Wire]):

“The best guide to what being a musician, and what "the music industry" actually are that I can remember reading... it manages to capture and quantify so much about how we value emotion, creativity, labour, relationships, time, other people, [and] ourselves, in the information economy”

Mykaell Riley (Bass Culture, Director of Black Music Research Unit):

‘Whether you’re 16, 60 or any age, one’s relationship with music is for life. For many creatives, for better or for worse, that relationship is the meaning of life. Music might be a universal language, but we could all benefit by being a little more fluent. Can Music Make You Sick … is a great place to start’.


It is often assumed that creative people are prone to psychological instability, and that this explains apparent associations between cultural production and mental health problems. In their detailed study of recording and performing artists in the British music industry, Sally Anne Gross and George Musgrave turn this view on its head.

By listening to how musicians understand and experience their working lives, this book proposes that whilst making music is therapeutic, making a career from music can be traumatic. The authors show how careers based on an all-consuming passion have become more insecure and devalued. Artistic merit and intimate, often painful, self-disclosures are the subject of unremitting scrutiny and data metrics. Personal relationships and social support networks are increasingly bound up with calculative transactions.

Drawing on original empirical research and a wide-ranging survey of scholarship from across the social sciences, their findings will be provocative for future research on mental health, wellbeing and working conditions in the music industries and across the creative economy. Going beyond self-help strategies, they challenge the industry to make transformative structural change. Until then, the book provides an invaluable guide for anyone currently making their career in music, as well as those tasked with training and educating the next generation

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Institute for Cultural and Creative Entrepreneurship (ICCE)


29 September 2020

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Date Deposited:

30 Sep 2020 08:42

Last Modified:

30 Sep 2020 08:42


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