How Avicii’s tragic end is putting artist’s mental health in focus

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When Swedish superstar Tim Bergling, aka Avicii, passed away in April, shockwaves were sent across the music world. But for the ‘Levels’ producer, and his family left behind, the truth soon began to emerge that the DJ’s death in Muscat, Oman, had transpired as a result of suicide. Tim, as shown in his 2017 ‘True Stories’ docu-movie, suffered from extreme anxiety, and was led into a depressive spiral, before eventually calling time on his touring career in 2016. So how can the music industry ensure that repeats of Tim’s death don’t occur in the future? For many, the music industry is seen as a money-churning machine, constantly whipping up dollar bills through lucrative festival appearances, album releases, and merchandise sales. But stripped beneath the artist rests a humble human being, with real emotions, and a mindset that must be nurtured carefully.
One of the key narratives of Avicii’s film encapsulated the Swede’s constant battle with his then-manager Ash Pournouri, who utilized Tim’s extreme popularity to create a juggernaut of a brand, with Avicii himself flying between several corners of the globe on a nightly basis. As an artist, one of the first things to remember is that, despite what labels or management say, you are the person, or persons, up on stage performing, and that if you feel that a touring schedule may prove detrimental to either mental – or physical health – then the finances said show may bring are ultimately irrelevant. Understand that your wellbeing is much more valuable than money and that the team around you must agree with the same philosophy. A team that considers your health and wellbeing is just as important as one that helps you book a show, make you money or helps you with logistics around a show. The music industry can be an exhausting ride – make sure that the right people are on this journey with you. If the right decisions are not made early on in your career, it can have very damaging consequences. Consider the scenes in the Avicii documentary lessons about assertion and putting yourself first. In one scene, a gaunt-faced Bergling slumps in his chair while his entourage discuss plowing ahead with his planned shows. “I feel like, at this point, it will be easier to go ahead with the shows then cancel them,” a member of his team states. “Not for me,” Bergling interjects. Set clear guidelines with your team as to how much rest you need, and once the trust is established, ensure these are never overstepped. A recent Mixmag article recalled such events, stating:

“Bergling, a thoughtful presence, gets ground out by these forces like a fork in a garbage disposal unit. “I have said, like, I’m going to die,” he explains in the documentary. “I have said it so many times. And so I don’t want to hear that I should even entertain the thought of doing another gig. And I know Arash [Avicii’s former manager] knows this, which is why I feel extra hurt—because he has said that [I should play more gigs] when it suits him.” In another scene, Bergling is hurt by the lack of support he’s received. “Everyone knows that I’ve been anxious and that I’ve been trying. I didn’t expect people to push me to do more shows,” he says. “I got a lot of resistance when I stopped doing the shows.”

For most – if not all – producers and DJs, music is more than a passion, and quickly becomes a way of life. But it is important to set aside even one day per week when you’re not tinkering with levels in the studio, or adding extra layers to a track. Bankers, lawyers, doctors, and all other professionals never work seven days per week, so why is the life of a musician considered any different? Take a step away from all things related to the scene, and walk, run, swim, see friends or family, visit the beach, or whatever it is you enjoy to do – but make sure it is not music related.

For many DJs and producers, the internal struggle is kept a secret due to worry over how fans may perceive their fragile mental state, but for men especially, suicide has become one of the biggest silent killers, with so many sufferers scared to speak up, on account of being judged. Though since the death of Chester Bennington, measures have now been put into place to combat this. When Sebastian Furrer, one half of electro duo Cazzette, announced that he would no longer be touring for mental health reasons, he issued the following statement:

Cazzette will continue to reach our global fan base courtesy of Alex, whose support and understanding in this situation I will always be grateful for. I want the takeaway from friends and fans to be a simple one: It is ok to admit that the DJ life doesn’t work for you. Some people were put on this earth to be creative and work their magic outside of the spotlight. Others were put here to be the face of something and propel that music on a global scale. Cazzette remains a collaborative project, even more so now that Alex can bounce ideas from the road to me in a proper studio environment. Every cultural circle needs its face, but sometimes there is pride to be found in making your mark behind the scenes.”

The music industry can be one of the harshest career paths for all involved. In an age of social media, when every troll can hide behind a keyboard and send hateful comments about a track or mix, abuse is more faceless than ever. If you feel you are suffering in any way, speak to those around you about how you feel, and understand that for every one spiteful comment, are another X amount of people who love your music, love you, and care about both what you do, and your mental state.