This guest column is by Ariana Alexander-Sefre, founder & co-CEO of Spoke, a UK-based music-led mental wellness app. Here, she writes about the tension between music’s ability to soothe, and the music industry’s need to monetise it – and suggests changes that could benefit the needs of the musician and the industry alike.
The music industry is grappling with a paradox: an art form that has the power to heal and connect is often shackled by legal constraints and a framework that encourages those who make music to act as salespeople as much as artists, for the purpose of growing profits and share prices.
This system fails to honour the essence of music, which serves as a balm for the soul and a means to deepen our emotional connections with the world and those around us.
Musicians choose this career path because they see it as their life’s work, a gift to humanity. Yet, industry experts are increasingly advising these artists that just creating music is insufficient; they should also focus on ‘selling products’. While this may be pragmatic advice in the short term, what we truly need is a systemic transformation that fosters democracy and inclusivity within the industry, allowing artists to focus their energy on what truly drives them: making music.
Creating a democratic landscape would benefit artists’ mental well-being. To achieve this transformation, we need to rethink the culture of elevating only a select few artists to superstardom while neglecting many others on the sidelines. However, we don’t have to wait for this seismic shift in order to begin impacting the lives of millions who actively consume music.
An astonishing 50% of the world’s one billion active music listeners suffer from stress and depression. With its pervasive cultural significance, music can reach corners of society that even healthcare systems and governments often fail to penetrate. The music industry holds tremendous power to foster positive mental health, but sadly, it is missing this golden opportunity.
This is why we built the Spoke app – which combines effective mental health tools, such as Cognitive Behavioural Therapy (CBT), therapeutic guidance, and mindfulness, with the emotive power of music and lyrics. Spoke is in a unique position to introduce fresh approaches, as a social venture operating outside the traditional frameworks of both the music and mental health industries.
We’ve established a new genre of audio that marries scientifically backed mental health tools with exceptional music and lyricism from some of the world’s most gifted artists. By integrating music, user experience, and guided therapy, we have attracted and retained a younger, more diverse audience than any other mental health platform.
Spoke’s effectiveness isn’t rooted in some mysterious formula; rather, it thrives on the artistic power of exceptional music.
By enabling artists to serve as credible advocates for mental well-being, we’re not just paying lip service to the therapeutic power of music; we’re making it accessible. We’re opening doors for millions to tap into mental health resources in a manner that is both intuitive and enjoyable.
The music industry faces a choice: it can either continue to languish under outdated paradigms, or it can embrace its potential to be a force for healing and social good. I appreciate that real change happens consciously over time, and any internal knots need to be eased out before it is realistic to look outward. My hope is that as we strive for systemic change in the industry, we don’t overlook the immediate opportunities to create a positive impact for the people the industry serves.
I will be speaking further about these issues at the FastForward conference on 19th September in London. I hope others will join me to progress the conversation and help find a path to long-term positive change.