Heal the world: Behind the music and wellness revolution
Any music fan will attest to how listening to their favorite tracks and artists can improve their mood, provide comfort when feeling down and create the all-important connection between other humans that’s vital to our wellbeing.
There are the classic break-up albums that help facilitate the grieving of the end of a relationship and the upbeat tunes that bring back fond memories of singing along at the top of your lungs with friends (or alone in front of the bathroom mirror). The band you love so much whose gig you left feeling on top of the world and the soundtrack to a holiday, road trip or memorable event that immediately takes you back to a happy time.
Going beyond the feelings and memories, we know that music can play a vital role in good health. It has been proven to have a positive impact on stress (one of the biggest barriers to health and wellbeing), activates nearly all of the brain, helping to keep pathways associated with wellbeing, quality of life and happiness strong, and has impressive effects on behavior, mood and memory (which is why music therapy can be incredibly effective — just check out this incredible video of a former ballerina with Alzheimer’s remembering her entire dance routine when hearing the soundtrack).
The healing powers of comfort music
We know that making music has health benefits, too. Practicing creativity is said to contribute to both physical and psychological health and to optimal human functioning and can help creators deal with the challenges of life. Ed Sheeran says that writing songs, for him, is a therapeutic process. As he explained in an interview with Hay House: “I’ve never had a therapist and I think the reason is because I talk about all the shit that’s in my head in a song. I’ll have something happen to me, which will make me really sad, I’ll write a song about it, I’ll finish the song, and then I’ll be really happy because I’m like, ‘Oh, that song came out of that really shit situation’ and then you look at that situation and go, ‘I’m glad that happened’ because you’ve got a song out of it. Creativity is very good for making people happy because at the end of it, you’ve got something that didn’t exist 10 minutes ago.”
During the pandemic, when lots of people were in lockdown, music became even more important for those seeking comfort.In Spotify’s 2021 Culture Next report, 83% of millennials and 69% of Gen Zs surveyed between 2020 and 2021 agreed that they use audio to reduce their stress levels, with millennials especially leaning on nostalgic playlists for relief. In addition, the survey found that 77% of American Millennials see audio as a mental health resource while 69% of Gen Zs reported feeling “more centered and generally happier” when listening to their favorite music on a daily basis.
With little else to provide distraction, zoning out from the relentless negative news cycle was a key reason for turning to music, according to the report. “With so much bad news and so few ways to escape, zoning out can feel like the only recourse. Respondents from both generations told us they feel that audio of all forms encourages them to tune in to themselves, to each other, and to the outside world.”
For some musicians, the ability to create music became a savior when all else was put on hold — a situation that was especially tough for those who found themselves without income and not knowing when normality would return. A Help Musicians survey published in March 2021 found that 87% of 700 musicians who responded to a survey said their mental health had deteriorated over the past year. Tori Amos had to pull plans for two North American tours and found that writing songs for new album, Ocean to Ocean, were “healing” when the third lockdown took her to a tough place mentally, which she said was partly due to her inability to play live. “In my life, I’ve found the only way to get myself out of some kind of mental health [issue] is to write myself out of it,” she told NME. “When I’m in that place, I can’t just step out of it. I have to find the tools or the sonic elixir to get out of that space.”
When health tech crosses path with the music business
Health and wellness, generally, is a booming industry that’s said to be worth $4.5tn globally. In 2020, App Annie reported that spending on health and fitness apps grew to $2bn — up 33% on 2019. And in Spotify’s aforementioned report, podcasts sitting in the mental health, alternative health, spirituality, self-help and health categories saw above average increases among Millennials and Gen Zs from 2020 to 2021. Plenty of actors within music have stepped up to grab a slice of the action. Songtradr recently partnered with mindfulness label myndstream, which aims to harness the power of music to help listeners relax, rest, focus, reduce stress, inspire creativity, and calm anxiety. Through the partnership, Songtradr will be using myndstream’s catalogue for its clients looking to soundtrack health and wellness campaigns or media channels.
In Australia, AI music tech startup Muru Music Health, which hopes to help ward off the effects of brain ageing through its customized playlists for people over the age of 60, secured the backing of Universal Music at the end of last year. Wellbeing app Mindset, meanwhile, which features audio collections of personal stories and life lessons from artists, announced in August 2021 that it has raised $8.7m to continue growing. Not to mention you can now easily find plenty of wellness themed playlists, albums and podcasts on all the major streaming platforms.
Artists have also got involved in the provisions — in 2020, J Balvin partnered with wellness company Chopra (founded by Deepak Chopra) for a 21-day meditation program, while Camila Cabello and Shawn Mendes signed a multi-year deal with mindfulness startup Calm in May 2021, which kicked off with some spoken word tracks from the artists.
It’s clear that music’s relationship with health and wellness is only set to grow. Pandemic aside, we could all use some tools to help us deal with the stress of daily lives and find balance and, as it has done for decades, music being a key part of this ongoing wellness revolution will surely only bring more light, joy and good health into the world at large.