The Depressing Truth About Playing Music

Today I published a story in Men’s Health about a recent survey that seemed to show that musicians — not just famous musicians, but all musicians — live an average of 25 years less than the average US population. I personally found the survey a bit frothy, somewhat biased and lacking certain key definitions — like what a “musician” means in the terms of the study. For example, is a musician somebody whose only source of income is playing music? What about somebody who plays guitar in their basement — are they subject to the same statistical trends as Jimi Hendrix and Amy Winehouse? At first blush, the study seemed like a ham-fisted emotional appeal for better treatment of addiction and depression in the music industry, which is unquestionably a legitimate issue that does require greater resources. Nonetheless, while the author of the survey slagged off similar studies for only focusing on musicians who had achieved commercial success, she herself seemed to have explored only books and web sites devoted to artists who had earned some level of notoriety or prestige, at least in their respective circles. Admittedly it would be all but impossible to collect a meaningful sample of all musicians, including the hobbyists, open mic denizens, people who played sax in the high school band for a couple of years, etc. Still, her claim that similar studies were “overly-inclusive” felt disingenuous and self-promotional.

Regardless of that distinction, her numbers speak for themselves- gathering statistics on the lifespans of 12000 musicians revealed that on average, they died 25 years sooner than the US average. A stunning revelation. So I dove in for some additional research and sure enough, a significant number of similar studies all bear out this jaw-dropping trend — one showed that after achieving some measure of success, musicians are two to three times more likely to die than the average population. We know that lottery jackpots are the kiss of death for many middle Americans, but having a hit single? Sure enough, the numbers consistently bear out, from study to study, regardless of the genre. And it’s not just overdoses or drug-related deaths, but travel, homicide and other causes.

Sad, but apparently true.

Click on Bon to read the story: