General News / May 20, 2019

Mental Health & Music: A conversation with SelfMade

General News / May 20, 2019

Mental Health & Music: A conversation with SelfMade

“We wanted to create a stage where artists could be celebrated and talk freely about the other huge percentage of work they put in that you don’t see on stage or hear on record.”


Kicking off in 2018, SelfMade is an event series founded by artist Joanna Ban and musician/label co-founder Julie Hawk of HAVVK and Veta Records. Joanna and Julie have curated spaces where musicians of all levels can share experiences and find resolutions to the issues that surround being an independent artist in modern Ireland.

The next edition is a two-part event on May 25, sponsored by IMRO Ireland, a partnership Julie says she not only appreciates, but sees as a “really positive” way for them to distribute funding. ‘Mind Your- Self: Mental Health and Music’ will look at mental health in the Irish music scene and in particular the challenges affect- ing developing musicians in their professional and personal lives. As well as performances and panels, there will also be workshops like the one led by psycho- therapist, musician, researcher and BIMM lecturer, Aoife Ruth, in collaboration with Wyvern Lingo’s Caoimhe Barry.
“There has been a huge step-up in the level of conversation on mental health in recent years and we’re proud to use our next event to encourage conversation, break the stigma, and facilitate a route to a healthier music industry.”

With the latest SelfMade event, a work- shop coming up in Belfast as part of the Women’s Work festival and many more events on the horizon, we caught up with the pair to see why they started the initiative and they explain how it’s become an important outlet for artists on this island.

What was the catalyst for you starting SelfMade?

Joanna: I was looking for an art project, and decided to do a series of portraits of Irish women in music, to highlight the range of music these independent artists were producing, and, just as importantly, how they were doing it. When I started putting the art together I was put in touch with Julie. She suggested the portraits could form part of a bigger event focused around a panel discussion, enabling the women we were featuring to discuss their experiences in the Irish music industry – the unseen sides of getting a DIY music project off the ground. Julie is also a branding and organisational genius, not two of my strengths! And from those conversations SelfMade was born. Our first event sold out, and we realised on the night, which was attended both by fans and artists, there was a clear appetite to continue the conversation.

Was the idea of setting up more intimate discussions important for SelfMade?

Julie: Absolutely. When you think about the work that a musician does, what the public sees are their performances, their releases and their social media, the iceberg analogy is pretty tired but it works pretty well for this. We wanted to create a stage where artists could be celebrated and talk freely about the other huge percentage of work they put in that you don’t see on stage or hear on record. Most of the time, this isn’t something musicians are encouraged to do, especially not on stage. So we wanted to turn this on its head, and create a platform for honest discussion, to reflect on challenges and successes, and to see how other artists, in the audience and on the panel, can learn from them.

What do these panels offer that a talk or performance wouldn’t?

Julie: I think you can learn a lot from a talk and there are some amazing facilities out there if you want to listen to experts share their knowledge about the industry. But as a musician, I know these can also be quite intimidating experiences. Even if you learn a lot, the advice can often seem inaccessible. A big part of the SelfMade idea was to bridge this gap between industry level advice and the work that artists do every day. It’s a way of encouraging artists to learn from each other.

The workshop at your next event will be about embracing the inner critic, can you explain a little more about that?

Julie: We are so happy to be working with Aoife Ruth for the workshop element of Mind YourSelf, along with Caoimhe Barry of Wyvern Lingo. Aoife is a psychotherapist who specialises in working with musicians. We explored a lot of different topics for the workshop, but when the ‘inner critic’ was mentioned we felt it was something we could really build on and engage people with. Everyone, especially creative people, will have their own experiences of dealing with the inner critic – whether that’s going through creative block, a lack of self-belief, or overall career doubts.

On top of this, there are external pressures, specific to music, that can make musicians more vulnerable to this… The fact that we may be comparing each other’s careers on social media, or that we are often led to believe that music is a frivolous career choice. It’s not an easy combination. Aoife’s workshop is designed to break down the stigma of going through periods of self-doubt and will challenge people to listen to their inner critics differently, when these moments arise.

What’s been the main feedback from previous events? What has been the big benefits of them?

Joanna: We felt so much buzz and positivity on the night at our first event that we stuck up a sheet of paper labelled ‘Our next event…?’ and encouraged people to throw their ideas at us. The number of responses received made us realise we had uncovered a gap in terms of the types of events running in Dublin, and that people were keen to get involved in the conversation. The main feedback has been that it’s unusual to see artists together talking so openly about some of the difficulties and practicalities of getting a project off the ground, and that people have found the sessions insightful and useful, as well as therapeutic. We have been really delighted, particularly with the feedback from the artists we’ve worked with, people have described the evenings as cathartic, refreshing and honest, and that they’ve left feeling lifted. Even better, there has been a general message that SelfMade is helping to cultivate a supportive network within the DIY music scene based on openness, camaraderie and positivity. We can’t ask for more than that. One artist in particular had been so nervous about taking part, but afterwards she said she had felt liberated by the experience, and we were delighted by that.

You have some big names in Irish music on board, as well as up and comers, does that show just on how many levels these issues permeate?

Joanna: Yes. We think it’s really import- ant to offer a range of perspectives at our events, and have been so pleased at artists’ willingness to get involved and to share their experiences. Even when projects are going really well and are having success, there is, I think, this idea that automatically means everything is great, or that that success has somehow just happened. Everyone who has a career in music, however well established, has gone through years of graft and disappointment and highs and lows to get there and we want to acknowledge that, and bridge that gap between perception and reality a bit. We think that it benefits everyone involved to hear that range of experiences, and the feedback has been that our panellists to date have got a lot out of the experience. For new DIY artists, that’s really inspiring to hear. For up and coming artists, there is an opportunity to meet people in the same boat, or people who’ve already done what they’re trying to do, and our events, we hope, encourage people to network and discuss their projects, to trade tips and stories on what is working well and what isn’t. There’s also the opportunity to ask our panel questions, which often unveils particular issues or conversation pieces that continue after the event. One key benefit is for those attending to see that others have faced or are facing the same or similar difficulties and trials, it’s both reassuring and validating to know that, with the added benefit of an open forum to discuss practical solutions.

You also explore topics through art and limited-run zines, can you take me through these?

Julie: I have to admit, I originally thought the The Unseen Zine would be a totally additional element to our events, like a souvenir. But it’s become a whole extension of what our panels do. Inclusivity is really important to us – we want to enable participation and input from as many artists as we can at each event, and we’ve found that inviting artists to make submissions for our zines itself provides a small platform for artists to talk about their experiences and to make this knowledge avail- able so that other artists can learn and feel less alone. We also love the freedom that it gives the artists to express themselves, through illustrations or poetry, right through to longer written pieces. It’s become a way for us to build a sense of community and support even with people who can’t make it to our events.

Is this a way to further the ‘DIY’ aspect of the event?

Julie: For sure. There are so many musicians out there getting their hands dirty, running gigs, making videos, designing merch. Our art and zines are a nod to this hands-on work. Our plan is to always have a visual element to everything we do, and this is definitely one of the reasons why. We are very proud to be a DIY organisation and we’re very honest about how grass- roots we are. Joanna and I didn’t actually meet until our first event – we put the whole thing together through email, Skype and Whatsapp. And a few angel volunteers. If ever someone asks if we have an office, it’s definitely a small pat on the back.

There are certainly positive steps being made in promoting positive mental health and removing stigma, but there’s a long way to go. What’s next for SelfMade?

Joanna: While our events all focus on different aspects of the DIY music scene, one central theme to all our events, and a key objective for us, is the idea of open, honest discussion. I absolutely subscribe to the idea that a problem shared is a problem halved, as cliche as that might sound. And if we can encourage people to talk candidly about their trials, but just as importantly, to celebrate their own successes and the triumphs of others, I think that in itself contributes to a focus on wellbeing and goodwill in the Irish music scene.

We want to continue to remove some of the barriers that people might perceive to exist in terms of sharing their stories or admitting when things are hard. It’s just a fact that making art, and particularly making a career in the arts, is difficult for so many reasons, and comes with myriad pressures that just don’t exist in other sectors. Knowing there’s a supportive network around we think goes a long way to easing some of that pressure – and our inbox is always open!

Mind YourSelf: Mental Health and Music takes place in The Tara Building on Saturday May 25.