Does Hardship and Depression Create Musicians or Kill Them?

The music blog at did a piece on musicians and depression, looking into the idea that musicians are more likely to experience depression than people in other professions. In fact, creative artists are actually fifth on the list of top 10 professions with high rates of depression. The question then turns to whether people inclined to depression are more drawn to music or the profession itself brings about depressive illness. One might also want to think about whether depression translates into the creation of more emotional and memorable music or whether it stifles creativity.

Let’s use the example of the homeless street musician Daniel “Homeless” Mustard to explore these questions. Daniel Mustard went on the Opie & Anthony Show and delivered an emotional performance of Radiohead’s “Creep” in a video that went on to receive 1.7 million views on Youtube. As Hypebot point outs, Mustard even scored a record deal off that performance. Although the story itself is very uplifting – being that Mustard was an alcoholic who went through his fair share of hardship – a second video and sneak peak of his EP debut does not seem to have the same sense of urgency or poignancy that the original Opie & Anthony performance had. There might have been a shift in Mustard’s performance based on his emotional state. One may argue that depression itself creates a void that later envelops itself into very heart-wrenching, but effective, songwriting or performing. Without those tough feelings, the music might take on a different form, for better or for worse.

The original blog post I mentioned argues that “the reality for the sufferer is that depression is so debilitating it’s impossible to create anything at all.” While depression can outright stop creativity in the average individual, for some it might be the dark impetus to musical exploration. I am not trying to encourage or romanticize the idea of depression in any way. Depression is an unfortunate and hopefully treatable illness in many cases. However, there is always the curiosity in music lovers of whether their idols would have created the same music had they not been depressed. Kurt Cobain is an obvious example of this given his drug addiction and clinical depression that ultimately led to his suicide. How did it affect the music? What would have Nirvana sounded like had Cobain embraced his stardom and enjoyed the limelight with all its perks? Maybe the music would have been worse or maybe he would have lived to create even better music – we’ll never know.

If nothing else, one should be aware of the potential hazards of a lifestyle that glorifies artists in a way that can encourage activities that lead to depression. Hopefully one artist’s hardships, expressed through music, can encourage others to seek help or make it through their own difficult times. If people who are more susceptible to depression are also more inclined to enter a creative field, then maybe that artistic profession can act as an outlet that helps to cure (or cope with) depression.