It is undeniable that this past year has been a rollercoaster of unpredicted events and emotions, as we learned to navigate through the uncharted waters of a worldwide pandemic; and while so many of us dream of groovier days on the dance floor alongside friends, we must also be reminded of the importance of taking care of ourselves and our loved ones in the present, as well. This month, I sat down (virtually) with Edwin Tsang, artist manager and founder of Virtual Friends, to talk about mental health, music, and how the two go hand in hand.
Overall, how was 2020 for you?
It was by far the most rewarding yet the hardest for myself and my clients. Shows were cancelled, Tours were cancelled and the music industry had a standstill. There were a lot of scheduled album roll-outs that would roll into a Tour that had to be postponed. I also had the amazing opportunity to work on a virtual music festival spearheading it from start to finish to give back to my local Aquarium – https://www.cultr.com/news/ocean-meets-music-livestream-hosted-by-trap-nation-with-spatial-audio-to-save-an-aquariam/
From a personal standpoint – I went through various painful lessons that taught me how to be a more responsible person – I spent a long time reflecting on how to become a better person. I also spent more time with family and really looked back into considering what is seriously important in my life, beyond work.
I became fully sober and no longer partake in any type of alcohol or recreational activities, which is quite huge at the age of 23.
I broke all relationships that I felt were toxic or were not positive influences, and I kept my circle of friends very small and close by to protect myself. I was guilty of always being a yes and people person and trying to meet and help as many people as I could but I’ve come to the realization that by exposing yourself to that – there will be good but also bad consequences that come out of it.
In such unexpected times, what do you do to strengthen your mental health?
Meditate, hang with good company (aka my friends and family), listen to music, play video games, watch anime, go on a hike, turn off my phone and social media. Read, write, journal, and seek counseling.
Being honest with yourself is very important to self-growth. Take constructive criticism from your friends as a positive – they see what you don’t see as you may be blinded by your own aura.
What role does music play in your well-being?
People say I’m a very quirky person, and that I’m the only person that they meet that jams super hard in any setting to music, so I am of the belief that music probably makes me a very happy soul because I genuinely love music.
I dislike the music industry for what it is – I feel that I’m quite jaded because of the relationships I have come across in my early stages and that I felt it wasn’t the right place for me. I’ve had multiple break-downs where I’ve wanted to quit because I dislike some of the culture the music industry comes with. It’s a love and hate relationship, but the way I have been able to overcome this is by working solely with people that make me happy, regardless of their status or position. I truly enjoy working with kind people — I treat artist management as a very personal experience. For me, it’s less about the music that I care about and more about how that person is and how I interact with them before signing them.
Over recent years, there’s been a shift in the way that people view mental illness, and there has been tremendous support within the music industry when someone opens up about their struggles. If you notice a friend or family member at a low point, what are a few ways to show those loved ones support?
I call them, I check up on them, I take them out to do things that would get their minds off thing, whether that is video games, a hike, food, just hanging out… good company will always be my favourite way of therapy.
I think that the mental health in this industry is so bad because creatives will always have self-doubt – I’ve seen this destroy acts, and I want to fix this by opening up an EDMTherapy type of site that would have counseling that specializes in artists and music professionals. This is a goal of mine for 2022 to start and advocate. I’m a big advocate of mental health in general – I think it’s something that you need to be honest to overcome and manage.
Just listen, and try to help how you can. Sometimes you can’t help, but just by listening, it means the world to the other person. Everyone wants to be heard and respected.
Are you involved in any mental health advocacy programs aimed at the music industry? Or do you know of any good programs?
I am not involved in any, nor do I know of any, but I seek counseling through https://inkblottherapy.com/ which is a site that allows you to answer questions and find the right counsellor for you online. It’s all virtual, and they do hourly sessions. I wish to create something like this in 2022… stay tuned. 🙂 I wish for management and label companies to offer a subsidiary/grant for artists to seek help.
Finally, tell me about your hopes for the future of our industry. Where do you want to see the music industry a year from now?
I want to see kindness, true kindness. I want to see less shoe stomping, less putting people down. I want to see companies being less greedy with their terms and conditions. I want labels to be fairer and management companies to not fuck over some artists with their absurd terms… I’ve seen some nightmare cases, and I really get put off by it. Creatives work their butt off and deserve to be paid a fair amount.
I want to see more independent artists come out in EDM, less reliant on labels and sticking it to them that they need to be fairer.
I hope to create the EDM therapy or help facilitate that.
My goal is to be Forbes 30 under 30 in the next few years – I still have a lot to accomplish before I plan to nominate myself – But It’ll come… I have seven more years to prove myself.
It was a pleasure to sit down with Edwin and discuss music and mental health and the importance of caring for one another. To learn more about Edwin and Virtual Friends, visit his website here; and while we patiently wait to be reunited with one another, remember to take a moment to check on the ones you love.
If you or someone you love is struggling with mental health, get help at 1-800-273-8253
Time To Talk: Tips For Talking About Your Mental Health
Supporting a Friend or Family Member with Mental Health Problems
Helping a Loved One Cope with a Mental Illness