The Therapy for Black Girls Podcast is a weekly conversation with Dr. Joy Harden Bradford, a licensed Psychologist in Atlanta, Georgia, about all things mental health, personal development, and all the small decisions we can make to become the best possible versions of ourselves.
To close out our celebration of Black Music Month, this week I’m joined by Los Angeles based Psychotherapist, Syreeta Butler. In her work Syreeta has partnered with renowned music label – LVRN, introducing the first-ever Mental Health and Wellness department and program within a music label. During our conversation we explored the stressors that are unique to the music industry, the importance of music labels investing in the emotional well-being of their staff, and the ways that music labels and the music industry can do more to protect Black women.
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Session 264: Mental Health In The Music Industry
Dr. Joy: Hey, y'all! Thanks so much for joining me for Session 264 of the Therapy for Black Girls podcast. Before we get into today's conversation, I want to take just a moment to check in with you about how you're feeling this week following the Supreme Court’s decision to overturn Roe vs. Wade. It's very likely you're having a variety of feelings, perhaps angry, sad, helpless, rage, maybe even numb. Whatever it is, it's valid. While there are ways to continue to fight, and that too is valid, I also think it's important to make sure you give yourself space to feel all of your feelings. And when you're ready, make sure to check out the show notes for ways you can get involved in the continuing fight for reproductive justice.
To close out our celebration of Black Music Month, this week I'm joined by Los Angeles-based psychotherapist, Syreeta Butler. In her work, Syreeta has partnered with renowned music label LVRN, introducing the first-ever mental health and wellness department and program within a music label. Syreeta coaches and trains music executives to create a healthy mental and emotional environment for their respective artists and employees. Our conversation explores the stressors that are unique to the music industry, the importance of music labels investing in the emotional well-being of their staff, and the ways that music labels and the music industry can do more to protect black women. If something resonates with you while enjoying our conversation, be sure to share it with us on social media using the hashtag #TBGinSession or join us over in the Sister Circle to talk more in-depth about the episode. You can join us at Community.TherapyForBlackGirls.com. Here's our conversation.
Dr. Joy: It feels really great to be chatting with you during Black Music Appreciation Month. I‘d love to hear from you how black music has impacted your mental health.
Syreeta: Oh my gosh, quite a loaded question. That's how we’re starting, Dr. Joy?
Dr. Joy: I mean, we’re starting at the top!
Syreeta: The way that black music has impacted my mental health. I'm grateful for black music, I'm grateful that we have this thing called black music and it spans such a broad stroke. I mean, from being the inventors of country to the architects and inventors of rock & roll, and then the inventors and architects of jazz, and then the adventures and architects of R&B and hip hop. I have a very, very, very eclectic palate for music, but it always seems to come back to the soul and being black. My namesake is a black artist, her name is Syreeta Wright and she was the great Stevie Wonder's muse.
And so my first name is Syreeta, of course, and my middle name is Patrice, which is after Patrice Rushen. I can't sing a lick, I can't hold a note, but my mom in the womb cultivated the space in me to love and be named after some beautiful voices in the business. The way it has impacted my mental health (black music) it's been since the womb. It's been what I've gone to and what I’ve run to when I'm in any space, whether it's joy, whether it's pain—which is a song by Frankie Beverly! I mean, we can just keep going, but music is everything. It's gotten in every part of my life, it’s literally a soundtrack to my life.
Dr. Joy: Yeah, it really feels like you didn't have a choice, right? It sounds like mom really kind of birthed this life for you that you really just had to step in into.
Syreeta: Absolutely. Shout out to mom!
Dr. Joy: Your background is as a marriage and family therapist, but you are now working at a record label, at LVRN. I would love to hear a little bit about that journey, like what is it that you do as a therapist there?
Syreeta: This is an idea that I'd had for quite some time, but I got a lot of nose. I've been circulating in the music industry for some time and I went to a couple of different labels and they shared with me that my service wasn't a service that they were necessarily interested in. And then I was at a music festival and I met some of the executives and co-founders from Love Renaissance (which is LVRN) and shared with them what I did. That was in October, and then maybe in like December, they called me and it was like, hey, we have an artist that we would love for you to work with. And I said, okay, and they brought me to New York and I met with the artist and I met with the executives and it has been a beautiful relationship. This was actually in 2019.
Then January of 2020, we said, you know what, let's make this a thing. And by March, we had signed the paperwork and started, and then, of course, the world shut down. And so it was a beautiful time to come into the organization because we were in such influx and there were so many unknowns that were happening in the world that they were able to provide mental health services to not only their staff and not only the artists, but also the executives. In my company, we service everyone across the board. I’m affectionately known as the Wendy Rhoades of music—if anyone knows the Billions reference, that's how I roll. It's been beautiful.
Dr. Joy: This was something that you kind of developed or was your brainchild, that you were then pitching to record labels to try to bring your services to them.
Syreeta: Absolutely. I had been working with artists for many years and I was noticing that there were things that were missing in the label space and even in the management space and production space. And I'm like this is something that we desperately need. There are a lot of our artists that are struggling in a multitude of ways. And to have this as a space that they could utilize as though they're utilizing the vocal coach, as they're utilizing their choreographer, as they're utilizing the dietician. This is an addition to all of that. So it was the brainchild and it's still being worked through.
Dr. Joy: What kinds of specific services are you offering? It sounds like maybe some therapy, but it also may be used as some other general wellness kinds of things.
Syreeta: Just B Consulting is the name of my company and we actually create and curate mental health and wellness programs and departments for entertainment as a whole. The reason that I speak about LVRN is because we are on a more public platform, where I have other companies that are not as much but we do the same thing. Because of confidentiality and things, LVRN is the company that I speak about. We do one on one mental health services, we also do executive coaching for the executives, we also do a host of wellness programs. We really work with the company as a whole and listen to what it is that the staff and the executives need, and then we curate our programs and our department to fulfill the needs of the individuals.
Dr. Joy: You mentioned that you had been working with a lot of artists even before doing more formal kinds of programs like this. What kinds of things did you notice? Were there specific themes that tended to come up for them, that you felt needed to be addressed?
Syreeta: Yeah. In the world of celebrity or being an artist or being a creative, there are many times that many of the things that they struggle with are very similar to the things that people who aren't in the industry struggle with. I think it's a baseline of just wanting to have love and respect, compassion and empathy. But the way in which it shows up can be a little different from maybe you or I, especially given the fact that you have fame on top of it. You have survivor's remorse on top of it, you have money, you have access. The things that I think many of us struggle with, we don't have to struggle with and have access to money on top of it. Some of the ways in which we cope with things that are happening in our lives, we don't have the money and access for. But when you're a celebrity or when you're an artist, a lot of times you do and so it exacerbates those coping strategies—whether positive or negative.
Dr. Joy: Can you say a little bit more about like the celebrity piece? Because I think I have a feeling on what you're talking about but would love to hear how the celebrity piece really creates or magnifies any mental health concerns that might exist.
Syreeta: Celebrity is probably the most intoxicating drug and the most addictive drug that I've seen by far. If you've come to being or becoming a celebrity, there's a whole host of things that I've found with many of the clients that I work with. That they are struggling with impostor syndrome, feeling good enough, feeling like what they're doing in their creative space is worthwhile. There are many things that of course, like I said, many of us try and fight through and work through. For them, it is exacerbated because we have social media, we have them being accessible. And not just accessible for the uplift, but also accessible for the ridicule. I don't know how we, as just regular people if you will (even though they're regular as well), how well we would do being under a microscope. And that microscope of celebrity is really, really difficult at times, especially when you're attempting to grow up and make mistakes, and have that not done under the scrutiny of so many eyes and so many opinions.
Dr. Joy: How do you work with somebody on that? People struggling with impostor syndrome or really getting caught up maybe in having access to so many resources and different kinds of things, how are you working with them to kind of manage some of that?
Syreeta: Many of the clients that I work with, it's about just reaffirming that their artistry and who they are is enough. I think a lot of us can identify with that—not feeling like we're enough, not feeling that we're utilizing them in a way that brings joy to our lives. That's why I say there are similarities between people who are not in the public eye and people who are. We struggle with wanting to feel like people love us and care about us and have empathy for us, and it's the same with people who are in the public eye. There's a lot of scrutiny that people find themselves under and it's really working to affirm who they are. Really getting to the root of how and why they feel the way they do.
My graduate work and much of the work that I've done before Just B took off is generational trauma. For me, it's really important to support the people that I work with, with understanding what is their burden, what is their stuff, or what is the stuff that has been put on them from generations before. From their parents, from their parents’ parents, and so on. Really starting to untether themselves from the narratives that have been spoken about either them or their lineage, whether it's from the public or in private. Really starting to untether, I find is the most pivotal and the most sacred space when working with anyone, but in particular with artists.
Dr. Joy: More from my conversation with Syreeta after the break.
Dr. Joy: You mentioned also that you often see people struggle with survivor's remorse. Can you say more about what that looks like specifically with celebrities?
Syreeta: Survivor's remorse is real and alive and it can be exacerbated, of course, from family members and friends who feel like just because they've been on the journey with them from the beginning, that they're meant to be in every part of their journey moving forward. When I'm working with a client or with an artist or a creative, they're having a really hard time with setting boundaries and setting limits with people in their lives. It becomes really complicated when people are asking things of them and they feel like, okay, well, since I'm the one that has made it out or the one that is successful, I now am obligated to support or invest. And so working with them and helping them understand that that isn't the way that you have to show up. Even though a person has been with you since the beginning, you're not obligated to show up in any particular way except for the way that feels most authentic to yourself. I also support people with setting boundaries because I think that oftentimes when we have weaker boundaries, people take advantage of that. And so helping them through that has been really, really transformational, I've seen, in the work.
Dr. Joy: We've seen a lot of artists in particular be very public about their struggles with both anxiety and depression. Can you say a little bit about what that tends to look like in the artist space?
Syreeta: I think the way that it looks like in the artist’s space is very similar to the way it looks in everyday life. Social anxiety, anxiety in general, is a huge part. I think many artists find themselves to be introverts when they're creating and they are then asked to be larger than life or asked to be very outgoing. And sometimes they get caught in this space of wanting to be private, wanting to just be, and also having the expectations of the world. I think that's where the anxiety part comes up, is having these two counterintuitive spaces that they're trying to occupy at the same time.
And then the depression I find is oftentimes from loneliness and not feeling a part of community. Even though entertainment is a really dynamic space, it can be a little isolating, depending on what part of the process and where you are in your journey. I think oftentimes, artists and creatives find it difficult to find their place and where they fit. Which I think many of us can identify with, especially being a young adult coming into your own as an adult and then doing it in front of people. Most of us have the luxury of making a mistake and trying to find our way in private, where we're not under a microscope. I think that microscope sometimes just enhances everything.
Dr. Joy: It sounds like you've been doing this for a while. I know at least a lot of celebrities have talked about their struggle with social media, right? It's kind of almost a part of the job. You’ve gotta be public and have stuff on Instagram and Twitter and all these places, but I think it's also something that a lot of people struggle with. I wonder if across your career you have seen changes in the way that people are impacted now, having to be so popular on social media.
Syreeta: Social media is a beautiful tool. However, it is a monster and it will eat you up and spit you out. I think that it has to be met with a certain distance or a certain caution and I think that's where many people, whether creative or not, find their struggle—is when you start to develop your validation or find your validation in these spaces. And there's a whole machine, for creatives in particular, that is (for lack of a better term) forcing you to be a part of this world that can eat you up and spit you out, and not giving a lot of guidance on how to navigate it. People are just kind of going by the seat of their pants and making mistakes in the process, and being built up to then be torn down. I feel like that is the sadistic part of social media, especially for creatives and artists. It’s the “we're going to build you up, everyone loves you, all the likes.”
People will start to feel good because of the likes and get their validation from the likes and then the monster rears its head and then the chopping of your self-esteem, the hypercritical aspect. Creatives are already extremely sensitive souls, that's why they're able to create such beautiful art. Because they're able to tap into spaces that many of us can't. And so when that part of them is exposed or made vulnerable and it starts to be criticized, if you don't have a foundation that doesn't have to do with the likes, if you don't have a foundation of people who are grounding you, you can get swept up and lost. And I think we see many, many people...and I'm putting everybody in there, but many people fall prey to that.
Dr. Joy: A lot of artists also typically have this kind of like hustle story, like they have been trying to get their art out there for a long time. It feels like there tends to be a very long grind. I'm wondering if you can talk about the impact that that then has on their mental health.
Syreeta: I have found myself in moments in my life and my career being in that hustle mentality and that hustle mindset. However, it is quite counterproductive because we aren't meant as human beings to be in such a grind, in such a space where we're going all the time. Being made to feel “less than” if we want to take time out for ourselves to practice radical self-care or to practice empathy, grace, gratitude towards ourselves, and not wanting to be out there. I think that the hustle spirit or the grind mode has put us in a mindset that rest is not a part of the hustle. Whereas I would love to introduce and welcome individuals, whether creatives or not, to recognize that we are meant to rest, we are meant to take a breath.
We're meant to breathe. And not just breathe for survival but breathe for enjoyment, breathe for pleasure. Not just breathing shallowly from our chest but really breathing from our bellies. And when we don't do that, it impacts our brain chemistry. Like we're all connected. I understand and I respect some of the essence of that hustle grind space, but I also have seen firsthand where it has truly, truly, truly been destructive to artists that I've worked with, artists that I see that are just on social media or wherever, and people that I know. I would like for us to reframe, if at all, what hustling means in the future.
Dr. Joy: We talk a lot about the strong black woman trope here on the podcast. Looking at the shudder that you have had lets me know that you have an aversion. You have an aversion to that! You know, it shows up in a lot of us and I can only imagine what that might look like in black women artists. I'm wondering what it has looked like for any artist that you've worked with, and what words of advice or suggestions you might have for anybody who maybe is in the music business now or interested in coming into that business.
Syreeta: That was heavy because it follows us everywhere, this strong black woman myth. I think the simplest offer that I attempt to give black women that I work with in the music industry, especially because we all have our different fights... Whether you're an artist or a creative, you know that strong black woman moniker follows you. If you're a black woman executive, it really, really follows you. If you are a rising executive and you're just kind of starting out, you feel like you have to present in a particular way and fall into the traps of this strong black woman moniker to be taken seriously.
What I attempt to offer, especially to those whom I work with, is at least for an hour a week, or however often we interact with one another, this is a space where you get to come and just be. That is the reason that I named my company Just B Consulting, because I wanted everyone that I come across, everyone that I support, to know that no matter what it is you have to present to the world, no matter how you get pulled or that double consciousness that we have to fight through as black folks—here, in the time that we spend together, you truly, truly, truly get to just be. That looks a lot of different ways depending on the moment.
If you need to come and vent and cuss out somebody, you can do that. If you just have to cry and lay your burdens down by the riverside and just have someone hold the space for that, you get to do that. If you've got to problem solve and brainstorm and think through some stuff because you're trying to figure out your exit to a certain particular situation, we get to do that. But whatever it is, know that you have a person and a space where you can come and just be. Which, even though it sounds really simple, the feedback that I've gotten is that we're now doing it radically but society hasn't created a space. We've had to make a space and take charge of commanding that space to just be, and so I'm grateful for that.
Dr. Joy: You have lots of great ideas and it sounds like you do incredibly impactful work with the people that you work with. I'd love to hear if you have some thoughts about how labels in the music industry as a whole can do a better job of creating safer spaces for black women, and more to actually protect black women in the industry.
Syreeta: I say call me. Because what we're doing is absolutely... I'm a black woman and it is my mission. I often tell people, I didn't get licensed, I didn't go through all the schooling that we had to go through and the umpteen hours of free work that we have to give—I didn't do this for me. I did this for us. I really am clear on my mission, which is supporting entertainment as a whole by providing a space that protects and serves the artists and the staff members, and the executives who make this machine go. I believe that music labels, production companies, management companies, really, really take a serious look. Especially now with the pandemic and the uncertainty that's going around and all the residual impact that the last two and a half, three years have given us. Really, really take a strong look. And creating a budget for having in-house mental health and wellness services because it makes a huge difference.
I know that many companies will say, well, we have it a part of our insurance package where people can utilize mental health and wellness services. Which is beautiful, but there is something about being able to not have to go through the red tape that you have to go through when you're attempting to look for a therapist. But also, having someone that you can call. That you don't have to wait two weeks or to the following week. Myself and my team we’re really hands-on and we're really accessible and that's what the in-house approach provides. It provides you that if you're having a moment, you can give one of us a call (because we work collaboratively as a team) and say, hey, I'm having a moment. And we're here.
I go to the offices. I'm primarily on Zoom, so I can support as many people as I can. But when I go into the office, I'm able to say, hey, checking in on you. What's up? You good? Cool. The reason I'm here in Philly now is because I also travel and go on-site with my clients. I had four clients performing this weekend and I was able to tap in with each one of them and say, yo, you good? It's those little things that make such a huge difference. Unfortunately, when your therapist is an outside provider, they don't have that level of intimacy. I joke with people that I've done therapy in strip clubs, I've done therapy at the club, I've done therapy at the studio. The breadth of places that have become an office to myself or my team, you can't get that in an outside provider or an out-of-network provider. It's really important and I really invite companies to start taking a look at “in-house” because it matters. It makes a difference for everyone involved.
Dr. Joy: More from my conversation with Syreeta after the break.
Dr. Joy: I'm curious, Syreeta, because I know sometimes there tends to be some tension when services like this are brought in-house. You are employed by the record label and so are there concerns around how you set up like confidentiality? And how do you navigate making sure your artists can trust that what they say stays with you as opposed to, oh, is she reporting back to the manager? How do you navigate all of that?
Syreeta: It's a conversation. And it's not just one conversation, it's an ongoing conversation. My team and I strive to help everyone involved understand what our role is and what our lane is. And so yes, I may wear multiple hats, but at the time that I'm speaking, it's who's in front of me. Who is the person that I'm talking to? You are my client. And for me, it's really important for artists, staff members, executives, whomever, to understand that what you say to me or what you say to one of the therapists on my team is only for us. No one else will hear unless that is something that you want. If that's your request, we can totally do that.
What I attempt to do at the beginning is set the foundation in helping people understand like, yes, I may be paid through the label but I am not an employee of the label. I work for myself and I am in service to you. What I will do and what I do make clear in the “kind of get to know you” rapport-building phase is that if I hear something or if someone on my team hears something, we call it the rule of three. If we hear something from someone that we're working with (a client) and it's consistent three times across the board, then we will bring it to, say, the executive team. And say, hey, we've heard this, just wanted to let you know. We're not disclosing whom it comes from and we don't even disclose whom we work with.
We don't let the label know, oh, we're working with this staff member. We assign everyone a number and it's like, this is the number and this is the number of times in the month that this number met with us. And so even being able to keep the confidentiality of the label doesn't know who on the team we work with—that information never comes from us. Not even the artists. We just make sure that they know, okay, everyone has an ID number. Based on that ID number, that's how we do our negotiations.
Dr. Joy: I'd love for you to tell me anything else that you haven't shared about your consulting agency. Did you start the consulting agency after you started with LVRN, or was it the other way around?
Syreeta: It was definitely the other way around. I probably went to four or five different labels before LVRN said yes. Thank goodness some of those labels have circled back around and it’s like, hmm, let's revisit that idea that you brought to us. And so I'm grateful for that. But it was birthed about five and a half, six years ago. There were actually four deaths that really impacted me in the entertainment industry. One was a music executive by the name of Chris Lighty who was beloved in the music industry, and then the untimely death of Whitney Houston really kind of shook me. I was like what is really going on in this industry? What's happening? Amy Winehouse was another one that impacted me as well and then the death of one of *[inaudible 0:32:46] mentors, Don Cornelius, when he transitioned.
Those four, that's when I was like there's something happening in this industry. These are people, all four of them, who gave a tremendous amount to this industry. What's going on, what are we missing? And so that was the battery that was put in my back at that moment. Just B was born out of that and realizing that so many artists and so many executives give so much of themselves to our entertainment, to an art form in a world that we love and we cherish. And I felt like it was time for us to take care of them and see if we can minimize or reduce the number of people that we lose in this industry that they love so much.
Dr. Joy: Thank you for that, I appreciate you sharing the story behind it. I know that this may be a difficult question for you, given your very long history of love for music. Since we're celebrating Black Music Appreciation Month, I’d love for you to share one song that you feel has aided in your development and growth as a black woman.
Syreeta: That's actually easy. I want to give a beautiful shout-out to my mentor. She is actually one of the founders and architects of Black Music Month. Her name is Dyana Williams and she has an extensive history in the music industry, especially here in Philly. I'm so grateful to her because she has paved the way for black music to be appreciated as a month, but also has paved the way for the work that I do. But the song that I would listen to every day in graduate school was Closer by Goapele. The words to that song just motivated me that I was getting closer to my dreams of doing this work and being a really small part in healing the souls of black people.
Dr. Joy: What a beautiful choice. That’s one of my favorite songs, too, so I appreciate you sharing that with us. Who’s on your playlist right now? Like what black women artists are you listening to that you want to put on our radar?
Syreeta: I love Summer Walker’s work, I love *[inaudible 0:35:19] work, I'm a huge fan of Jazmine Sullivan, huge fan of *[inaudible 0:35:25]. I think they are really speaking to a lot of the things that we as black women are going through in different parts of our journey. I'm really grateful to them for their voices and for them finding their voices in a world that has been not always kind to them.
Dr. Joy: Those are great choices, that's a pretty solid playlist. Where can we find out more about all the incredible work that you're doing, Syreeta? What is your website as well as any social media handles you'd like to share?
Syreeta: My website is JustBconsulting.net. My Instagram is @SyreetaBMFT, that is my public page. Shout out to Theory Communications! They tell me often like, okay, it's great that you have a private page but you need a business page. I am truly an analog girl in a digital world so it is very, very, very difficult for me to thrust myself into the world of social media. But I also understand the benefits of it. I'd much prefer to be in the background, that's what feels most authentic to me, but I also recognize the importance of having your voice be heard in public as well.
Dr. Joy: We are happy you shared a little bit of it with us, so thank you so much for that.
Syreeta: Thank you for having me, Dr. Joy.
Dr. Joy: I'm so glad Syreeta was able to share her expertise with us today. To learn more about her and her work, be sure to visit the show notes at TherapyForBlackGirls.com/session264. And be sure to text two of your girls and tell them to check out the episode right now.
If you're looking for a therapist in your area, make sure to check out our therapist directory at TherapyForBlackGirls.com/directory. If you want to continue digging into this topic or just be in community with other sisters, come on over and join us in the Sister Circle. It's our cozy corner of the internet designed just for black women. Join us at Community.TherapyForBlackGirls.com. This episode was produced by Fredia Lucas and Ellice Ellis, and editing was done by Dennison Bradford. Thank y’all so much for joining me again this week. I look forward to continuing this conversation with you all real soon. Take good care.