Jesse Palter


How The Music Industry’s Mental Health Crisis Has Affected Me

Suicide runs in my family. On both sides. The day I signed my record deal, my aunt took her own life by drowning herself in the Hudson River. A few months after that, my uncle took his life. In a matter of months, my mother’s siblings were no longer here. In my effort to make sense of the senseless, I found myself questioning my own mental stability. My outlet, my music, became more poignant and heartfelt.

My aunt was a brilliant visual artist who never got the recognition she deserved. My uncle, a genius mathematician who invented his own numbers theory. Their consummate embodiment of creativity inspired authenticity in my artistry. I remember feeling paralyzed by the juxtaposition of the death of my aunt, and the signing of my record contract (a moment I fantasized about since I first began writing songs), as though the filing cabinets of thoughts and feelings in my mind were flung open in a state of complete disarray. I also remember feeling very conflicted after a then member of my team told me to announce my signing on my social media accounts. With tears in my eyes and smiley emojis in my captions, I obliged.

We supply and consume curated and often filtered photos of ourselves spotlighting an unrealistic snapshot of our lives. And in the case of the entertainment industry, we are often judged, not on the merit of our work, but on the number of followers we have and the likes we receive. It’s not real. And sometimes it’s overwhelming.

For me, at the end of the day, it’s always about the music. It has been my salvation and my catharsis, a home to process my abundance of feelings. After my aunt’s death, I threw myself into the making of my album which proved to be a creatively fulfilling process. My songs took on a new meaning when I recorded them. For example, the closing track “Goodbye My Friend” was originally written about a nightmare I had, where a friend of mine who was struggling with addiction, suddenly died. In the studio, I couldn’t stop thinking about my aunt, and I was able to channel that emotion into the vocal performance. I was so wrought with emotion during the recording that you can hear my voice cracking. The raw authenticity of my feelings can be heard in the final recording (the producer insisted we leave that moment in).

The willingness to expose those raw feelings leaves me vulnerable and, of necessity, working overtime to assuage my expectations of how this part of my journey would feel. And the cycle continues.

One of my earliest memories is of a 4 year old me, self-assured, answering my nursery school teacher’s question “what do you want to be when you grow up?” Without missing a beat, “a singer” I replied, promptly belting out the chorus of “Tomorrow” from Annie like there was no tomorrow. Having a strong sense of purpose and lofty goals at such a young age was a blessing and a curse. It meant never having to take a job aptitude test, cool, but it also meant I was pursuing one of the most competitive and challenging career paths. A truth I’ve been reminded of every step of the way. It meant signing up for a 24/7 job in a constantly evolving industry, with little stability but an abundance of passion. It meant setting myself up for a constant cycle of affirmation and rejection. It means there is often no daylight between who I am and what I do. It also means constant self and life management, always cognizant of my bloodline. My father’s namesake, his grandfather, a fashion icon who invented the platform and sling back in woman’s shoes, also committed suicide just prior to his birth.

I’m a professional dream chaser, and on paper I’m living my dream. I pay my rent doing music full time. I achieved my lifelong goal of getting signed to a record label, and recently released an album of my original music, “Paper Trail”. I’ve been building a slow but steady awareness of who I am as an artist. But big dreams come with big expectations. And, big expectations don’t always lead to smooth sailing in the mental health department.

On top of the tireless work to build a career as an artist, I’m working equally hard to moderate my expectations and manage the (sometimes crippling) anxiety and depression that comes with allowing yourself to be judged by record sales and social media hits. All of this, so that I can wake up every day and continue the grind that is enabling me to do what I love.

In some ways, I concede, I chose this life. However, in many ways I feel it chose me.   Just as the ingredients for mental instability are present, the genes to make and share music were ever-present; my paternal grandmother was a child prodigy opera singer. Like any genetic predisposition, mental instability or illness needs to be de-stigmatized. It needs to be comfortably talked about, shared, so that all can seek the solutions that make their lives most liveable; most fulfilling. I share this with you, my audience, my ears, so that any of you who suffer will understand you are not alone and seek the help you need.

There is a unique loneliness when lost in one’s own mental angst. It’s a cyclical dilemma that contributes to the ultimate despair that can result in taking the wrong turn in the tunnel, the one leading to suicide. My hope is also that those of you blissfully unafflicted will understand the discordant journey to mental wellness is made safer and more harmonic when accompanied by the loving presence of a compassionate ear.

-Jesse Palter

Originally published with Thrive Global.