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  • Writer's pictureFintan Davies

Music and Mental Health are linked

Lofi music helped me change my life for the better.

Music has always been an important part of my world. What is fascinating though is that there have been distinct phases throughout my life when it comes to music.

It all starts when we're babies. What effect does nursery rhymes have on us? We relax and also begin to learn language. They are a primer for our brain development and brings joy both to parent and child.

My earliest memories of music as a child were listening to some of the greats: Abba, Amy Winehouse, The Beatles, Duffy, Elvis Presley, Johnny Cash, Paolo Nutini, Paul Weller and Van Morrison.

Listening to these artist’s work on CD in the car during the 2000’s was always one of the best parts of spending time with my family. I got to know what songs resonated with my parents and grew my passion in music through them. As a child, I would primarily focus on the instrumentation of a song rather than the lyrics. That’s part of why Knowing Me, Knowing You by Abba is one of my favourite childhood memories. I didn’t understand the story its lyrics were conveying until I was in my late teens.

Why did instrumentation appeal to me more than lyrics? Because of my autism. During my childhood, I couldn't really focus on the nuances of conversation and language. I would drown out the lyrics and get excited purely by the instrumentation.

This Spider-Man soundtrack from Danny Elfman would lead me towards my path in Theatre Sound.

This love of instrumentation would fundamentally influence my taste in music. In 2002, when I was five, I was utterly awestruck by Danny Elfman’s Soundtrack to Tobey Maguire's Spider-Man. Danny’s beautiful and emotional orchestration in tracks such as Getting Through and Alone would fill me with emotion and awe.

Over the years, soundtracks to movies, TV shows and video games would be my rock and transport me to exciting worlds far beyond the confines of real life. In 2008, I brought my first albums which were The Dark Knight and Doctor Who: Series 4 soundtracks. This would be the start of a music collection filled with soundtracks. I was utterly obsessed with these soundtracks because they gave me both joy and energy that I was lacking after long days at school.

I firmly believe that this history of loving purely the instrumental element of music lead me to becoming a Sound Operator in Theatre.

How did this happen?

During the school plays from 2008-2010, I took notice of the beautiful classical music that played during the scene transitions. I used to do acting in school and was told that for the 2011 play, we had to do accents. I didn’t feel comfortable doing this and instead pursued an opportunity to operate the sound for the play.

This curiosity changed my entire life.

I loved the feeling that I took part in progressing the play through music and that I could both control the volume and time my cues with buttons. The head of drama had an infectious passion for classical music and it was a privilege to bring them to life in the school plays.

Around this time, I had a brief phase of listening to UK No. 1 pop music from artists such as Black Eyed Peas and Tinie Tempah. Looking back, I did this as a way of fitting in at school to try and understand the kind of music that other students at secondary school liked.

I also used to have an obsession with Michael Jackson's music for the longest time to the point where I would watch all his movies, documentaries and interviews. Michael's instrumentation in his songs was so exciting to me. I did grow out of it when I came to realise in my late teens how complicated of a person he was and I decided I didn't want to be invested in his work any longer.

In 2011, I would also fall in love with video game soundtracks such as Uncharted 3: Drake’s Deception by Greg Edmonson and The Elder Scrolls V: Skyrim by Jeremy Soule. I would buy a lot of video game soundtracks on iTunes over the years and play them during Art and Drama Sessions at School.

Video game soundtracks however would eventually have a negative impact on my mental health.

Letting go of Gustavo Santaolalla’s music was one of the hardest parts of overcoming my video game addiction.

I used to be a video game addict for over 20 years and it got difficult to manage after I first played the post apocalyptic survival horror game, The Last of Us, in 2014. Along with playing that game almost every day for years, I would listen to Gustavo Santaolalla’s soundtrack for this game every day as well.

I lived in the virtual world no matter where I was and it would soon become the only world I preferred living in.

Gustavo Santaolalla’s body of work with the ronroco instrument is intoxicating, emotional and beautiful and it all provided a gateway to the world of The Last of Us anytime I didn’t play the game. Living in that world through its music 24/7 lead to me neglecting my relationships and, eventually, my mind.

I had a mental health crisis in 2019 and my relationship with music began to change dramatically. At hospital, I would hear very intense music that other patients liked and it helped me realise that I was in a very dark place mentally. I started asking questions both to myself and the medical team about what this mental health crisis meant.

And yet, when I had my second mental health crisis in 2021, I wanted to share with the patients and doctors at hospital my love of music. Just listening to Austin Wintory's Journey soundtrack along with other people going through thier own mental health crisis was such a powerful moment. We felt hope that life would get better after we left hospital.

This video game soundtrack was the definition of beauty for me in 2021. I'm happy it was one of the last video game soundtracks I listened to.

Over these last five years, I’ve come to accept that both gaming and video game soundtracks had to leave my life. It was very difficult because the only type of music I listened to for a decade were video game soundtracks. I had to develop the discipline to listen to other kinds of music.

There have been times where I struggled with this discipline. When The Last of Us HBO TV Series came out in January 2023, there was so much advertising in London that it made my craving for The Last of Us very unbearable. I listened to the TV Series soundtrack and it brought all the trauma back.

Listening to this soundtrack felt powerful and traumatic at the same time.

Eventually after a day or two, I stopped engaging with this new soundtrack because being reminded of the graphic violence in The Last of Us and The Last of Us: Part II was just too much to bear. I wanted, more than ever, to find music that has no memory of violence.

What helped me the most with this discipline was subscribing to Apple Music. It has helped me massively in both navigating the different worlds of music and make listening to video game soundtracks less appealing.

I can happily say that Lo-Fi music has given me this. Lo-Fi has no lyrics and isn’t linked to anything fictional. It is it’s own unique form of expression and has helped me be present and focus on the here and now. This is especially true for Lofi Girl's recent radio release of peaceful piano music.

I'm also listening to calming Jazz music and what is so healing about it is that it is helping me with my sugar cravings! By having a cup of tea and listening to Jazz on the train journey home, I feel more relaxed and I'm now able to moderate my sugar intake.

My recent additions to my music collection.

I'm also experimenting with the power that soundtracks have on Film and TV through my new YouTube Channel, Film and TV Without Music. Using AI, music is taken out of a scene that has both great acting and dialogue to show a different interpretation. I have done scenes from Good Will Hunting, After Life, Ted Lasso, Sherlock, The Whale, Doctor Who and Fleabag.

If there are certain kinds of music that make you uncomfortable, try exploring other kinds of music that feel more positive to you or are related to something positive. Doing this has helped me have a healthy relationship with music and I will gladly say that leaving video game soundtracks behind has done wonders for my mental health.

Music is one of the most beautiful things we as humans have ever made. I'm so happy it exists.

Image of Gustavo Santaolalla playing the guitar by Wikimedia Commons.

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