In 2012, Junia Abaidoo, Tunde Balogun, Justice Baiden, Sean Famoso McNichol, and Carlon Ramong cofounded Love Renaissance (LVRN) with the goal of making love cool again.
Its five founders felt like music was in a dark place and wanted to create a business that served as an inspiration to people from every walk of life. Since its inception, LVRN has blossomed into a creative agency/management team/record label that’s home to chart-topping artists Summer Walker, 6lack, and more. Over the past eight years, its founders have earned a reputation for their progressive approach to running their business, as well as establishing it as an Atlanta-based hub where creatives can flourish.
From the outset, a key component to LVRN’s success was the value it placed on mental health. Executives worked regularly, for instance, with therapists on team building and communication exercises. But in April, the company made its commitment to wellness official—just in time for May, which is Mental Health Awareness Month—with the launch of an entire division focused on psychological wellness for LVRN staff and artists.
“It started out with us trying to improve the way that we operate and how we relate to one another as five founders, but then we realized that all of our different artists have different needs with the issues they deal with on a day-to-day basis,” Abaidoo tells Fast Company. “We’ve always tried to curate a culture that was friendly to artists and our team, so we’re building things out tailored to each person.”
The portrait of mental health in the music industry has been notoriously bleak. According to a 2018 study by the Music Industry Research Association, 50% of musicians reported battling symptoms of depression—that’s twice the rate of the general population. Another study, in Sweden, found that 73% of independent musicians have battled stress, anxiety, and depression.
LVRN artists and their teams had access to meditation sessions and coaching while on tour, but a chance encounter with licensed marriage and family therapist Syreeta Butler at a music festival last fall changed the course of the company’s approach. Butler had years of experience with her own private practice geared toward musicians and had pitched her services to record labels, only to be met with skepticism. But LVRN leadership understood her vision and brought her on as a consultant for what they describe as the first mental health and wellness division at a record label.
“When a company signs an artist, they encourage them to focus their performance abilities by providing vocal and dancing coaches, trainers, etc. But they don’t ever think about providing mental health support so artists can build a solid emotional foundation before they find themselves in high-pressure situations on the road,” Butler says. “My practice is about understanding and teaching how to combat anxiety and a high-stress, high-performing environment, whether you’re a creative, executive, or staff member. It’s supporting people and understanding and learning how to meditate, and taking holistic ideas and putting them into practice, whether that’s a sound bath and supporting people in understanding where they hold stress and where they hold energy, and teaching about cultural awareness and cultural competency.”
Last year, singer-songwriter Summer Walker received social media backlash after announcing that she was experiencing social anxiety and would be canceling several tour dates. Due to confidentiality, LVRN wouldn’t disclose the course of action taken in Walker’s care, but it emphasized that supporting her was most important. Healthy people are productive people, which is what’s best for any organization.
“When Summer is comfortable, she is going to address everything directly. The thing with mental health is that a lot of people still don’t really take it seriously. I think it’s really about education because even I’ve taken time out over the past year to learn more,” says Balogun. “Mental health issues look different for everyone. I really love Summer because she put that out there and broke the ice. She wasn’t the first one, and she got some backlash about it, but that was for her to say, and it really made her feel good to get that off her chest. I just hope that pushes everybody else to speak up. When I was growing up, the people I looked up to were Puff and Chaka Zulu from DTP. But if I was to see Ludacris back in the day say, ‘We’re doing therapy,’ then I would think it was okay.”
LVRN’s mental health program will evolve as the year goes on and as they get suggestions from employees, but for now they hope that everyone involved learns to be effective communicators and that similar practices will start to become the norm in the music industry.
“This is not us putting ourselves out there and saying we’re the first. This is us saying, ‘Reach out to us if you want some advice on how we did it, and if you’re already doing it, let’s help do it together,'” Balogun says. “This needs to be more of a community thing. This is us being human beings trying to get our minds better and stronger. Some of the greatest companies, teams, and labels failed and crumbled because communication between the higher-ups wasn’t right, whether it’s egos or feelings. And when you get to the root, it was really nothing. But everybody has different personalities, and you have to communicate with each other in different ways. It’s not a one-size-fits-all type of approach, because human beings are different.”