You don’t have to be sad to make great music.
That’s the mantra behind Punk Talks, a new organization dedicated to offering assistance and support to touring musicians and industry workers.
Founded by Sheridan Allen just six months ago, Punk Talks operates under the premise that touring industry professionals live exceptionally strenuous lives, which in turn takes a toll on their mental health. Punk Talks exists as a support network, and as a way to further the conversation about mental health and self-care.
“There are countless reasons that this discussion is absolutely crucial to the music industry, but the most prevalent one is that, as a professional in music, you are faced with an enormous amount of pressure,” Allen said.
“If we aren’t providing them with support to deal with that or teaching them preventative measures and self-care, we are giving them unreasonable expectations and just assuming they will make it happen for themselves.”
Allen, a 24-year-old graduate student with both an educational and professional background in social work, developed an interest in the alternative music community at a young age. Growing up in rural Indiana, however, meant that there was little connection to a “scene” of any kind. After facing the same problem once moving to the Cincinnati area, she decided to carve a place for herself.
“Despite the lack of underground community near me, I felt that this was a community I belonged in; I felt like these were my people, and that I was going to miss my only shot at being a part of it,” Allen said. But after seeing how many up-and-coming bands were comprised of young adults trying to balance school and jobs, something became clear to her.
“I realized that there was really a need for a service that took a different approach to mental health awareness and providing hope in alternative music.”
Allen has spent the last half-year tirelessly promoting her organization by attending local and national shows, including sponsoring a stage at Bled Fest. She currently has plans to table on a leg of the Motion City Soundtrack/The Spill Canvas/Sorority Noise tour, as well as make the trek to Atlanta for the Wrecking Ball music festival.
“I promote lots of education and awareness of mental health and self-care, especially in how it relates to working in music,” Allen said of her involvement at shows and festivals. “I’ve made myself available to fans of music who need someone to talk to in addition to those who work in it.”
Much of Allen’s passion comes from her belief that there is a stigma against having bad mental health – or at least one against getting help for it.
“I do think that there is a huge stigma toward mental health in the music industry, specifically toward seeking professional treatment,” she said.
“Mental health issues can certainly make you apathetic, lethargic, and stubborn, but if you are at the point where you are reaching out for help, why not go the extra step to see a professional? Why are we so comfortable tweeting about our crippling anxiety or our deep depression, but so adamantly opposed to making a positive change?”
Allen’s point is one that rings uncomfortably true in an emo-rooted music scene that seems increasingly obsessed with aesthetics and romanticizing illnesses. This contributes to what Allen calls Sad Culture – something, she notes, that is very dangerous.
“For some reason, we have created a culture that encourages people to believe that if they are self-destructive and miserable, they will seem interesting and creative and mysterious, and that is terribly untrue and trivial,” she said
“[Mental illness] is not cute, it isn’t funny, and it isn’t something to advertise—it is real and it is awful. I urge anyone reading this: please stop trivializing mental illness because you think it’s trendy. It isn’t trendy and there is a reason why people use the term ‘suffering’ to describe experiencing it. It is our time to end Sad Culture and to make the underground music industry a positive environment.”
And at the end of the day, positivity is the driving force behind Punk Talks. Allen readily states this, and says while she may have huge dreams with what her organization might do in the future, her ultimate goal is a simple one:
“Honestly, my only actual long-term goal for Punk Talks is to help as many people in music as I can,” she said. “If I can help our community be happier, healthier, and feel more supported, I will have done my job.”