Students at BIMM Brighton recently attended a talk on the importance of good mental health in the music industry with former One Direction keyboardist and Musical Director, Jon Shone. The event saw a packed room of students in attendance to hear Jon’s incredible story, the toll it took on his mental health and how he learnt to address his issues head-on.
Jon began his career at 18 and worked his way up the industry and in 2015 became Musical Director for multi-platinum-selling boy band One Direction. His time with the group saw him performing in front of hundreds of thousands fans at some of the world’s largest music arenas. After the band’s break-up in 2015, Jon struggled to settle back into ‘normal’ life after the demanding touring schedule he’d grown accustomed to.
Speaking of the group’s break-up, Shone stated: “As far as I knew, everything I’d hoped to achieve was done with and taken away from me”. Jon had difficulty adjusting and this quickly resulted in considerable issues with his own mental health.
Having learned to deal with his issues, Jon co-founded the creative mentoring company Alta whose focus is on giving back to struggling artists. The venture focuses on teaching personal resilience in creative industries.
Shone grew up in a middle-class family with parents whom he admits had a volatile relationship. So, when he received his very first Walkman, Jon turned to music for comfort, using it to drown out feelings of isolation at home
Shone recalled how in those early days, he developed a sense of escapism through music that’s stayed with him ever since. In the midst of struggle at home, he’d sit in his “creative escape room” listening to his Walkman and learning the keyboard skills that would eventually shape his future career.
In 2014, Jon joined the ranks of One Direction’s live band on their stadium tour. He described how surreal the whole experience was with countless sold-out shows across the world where he felt loved by all.
“People loved me and I wasn’t even the star of the show! People loved me by proxy. The feeling was like a drug”, he remembered.
Mental health decline
Despite being a stadium success, all was not well with Jon. Being thrust into a world with such relentlessly demanding work schedules caused his mental health to falter.
At 24, he overdosed on ecstasy, which was around the same time his parents divorced. He developed problems with sex, gambling and drugs. These things, coupled with a demanding stadium touring schedule where anything and everything was on-hand, eventually took their toll on the state of Shone’s state of mind.
Jon performed with One Direction for almost two years before they disbanded in 2015. He recalls his feelings when learning that the band would no longer tour together.
“As far as I was concerned, at the time, the end of the band was the end of me”. Shone felt very lost and isolated for a year afterward.
Turning negatives into positives
“I ended up having a phase of hating music and life,” said Jon. “It was an incredibly challenging time for me. Coming from such an opulent lifestyle to nothing was a drastic change. But in the end, it was the best thing. It taught me to find myself and how to be ‘just me’. This was one of the most powerful things that could’ve happened to me. I wrote a blog for the duration of my recovery.”
Having told his own story of mental health ups and downs, Jon opened up the floor to students to voice their own anxieties. Knowing they were in empathetic company, some students began expressing various issues, such as:
- Fear of not being enough
- Fear of being judged
- Being their own worst enemy
- Being misunderstood; and other anxieties.
Shone first offered reassurance by acknowledging the “safe creative space” of the learning environment at BIMM.
“The thing about BIMM is that it’s a place of experimentation. It’s a safe place to explore your creativity. You’re finding your path.”
He then offered some advice for those worried about being judged by others, and spoke of a man in his old writing class who had written a novel but feared releasing it. He referenced how even Beyoncé still has fears of living up to her previous successes and maintaining such a high standard in all that she does.
Shone’s advice for students was to free themselves of these worries by avoiding comparisons of their own efforts with the work of others.
“If you stay true to you, no one can question what you’re doing or who you are. Usain Bolt stays in his own lane. He doesn’t look around and compare himself to other runners when competing. Don’t compare yourself to the person next to you. Stay in your lane! The beauty is that you’re unique and special in your own way. Just do you.”
Before finishing up the session, Jon spoke of a mind-trick that he’d developed himself, which helps in dealing with the level of self-scrutiny that’s commonplace among creative people. He dubbed this technique ‘turning on the lights in your own stadium’.
“Imagine you’re in a stadium full of people. The lights are blinding you, but you can hear these people talking (i.e. doubts in your head). You can say ‘House lights up!’. That’s the power you can summon to see every single one of those voices and confront them. The more you look at the voices, the more you get the chance to say: ‘thank you, but not today’.
“Everyone talked about their own experience and seeing that everyone has the same problems and the same thoughts was very helpful. It gives you more confidence that you’re not alone out there.” – Sarah, BA1 Guitar
“This talk was really inspiring as Jon showed me a way of thinking through my thoughts that I’d never considered. He opened my eyes to the fact that we are our own worst enemy and that we should spread love not only in our surroundings but to ourselves.” – Anna, BA2 Songwriting
We’re incredibly thankful to Jon for taking the time to tell our students of his amazing story as well as his own mental health struggles and triumphs. If you’re intrigued by Jon’s story, you can read more about his time touring with One Direction in our Stadium Success Masterclass here.
At BIMM, we take the mental health of our students very seriously. That’s why each of our campuses have dedicated Student Support teams who offer housing and finance advice, confidential tutorials, student enrichment events and regular mental health panels.