Hilary Gleason and Kendall Corso formed the nonprofit Backline in 2019 — to connect music industry professionals with mental health and wellness providers.
Backline swiftly shifted its methods for providing care during the global pandemic, the effects of which were especially devastating for those with careers in entertainment when live music came to a screeching halt in 2020.
On Saturday, April 10, Backline partners with Relix Magazine to present “Set Break“—a live-streaming event featuring musical performances from Alanis Morisette, Black Pumas, and Nashville-based artists including Ben Folds, Langhorne Slim, Larkin Poe, Nicki Bluhm and Nicole Atkins—dedicated to raising funds and new friends that can power what’s next for the organization. Morning Host Celia Gregory connected with Hilary Gleason in advance of the event, which begins April 10 at 3pm CDT on the Relix Twitch channel.
Celia Gregory: Hilary, thanks for joining me electronically from the West Coast a few days in advance of this cool livestream event that your organization Backline is doing in partnership with Relix. Is this a new venture for Backline, a livestream event like this?
Hilary Gleason: It is! This will be our first livestream, and we’re super excited about it. We’ve been primarily grassroots up until now, but we have reached the point in time that we are ready to bring this to every genre and every fan base and have a ton of artists that have signed on to support us that we haven’t yet worked with. So it is a really exciting event for us and maybe only possible by the live stream model that we’re in right now.
CG: Let’s back up. Tell me what *this* is, that this event will be supporting. What is Backline’s mission and how do you fulfill it?
HG: Backline is a nonprofit organization that provides mental health and wellness resources to the music industry and their families. We fulfill that through a couple of different programs right now with many more to come. Our primary feature is a case management program where people can submit a form on our website, get paired up with one of our licensed clinicians within Backline. We do a quick assessment of what they’re struggling with, whether they have insurance, whether they have an ability to pay, and then we’re able to refer them out to great mental health resources that are specifically chosen by our team for them, so taking a lot of the guesswork out of getting help, which is a really important thing for people in the music industry who are often quite busy. And when we built it, it was really around a touring industry. So a lot of what we did with the case management program was for people who were in tour busses or vans or at events all the time. So that’s our first feature. And then we also run support groups on Zoom. Fortunately, we have a whole host of free wellness content and partnerships that people can access and we are really just trying to make it easier for people in the music industry to get mental health and wellness services when they need them.
CG: Oh, wow. That makes so much sense that when you started it was all about accessibility for folks that live and work on the road. How have the services changed in the last year or so when folks have been mostly, unfortunately, at home? Is it easier now maybe for folks to access care if they’re not touring?
HG: As many therapists and life coaches have now moved to FaceTime or Zoom sessions because they had to in a pandemic, they now have that software and all of that figured out. So we’re thinking that more people will be providing those kinds of services moving forward, which is really exciting. As we look to go back on the road, the support group that we have, we actually launched as a result of the pandemic last March. We’ve done over 150 hours of free support groups, something that we wouldn’t have started probably without the pandemic. That now will be a continuous feature of our efforts. It’s exciting to have something that was sort of pivot-induced that now is a real core tenet of what we’re doing. And, yes, I think it is easier for people to get help right now. The pandemic has normalized mental health challenges and brought them to the forefront. For a lot of people, it’s become much easier to talk to one another about them because the past year has been so difficult, even if you’ve never had a challenge like that before. We have to just continue to find low- and no-cost ways to provide help for people. That has become more and more important as many people have been out of work for the past year or so, whereas they may have been able to pay more for a great therapist somewhere. We are now having to ask therapists to provide their services pro bono or on a sliding scale rate, and have been amazed at the response from the clinical community in stepping up to meet this need.
CG: That’s so nice to hear, because yes, of course, as demand really goes up for mental health services, in some cases, the means to provide at the individual, the per patient level, goes down. So this event that’s coming up on Saturday, April 10, it’s a livestream through the Twitch Channel of music magazine Relix. How did this come about, this partnership with this event called “Set Break?” You have this amazing roster of artists, including lots of those we play here on WNXP—Black Pumas, Alanis Morissette, Nashville-based artists like Ben Folds, Langhorne Slim, Larkin Poe, Nicole Atkins—it’s totally stacked.
HG: The lineup came together in an amazing way, like most things do, when you just put a call out into the universe and say, “Hey, we’re going to be doing this thing talking about mental health in the music industry. We want artists from every genre. We want artists that have a personal connection to this or want to speak to this cause.” You know, it’s going to run kind of like a telethon. And there are some people actually speaking to what mental health and music look like. So we put out an all-call and we got a bunch of responses back from people. It’s really fun to make that initial list of here’s who we want. Of course, we wanted Alanis Morissette. She’s on the record about mental health. She’s an icon. She’s amazing. And so to get that “yes” back from her really just makes us feel good about what we’re doing, that it resonates with the people that we are trying to serve. And I’m excited to bring this to fans next week.
CG: I also see that in addition to the music, Set Break is filled with interactive wellness activities. What can folks expect if they attend besides musical performances?
HG: Musical performances are a big part of it. Our interactive wellness experiences will be paired with music. I love the way that music interacts with yoga or breath work, which we will have. And we also have a great meditation—all of those are services we’ve been providing to our network over the past year. And so it’s going to be fun to bring wellness into the experience and really present this opportunity for collective healing for both fans and the music industry. It’s been such a tough year, as you said, without live music. So I’m ready to come together and and take a breath and set some intentions about seeing live music safely this year and making sure that everyone who is a part of bringing live music back is happy, healthy and supported as they get ready to do that. So the wellness parts are super exciting. We’ll be talking with our partners at the Black Mental Health Alliance about what it means to be a Black music industry professional and actually diving into what that looks like and how we’re going to be working together this year. And so it’s going to be substantial. It’s going to be moving and inspirational. And there’s also going to be a ton of great music.
CG: I’m already envisioning needing a clean slate because it’s going to be like a cathartic, happy tears event. You mentioned the partnership with the Black Mental Health Alliance, which was just announced since this Set Break event was. Lots of things happening in 2021 for Backline!
HG: Yes, we’ve been working with Black Mental Health Alliance for the past couple of months and wanted to make sure that we got the formal announcement out there in advance of the event, so people know that it’s coming. We have a commitment to making these resources overtly accessible to everyone, recognizing that everyone’s experience is different. We have to dive in with partners who understand, you know, different cultural and economic and social differences in getting mental health because it’s not a one-size-fits-all solution. It’s not a one-size-fits-all journey. So we’re excited to be working with Black Mental Health Alliance to more deeply understand the experience of Black people in the music industry and people of color in the music industry. And we have several more partnerships will be rolling out in the coming months that are speaking to other experiences within this. We couldn’t expand without those kinds of partnerships, so we’re super grateful for their experience and willingness to work with us on our efforts that specifically serve a community that brings hope to so many people around the country and around the world.
CG: People of color are powering the music business like so many other businesses, right, and yet may be the least able to access resources right now in the greatest time of need. You mentioned being able to expand the offerings of Backline. How will proceeds from this event be used? I believe it’s free of charge. If folks want to log on and just enjoy the event and be inspired, as you said, they can do that. But donations will go towards the work that you do and some other efforts, right?
HG: Yes, Backline has a long list of programs that we hope to be able to do that we don’t have funding for yet, and so we are very excited to see how much money is raised and then have those meetings about how it’s going to be best spent, what money we can be providing towards partnerships like that with the Black Mental Health Alliance. We are going to be doing a ton of industry trainings this year, both around the work we’re doing with Black Mental Health Alliance and also providing people bite-size tips for de-escalating anxiety when they are back on the road, back to work. Efforts are going to be huge this year as we bring more and more case managers and people onto our clinical team to assist the people coming to us that need a little bit of help in navigating mental healthcare space. We are also benefiting the Sweet Relief Musicians Fund that provides scholarships and therapy. So when people come through Backline’s program and they aren’t able to pay for services, we send them over there and they can get a little bit of help and get started on that journey. And then we are also supporting Crew Nation, which has been such an incredible effort by folks over at Live Nation to provide the necessary and lifesaving funds for people right now as they are out of work and unable to pay for rent, groceries or living expenses. So we are so grateful for our partners, for all of the work that they’ve been doing to actually provide funding to individuals. And it’s important that we are highlighting them just as much as we’re highlighting Backline on April 10.
CG: What you said struck me: when you started this organization you were trying to meet the needs of folks in the music business, including on the road, and you’ve had to pivot to counsel folks and make sure they have the resources they need when they’re off the road and maybe out of work for a long period of time. What I didn’t consider was then the shift in service-providing when people are back ON the road and what a jarring shift that is for folks who might have spent their whole entire careers thus far in that touring cycle followed by this prolonged period of time at home. I know we have personal friends—everybody listening in Nashville, Tennessee, probably has personal friends—who have experienced this complete, abrupt halt to the life that they’ve always known. And so to get back into the swing of things, even if it’s exciting and hopeful, especially for financial reasons, it’s probably very nerve-wracking. So I love to hear that you’re prepared to to meet those needs of the changing landscape of music and the shifts that these folks individually are facing.
HG: Yeah, I mean, I haven’t been in a closed space with anyone in a long time, so the thought of being in a green room or a crowd, as excited as I am to be there, I also know that I’ll feel some anxiety and people have varying scales of that. So we are expecting it. We’re ready for it. And we want to be sure that we are proactive about the kinds of conversations we’re having leading into that.
CG: You told me [Relix founder and owner of storied music venues including The Capitol Theater and Brooklyn Bowl] Peter Shapiro wan early sponsor of Backline, and serves as an advisor to the work. You have both medical health professionals and music industry folks offering their wisdom to get this thing going and keep it relevant at all times, combining the power of science and resources in the medical community with the direct insight into what musicians and people that power the music business need. How are you uniquely poised to to do this at Backline?
HG: We always go back to the fact that we were built by the music industry for the music industry, our origin story involves 130+ music industry professionals on a series of conference calls talking about what they were actually experiencing. So artists or managers, agents, the whole gamut of the industry were on this call saying, “When I struggled, this is what I didn’t have” or “When somebody in my band struggles, this is what we usually do” and then we act on that feedback. We continually put that feedback through a clinical lens to make sure that any programs that we’re building are clinically sound, ethically appropriate, culturally grounded. And then we bring it back to the music industry and say, “We want your feedback. Here’s what we built with our clinical team. Does this seem like something you would use?” Before it ever goes out as an official program, it goes through this wash and dry cycle of music, clinicians, music, clinicians. And that’s why I think people are really resonating with it, because it’s something that they have a say in what it looks like, who it’s built by. Like, “I’ve been there, been in a band or in the lowest bunk on the tour bus, and I’m not going to fill out this checklist, but I might use an app on my phone that teaches me how to do breath work. Sure, it takes two minutes. I’ll try it.” Our efforts have been really successful, I think, because they’re based on feedback and we continually take feedback. And if anyone in the music industry has an idea of something that we could be doing, send us a message, because that’s really how we want to continue to operate, as part of the music industry as opposed to being outside trying to provide services.
CG: That’s a great way to wrap up. How can folks not just attend this livestreaming event on April 10 and maybe get pulled in to the Backline family via live music with all these great artists, but also support you long-term and have their finger to the pulse? Whether they are a donor or a music industry professional who would like to participate and benefit from your services, how do they find you?
HG: You can find us online at www.backline.care and on social media everywhere also @backline.care. And you can catch us April 10 on the Relix Channel on Twitch for Set Break, which will be an all-day affair [beginning at 4pm EDT]. So any time on Saturday come through, we have an incredible group of people that will be performing and participating and are really excited for audiences to see what we’ve been up to.
CG: Oh, that’s awesome. Well, thank you so much for the work that you’re doing and the partnerships you’re forging to make sure to reach as many people as possible. And for our part in Music City, U.S.A., if you can get here from the West Coast once it’s safe to do that, I hope we can cross paths at a show sometime.
HG: I hope so, too. Thank you so much.