ADHD The Music Business And Me

This article first appeared in Music Business Worldwide.

Today (January 17), Universal Music UK launches Creative Differences – an initiative, amongst other things, designed to help ensure that the brightest professional talent with dyslexia, dyscalculia, ADHD, autism and other forms of neurocognitive variation are given a fair chance during company recruitment processes. Here, British music industry veteran, Andy Edwards (pictured), describes his own experiences in the music biz. Edwards, a long-term artist manager, was recently appointed Director of Research and Analysis for London-based umbrella trade org UK Music. He also continues to manage Grammy award winning producer and mixer Cameron Craig.

After spending over twenty-five years in the music business, it was quite a thing for me to be diagnosed with Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder (ADHD) last year. The psychiatrist told me, “You have had this your entire life.”

Having lived with ADHD for all that time without knowing made for a pretty emotional moment.

Getting diagnosed in the UK is a lengthy process and resources are severely limited. Over twelve months ago, I went to see my GP and was referred for a psychiatric assessment. After a lot of showbiz-style hustling, I managed to get an appointment in early June.

While waiting for my diagnosis, which followed a couple of months later, I read with great interest an article in the London Evening Standard, Universal Music CEO David Joseph: Why I’m standing up for difference.

David was speaking about neurodiversity, the umbrella term covering ADHD, obsessive compulsive disorder (OCD), dyslexia, dyspraxia, dyscalculia and autistic spectrum disorder (ASD). Universal Music is supporting significant work to better understand this issue. The music business as a whole should support this too.

It may appear self-evident that in an industry full of “eccentric” people that neurodiversity ought to be understood. But do we truly understand ourselves? How many times do we hear that an individual artist or executive is “difficult” without any qualification of what that actually means? A lot.

We do not, as an industry, understand neurodiversity as well as we should. For the same reason that, for an industry that is mentally and physically demanding, mental health and wellness have only become better understood in recent years. The stigma surrounding this issue is slowly subsiding, but there is a long way to go.

Neurodiversity is the next major social frontier that we in the music business must address. Together with BAME inclusion, gender equality, disability, LGBTQ rights and mental health, doing so will make our industry bigger, better and more effective.

I am still learning the nuances of mental health and neurodiversity and where these concepts differ and intersect. I can tell you that I do not suffer from depression per se, but I do think differently and sometimes I act differently too. D for “Disorder” is rather unhelpful; in reality, D is more about “Difference”.

The easiest way for me to explain ADHD is to share how it has impacted on me.

At school I could write imaginative stories in English classes, yet I would always struggle in exams, as I could not remember the passage I had just read. Maths was easier as I could figure out the logic in an exam, even if I was often bored in class.

It was no coincidence that during my early career in major labels I was referred to as the “numbers guy” (marketing strategy). I could handle the numbers, but I was just as interested in the narrative. Former colleagues from that time who stayed in touch eventually got to know the whole me. I worked really hard, but often tried too hard.

From an early age I assumed I was stupid, but, in fact, I am highly intelligent. I didn’t realize this until I took an IQ test a couple of years ago and scored extremely well.

When I shared this news with a friend of mine, a prominent music lawyer, they just rolled their eyes and said, “Of course you are highly intelligent! This I know!” But I didn’t. I was stunned and this was the light bulb moment that would lead me along the path towards seeking a diagnosis.

Unwittingly, high intelligence has helped mitigate the impact of my ADHD and helped me survive in what can be a very demanding arena.

People with ADHD can be inattentive, hyperactive and impulsive. But we can also be highly creative, hyper-focused (if properly motivated) and brilliant problem solvers. People with ADHD are not stupid, although sometimes we are made to feel that way.

Artists such as Will.I.Am, SZA, Solange Knowles and Justin Timberlake all have ADHD, but so do many executives including including Ari Emmanuel, co-CEO of William Morris Endeavor. Three times Tour de France winner Greg LeMond also has ADHD.

ADHD should not be a barrier to success. In fact, it can be a superpower. Problems occur where there is no diagnosis, so the person concerned does not understand their own potential. Or other people misunderstand and underestimate that person.

Ari Emmanuel’s father, a paediatrician, diagnosed him with ADHD and dyslexia at a young age. His supportive parents were able to confront his unsupportive teachers and, as Ari himself points out, his parents encouraged him to aim high regardless.

My greatest challenge has been not that I have had ADHD my whole life, but not knowing I had it and, crucially, not knowing how to manage it.

Over time I developed my own coping strategies and that process has accelerated over the past few years. For instance, in small group meetings or one-to-one conversations I can talk for England, but when speaking in public I am concise and impactful, even when speaking off the cuff. Accordingly, I try to make mental bullet points before speaking so that the words in my head are delivered with more power.

Greg LeMond was, like me, diagnosed later in life. We both unconsciously mitigated our ADHD through hard aerobic exercise – i.e. cycling really fast. I managed to navigate one company through a precarious financial position with the threat of litigation and insolvency to ensure its survival. ADHD enabled me to hyper-focus, but cycling to and from the office helped me to stay calm and keep on top of the detail.

ADHD can make me impulsive at times, but combined with boldness and sincerity this can work to my advantage. People know where they stand with me.

There have been challenges. During my career, I have been called “an oddball”, “a weirdo”, and told that I “talk like a computer.” Some kind friends advised me not to include that last line, but then other friends who have opened up to me about their own neurodiversity have validated that experience. Plenty of us are seen as “odd” or “weird” by some, because some folks out there, even in the music business, either just don’t get it or are just plain mean or both.

In fairness, these were isolated incidents. For the most part, industry colleagues have been supportive and professional. Neurodiverse or not, we should all support our colleagues and strive to achieve our individual and collective goals. Embracing neurodiverse people who think differently enables the music business adapt to a continually changing creative and commercial landscape.

It starts with awareness. 5% of people globally are estimated to have ADHD. Few are diagnosed. The USA is more progressive, but the UK is way behind.

There is now more awareness and school-aged children who do receive an early diagnosis have better life chances, but adults who grew up in the 70s, 80s and 90s have been missed. They are out there. They are in the music business. They may be called “difficult” or “weird”, over-compensating and not realizing their true greatness, or possibly even sidelined. Wasted talent. Yet there is an opportunity for the music business to take a lead and aim higher. Neurodiversity is deeply personal and hugely sensitive. It does not get talked about much, but we are at a tipping point.

Even if you are not neurodiverse yourself, this concerns you too. Understanding how neurodiverse colleagues, artists and business partners think and act should be just as important as addressing unconscious bias. It means that we all do better and achieve better outcomes both individually and collectively.

The music business has always been a tough, competitive arena that requires resilience and grit. Having a more refined social conscience does not change any of that. But there is room for being smarter and kinder and getting the very best out of people.

We are still a people business, right?