May 27, 2020

Sobriety, center stage

“Whenever I find MusiCares meetings along the way it’s just a sense of relief.”

Sirah, a Grammy-winning rapper.


By Alexandra Pecci

Life on the road can bring unpredictable schedules, celebrations of successes, and frustrations over failures. It’s no wonder the music industry has a reputation for temptation, with easy access to partying and drugs. But for twenty-five years, one organization has been breaking through the challenges unique to getting and staying sober in the industry.

MusiCares, an affiliated charity of The Recording Academy, helps people in the music industry build “a bridge over the potholes in life,” according to Executive Director Debbie Carroll.

Asdru Sierra, trumpeter and singer in the acclaimed band Ozomatli, remembers all too well the combination of touring and alcohol.

“It was always a problem whenever it would come around,” he says. “And once I was in a tour bus, it made it just really easy to just slack off.”

After all, he only needed to be present and awake for an hour a day; during the other 23 hours he could do “whatever the hell” he wanted. His addiction was fueled by alcohol mostly, he says, but “once you’re there you try everything else.” It affected not only him, but also his family.

“I made my life a mess, and in that process I dragged my wife and children into it,” he says. “I would just disappear, and I would get us into debt.”

Then, he found MusiCares.

“MusiCares is a safety net for the music industry,” Carroll says. The organization provides addiction, financial, medical and other confidential services to music people who are in need. Those people might range from up-and-coming artists, to lighting tech guys, to songwriters, to tour bus drivers, to road managers.

Despite the glitz and glamour, most people working in the music industry aren’t wildly wealthy, like Beyoncé or Toby Keith.

“Only the top 2% of the industry on the whole is really considered in that category,” Carroll says. In reality, the music industry can be a tough road, and people who work in the industry often don’t have access to benefits that other workers do, such as health insurance or a steady income.

Another artist that MusiCares helped was the Grammy-winning rapper Sirah.

“There’s always these down times because the music industry is a very up-and-down thing, and being in recovery is a very up-and-down thing,” she says. “I think artists are always going up and down emotionally and up and down financially.”

Sirah had been on her own since the age of 15, had lived in garages and Los Angeles’s Union Station, and had used “anything and everything” before getting sober. Although she had a few years of recovery under her belt, she was struggling to make a living in the music industry. Finally, Sirah reached the end of her rope: She was sick, unable to pay her rent or fix a broken refrigerator, and she was losing friends to addiction. That’s when MusiCares “basically saved my life,” she says.

To read the rest of this story, view the full spring issue of Renew.




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