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Youth Music Self-Expression Report

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young person playing guitar and singing into mic
Photo credit: Brighter Sound

“For once I’m going to get heard”

Published 10 November 2021

Exploring the links between songwriting, self-expression and wellbeing in young people.

It’s hard to be a young person in the UK. A recent data release from the Office of National Statistics shows that the wellbeing of young people in the UK is declining, with young women in particular reporting lower levels of overall life satisfaction and happiness over the past five years. And undeniably, the COVID-19 pandemic and lockdown has affected young people’s mental health, with young people reporting lower levels of life satisfaction and happiness, and higher levels of loneliness than older groups (UCL COVID-19 Social Study).

At Youth Music, we understand the transformative power of music making. Youth Music funded projects* regularly tell us that expressing thoughts and feelings through music is beneficial to young people’s wellbeing, and our own research backs this up too.

We decided we wanted to know more about this: why is writing songs and lyrics such an effective method for young people to express themselves? How does it help them to say what they want to say? And what can we learn from the projects and young musicians working in this way?

In early 2021, we recruited four Next Gen co-researchers aged 18-25 to work with us on analysing the interview data to ensure the voices of young people were being represented and listened to throughout the entire research process. Youth Music has authored this report, but the co-researchers were instrumental in the feeding back and editing of the draft.

Download the 2021 Self Expression Report below to learn more about the links between songwriting, self-expression and wellbeing in young people.

*Youth Music is a national charity funded thanks to the National Lottery via Arts Council England, players of People's Postcode Lottery and support from partners, fundraisers and donors.

Processing emotions and events

Young musicians use music and lyric-writing as a means of processing emotions and events, encouraging reflection from a young age. They also use it as a therapeutic tool for regulating and channelling their moods into something positive.

“It can be a really good release actually, it’s kind of like, therapy in a way, for me anyway, being able to write something and get it out of my head, so it’s sort of off my chest as well.” – Arthur

“Sometimes hearing your thoughts out loud – it’s almost like speaking to yourself as well. It really helps you even understand your own stuff better, as well as helping other people understand theirs” – Thalia

Communicating with others

They also use it to communicate their stories and emotions through their music with others. Many young musicians find this a more effective way to get their thoughts and feelings across than they do through conversation alone.

“You feel you’re too scared to say it, but you’re not too scared to sing it. So you make a song, and then you finally get your point across. ‘Cos you’re not scared, you’re able to say what you want to say.” – Ellie

A sense of purpose

Writing music gives young people a sense of purpose. Feeling like they have something important to communicate brings a sense of duty and pride in what they do and how their message is perceived by others.

Young musicians are using music as a means of helping themselves and each other. They use their lyrics to communicate about important topics like mental health, and to show each other they are not alone.

“I songwrite to get the messages out there, for people who need to listen to them.” – Ellie

“It makes me distracted in that moment. At least if I’m angry or whatever, it distracts me from that moment. It makes me feel a bit better about myself – well, a lot better to be honest – and, like, ‘ok, I’m capable of doing this’.” – Kelly

“I get a lot of messages, daily, basically saying how my music helps them, ‘cos they’ve been through that pain. And I feel like a lot of the people in the UK have been through pain like this, with depression and stuff.” – Sean

Empowering their voices

Writing original music and lyrics is a powerful way for young people to be heard in a world that doesn’t always listen to them. Young musicians don’t always feel heard by the world around them in day-to-day life, but their music empowers them to get important viewpoints across. 

“There are things you shouldn’t say that people don’t want to hear. But in tracks you can say it because it’s a music piece.” – Misha

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