Neurodiverse conditions like ADHD are common among people in the dance music scene. We sat down with Tristan Hunt, former AFEM Regional Manager turned ADHD Music Industry Coach, to learn more about how neurodiversity fuels the creativity that powers electronic music.
Until recently, Tristan Hunt worked as the Regional Manager for The Association of Electronic Music, (AFEM) but left to start his own company as an ADHD Music Industry Coach.
In recent years, the discussion around ADHD and other neurological conditions has exponentially increased. In September of last year, Attack’s Harold Heath penned a particularly insightful piece for DJ Mag that discusses his own journey towards diagnosis and asks “how common is it in dance music?”
His study was to uncover if there are more people working in the creative sector getting diagnosed with ADHD (and other conditions for example autism, dyslexia and Tourette syndrome) than in other industries. In short, is there something about club culture that attracts people with ADHD? And what about DJing?
This answer, at this stage, is that the data is still being developed. It’s too early to tell. However, Hunt (who himself was recently diagnosed in 2020) believed he had identified that indeed there were many musicians, some diagnosed and others not, who he could possibly help on their own journey. To that end, he took the leap to set up a coaching firm to assist those people.
Attack editor Eric Brünjes sat down with him to discuss the company, to clarify some terms and how his coaching methods could help.
Attack: With your new ADHD coaching business, are you only working with people in the music industry?
Tristan Hunt: No, but I started the business with musicians in mind. Having worked in music for 20 years, and being diagnosed (with ADHD) later in life, I could see there was a gap in this type of therapy for musicians. With my experience, I felt uniquely qualified for this.
Long term it doesn’t have to be specific to the sector but for now, my clients are broadly music based.
Is there a part of the music industry that is most affected?
I’m not sure that we have enough data on that to say with enough accuracy.
As it’s a spectrum condition different symptoms show up in different ways from mild to severe. ADHD is also a situational condition meaning the environment or activity may make it easier or harder for a person with the condition to utilise their executive functions, such as memory, organising, planning, or prioritising.
This can be one reason why people start self-medicating with drugs and alcohol for example. Cocaine, cannabis, and alcohol often help calm their mind and make it easier to focus. But you take that same artist, and you put them into their home studio environment, or at home, and as it’s relaxed or quiet, their symptoms won’t be as apparent.
ADHD is principally a genetic condition, that is chronic and often lifelong. That’s why good management of it is important. For most people, ADHD stimulant medication is highly effective, while coaching, diet, exercise, and meditation as part of an effective daily routine can also be highly beneficial in managing its symptoms.
On your site, you have a test anyone can take. I took it and got a score of three. What does that mean?
Basically, a score of four to six upwards suggests that a person might show symptoms of ADHD. If you score in this range and feel ADHD may be present or problematic for you, a visit to your doctor to explore getting a clinical ADHD assessment might be worth considering.
It’s worth repeating that ADHD is a spectrum condition and symptoms can display differently across people.
The brains of people with ADHD are chronically starved of a neurotransmitter called dopamine. But if they are interested in something, their brains make more dopamine which enables them to do the task at hand
Does that mean therefore that, there’s more than one type of ADHD?
Yes. There are three sub-types of ADHD. You’ve got predominantly inattentive, which is what I have. Girls and women get this type more and, because it doesn’t exhibit in a physically obvious way, it often doesn’t get noticed and so they fail to be diagnosed.
There’s predominantly hyperactive, which you might consider as the image of the “classic naughty little boy” jumping around at school. It’s more obvious, which is one reason why more boys and men are diagnosed with the condition than women.
The last type is where those two are combined with people displaying both symptoms.
I couldn’t help but notice you took some medication before our chat. Was that medication for ADHD?
Yes. It helps my focus. ADHD affects the part of the brain called the prefrontal cortex which is responsible for executive functioning. That in turn is responsible for things like planning, organization and memory.
ADHD medication helps me sift through mental tasks with greater clarity and focus.
What led you to be diagnosed yourself?
Lockdown. It was very tough for people with ADHD. There was an increase in people reaching out for ADHD diagnoses for support in lockdown.
The pandemic forced a lot of people to quite suddenly confront their ADHD. I could see and feel that focus and attention were getting harder.
A good indicator of that is often procrastination. If something is not of interest or immediately rewarding, ADHD makes it far harder for them to tackle something – like a tax return or raising an invoice. Something banal. That same person however might spend 12 hours straight in the studio because of the feeling, the positive feeling, it gives them
The brains of people with ADHD are chronically starved of a neurotransmitter called dopamine. But if they are interested in something, their brains make more dopamine which enables them to do the task at hand.
People with ADHD often carry huge amounts of shame, guilt, and regret because they fail to do or finish things that are important to them or crucial to their job, for instance. But this isn’t their fault. It is due to their brains lacking the dopamine needed to get the job done.
Is there a connection between diet and ADHD?
Yes, and it’s important to be aware of the relationship between the gut and the brain.
What we have with people with ADHD is something called L-Dopa which gets made in the gut. It’s the precursor to that all-important molecule dopamine. L-Dopa can cross the blood-brain barrier” so it can basically go from the bloodstream across into the brain. Once there the brain synthesizes this into dopamine. Now we have a key neurotransmitter missing for ADHD.
In turn, the brain can then convert dopamine into another noradrenaline. These two key neuromodulators that people with ADHD need but have insufficient amounts of have their origins, are, therefore, being produced in the gut. Having healthy levels of dopamine and noradrenaline is absolutely vital to improving ADHD symptoms and a good diet plays a role in maintaining this.
What is also synthesized at the same time in terms of dopamine is noradrenaline. These two key neuromodulators that people with ADHD need but have insufficient amounts of are therefore being produced in the gut. Having healthy dopamine is absolutely vital and a good diet is key to maintaining this.
What about your own diet?
Now that I understand my ADHD, I find it pretty easy to manage. I have a protein-rich porridge in the morning and then no carbs till the evening. Maybe I’ll have some light cheese and nuts in the afternoon. I generally also avoid drinking and drugs as I’m more aware of how much worse they make my ADHD symptoms.
How long would you say on average coaching lasts?
It’s normally eight 50-minute sessions to start with held weekly or fortnightly. All over Zoom so clients are worldwide which can help artists on tour.
Non-sequential thinking is a gift from ADHD that fires creative genius, sparking new song ideas.
What is a KPI for someone you’re working with?
After eight sessions a client should have gained a good understanding of their ADHD.
We can then dive into the tools and techniques to help. It’s a very qualitative, subjective experience, so the approach is tailored specifically for each person.
I then help them build an effective routine so they can manage their ADHD symptoms better and enjoy life more.
People with ADHD are born with high levels of sensitivity, so it takes less stimulation for them to feel overwhelmed. They can feel hurt by a sense of real or perceived rejection quite easily. Known as Rejection Sensitive Dysphoria (RSD) a profound sense of rejection can manifest from something as simple as an offhand comment. Our process helps clients handle these events and the after-effects in a healthier way.
Has the widespread use of technology increased the diagnoses of ADHD?
It’s a bit of both. Greater use of technology like social media and rapid task switching between different device screens can inflame symptoms, while at the same time, social media and the internet have helped increase awareness. On my site, so many people gravitate towards the self-ADHD test from the WHO. Its clear people are interested to find out more and it’s great the tools are there to guide them.
Do you think you can help prolong people’s careers?
Yeah, absolutely. Non-sequential thinking is a gift from ADHD that fires creative genius, sparking new song ideas, but it is also part of why people often struggle to get that same song finished. Certainly, this is a problem that many musicians who have ADHD struggle with.
Helping artists overcome this challenge in the songwriting process is one of the ways I can help.
Would it be fair to say some stigma is attached to discussing ADHD?
Yes, there is still a stigma associated with it. It also depends on where you are.
By that, I mean if you go to the US, there is more openness and far more advanced research and support for the condition than in Europe and the rest of the world.
I would say awareness about ADHD and neurodiversity in the music industry is roughly where it was on the topic of mental health six or seven years ago. While, thanks in part to the legacies of Keith Flint and Avicii, the topic of mental health is now widely discussed.
How do you summarize neurodiversity?
It’s harder than it might seem because it’s so rapidly evolving. It encompasses many things such as autism, Tourette’s, dyslexia, dyscalculia, dyspraxia and ADHD.
I feel this quote from doctors at Harvard sums it up well, “Neurodiversity describes the idea that people experience and interact with the world around them in many different ways; there is no one “right” way of thinking, learning, and behaving, and differences are not viewed as deficits.”
But with ADHD, having the words ‘Deficit’ and ‘Disorder’ in the descriptor of the condition does nothing to reduce the stigma. I don’t find that helpful
I hadn’t even contemplated that...
It’s a rubbish description. It’s not about a ‘deficit’ of attention, rather people with ADHD have too much attention – for everything! It’s actually about not being able to focus your attention on one thing and hold it there for sustained periods of time
I don’t regard it as a disorder either, far from it, in the music industry, it can be a huge advantage. Creative energy in the music business flows strongly from people with ADHD and other neurodiverse conditions.
Musicians with ADHD are generally non-linear thinkers. This means they can form radically new ideas by stringing together seemingly unconnected, harmonies, melodies, and rhythms in their minds. There is nothing deficit about that.
Are there other ways you suggest it should be referred to?
The one I think works best is from Dr. Edward Hallowell which is VAST or “Variable Attention Stimulus Trait”.
Hallowell’s book ‘ADHD 2.0′ is brilliant and a must-read for anyone interested in the subject.
Are there any notable musicians who have ADHD?
One person who Attack’s readers are likely to know is Saytek, who has dyslexia, ADHD, dyspraxia and ASD.
I’m moderating an AFEM Neurodiversity panel featuring him at AVA Conference in Printworks, London on the subject this month (February). The music industry is a creative ideas-driven sector that has a lot of people with ADHD but not everyone is comfortable discussing it. So, when you have artists of Saytek’s calibre speaking out about it, that goes a long way to help further people’s understanding and reduce the stigma.
For people reading this, other than your service, what would you suggest people do next when researching or learning about their own possible ADHD?
Make sure to check out the AFEM’s Neurodiversity Survey. It’s a trove of recent insights, data, facts and opinions and is extremely insightful for music businesses and individuals alike.
I also strongly recommend the ADHD Foundation, and ADDitude Magazine, where I’ve been a contributing author. Both offer expert, validated information that can really help people with ADHD understand and deal with their condition better. There’s a wealth of great resources available these days and it’s rapidly growing day-by-day.
For more ADHD coaching information visit Tristan Hunt’s website.
Listen to Tristan Hunt on the Attack Magazine ‘Change The Record’ Podcast.
Photo credit: Marcus Tucker Photography.
Find out more about ADHD on the NHS website.
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