Joshua Donaldson is the founder of When The Music Stops, a 501(c)3 nonprofit community with the mission of supporting emotional health, mental health and suicide prevention through music, connection, and love. WTMS provides live and virtual workshops via unique methods of therapy including meditation and journaling, sound baths, prevention discussions, wellness circles and more, all completely free to the public. WTMS works with experienced educators to create a simple and caring mental health education program similar to the model that was written by D.A.R.E. in the ’80s and ’90s. Don’t miss their 2nd Annual Mental Health Summit live in San Francisco, Saturday July 17th, 2021 at Fort Mason’s historic Cowell Theater. There is a limited capacity so be sure to get your tickets before they sell out!
What does “entrepreneurship” mean to you?
Josh Donaldson: Entrepreneurship is a spirit, something inside of you. It is a spark, an idea, a manic force that pushes and drives you to do something different than everyone else, or to do it better than it has been done before. Entrepreneurship is a gift and a curse. It is what keeps us up late at night and controls our obsessive thoughts, but it is also a blessing to create something that drives your passion day in and day out.
How did your company come to be?
JD: After 20+ years in the music and entertainment industry, I burned out. I lived and worked in Las Vegas, Los Angeles, New York, San Francisco and Ibiza. I was extremely high functioning and very “successful.” I worked 80- to 100-hour weeks nonstop, always thinking about the next deal and the bottom line. I worked with some of the biggest entrepreneurs, artists, and stars in the world.
I ignored my thoughts and feelings until I couldn’t anymore. None of this made me feel “happy.” I continued to feel lost and empty inside. After 20+ years I finally burned out and broke down. On January 6th, 2019, I attempted to take my life. There was no note. No goodbyes. I just wanted it to be over, but God had another plan for me. Miraculously, I survived. The doctors still don’t know how, but I did. Now it was time to look in the mirror, get help, and find my true calling — helping others.
It was then that I decided to start When The Music Stops, a nonprofit that is designed to find new, out-of-the-box, collaborative ways to raise awareness for anxiety, depression, burnout and suicide prevention, with a hyperfocus within the music industry. We work to educate and address mental health and therapy in a way that will normalize the conversation amongst millennials and generation Z, in hopes that today’s youth will be more open to discussing and learning about how to prevent anxiety, depression, and suicide from a young age. Our ultimate goal however is to save the lives of people struggling amongst all ages and demographics around the globe through mutual connection.
How has your business changed in response to the COVID-19 pandemic?
JD: Suicide, mental health breakdowns, depression, and anxiety have all sky rocketed in direct response to the pandemic, lockdown and social isolation. These rates have been especially significant within the African American and youth communities. Suicide was an epidemic before COVID-19 and now more than ever we must act. The New York Times released an article about students taking their own lives in Las Vegas due to school closures. There were 18 students in a 9-month period. These are preventable deaths.
What is your proudest and darkest moment so far?
JD: My proudest moment yet would be in September of 2020 when we received an email from the music platform Beatport, asking us to collaborate on a new project. November 7th, 2020 we launched ‘You Are Not Alone’, a 29-hour music and mental health festival conference streamed globally on Twitch. The response was overwhelming with over 2.5 million viewers tuned in over the course of the event!
My darkest moment has been a sense of failure in trying to engage volunteers & staffing. It has proven difficult to keep the attention of candidates if you are not paying a wage or salary. It can be unrealistic to expect anyone to match your work ethic or completely understand your vision.
How is your company changing the landscape?
JD: Music is something that almost everyone around the globe can share in common. We are using this parallel to help reimagine ways to normalize discussions on mental health and suicide prevention. We aim to keep our message educational, entertaining and supportive. We are partnering with celebrities, influencers, storytellers and trendsetters to break down the stigmas and make these conversations approachable. We will focus on 3 pillars specifically within the music environment including the artists, the industry workers, and the audience.
What do you wish you knew when you started? Is there anything you would do differently?
JD: When I started, I wish I had a better understanding of fundraising. One thing I would have done differently is start the legal process much earlier in the game. All of our challenges and successes have helped get us to where we are at today which is bittersweet because we are now more prepared than ever before.
What advice/credo do you live by as you grow the business / what is your professional and personal mission statement?
JD: I like to heed the words of Tony Hsieh (RIP), “Be adventurous, creative, and open-minded.” Also, continue to grow and learn. Build open and honest relationships with communication. Build a positive team and family spirit. Be passionate and determined. Finally, and most importantly be humble.
Where do you find inspiration when faced with challenges?
JD: When I am faced with challenges, I find my inspiration from praying, meditating, calling advisors or mentors, nature, music, entrepreneurial books and of course podcasts like Tim Ferris.
What does “success” look like for you? What do you think will help you achieve it?
JD: For me success is preventing just one suicide and helping to save one life. Success is also to continue building a positive, enthusiastic team by growing our advisory board, fundraising and learning from our mistakes along the way. We cannot do any of the work we are doing without the support of our philanthropists, donors and partners.
What’s it like to work alone or with your partners? What advice do you have for fellow entrepreneurs about building and leading teams?
JD: Working alone is challenging and a fast track to burnout. I think it’s better to work in teams and with entrepreneurs. Some advice I have is to make the journey a collaborative effort. Entrepreneurship should not be a dictatorship. The founder(s) have a great vision, but it needs to be supported by an incredible team. Take input from others because it will always be a more well-rounded project when we are able to take advice and ideas from those around us.
What keeps you motivated during this time?
JD: The consistent testimonials of how When The Music Stops has helped individuals around the globe. Regardless of age, background, or location; we have been able to help save the lives of countless individuals that have needed our support.
What kind of an entrepreneur do you want to be known as, as in, what do you want your legacy to be?
JD: I want to be known as a social entrepreneur that is able to find unique ways to normalize a message that may otherwise remain a shy subject.
What is a quote or some words of wisdom that help get you through the tough days?
JD: My favorite quote is “grant me the serenity to accept the things I cannot change, courage to change the things I can, and wisdom to know the difference”. When you are having a tough day, it is best to try to take a walk outside and focus on breathwork or listen to music. When you prioritize things that make you feel happy, the better you can balance your emotional & mental health to help during difficult times and in stressful situations.
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