How to Stay Creative During COVID-19

By Mike Sturgis, Head of Education, DIME Online

As COVID-19 continues to limit professional opportunities for those involved in the music industry, the response from many has been to focus even harder on creative endeavours.

And while we can sometimes have moments of inspiration come to us in organic ways, creativity is often something that needs to be nurtured proactively. To get some thoughts on this, we’ve reached out to some of our talented graduates to see how they have used this unprecedented time to their advantage with regards to their creative output. We’ve distilled some of their wise words down into the following tips which will hopefully inspire and motivate you.

Consolidate

Having more time on your hands due to C19 can be turned to an advantage when it’s used for strengthening your specialist skills. DIME graduate Emanuele Marchetti is a busy drummer on the London music scene who seized the opportunity to redouble his efforts in the practice room:

“My last big TV show was on March 19th, right before the UK went into a lockdown. My life before C19 was pretty busy, spreading myself between different bands, gigs and teaching. Therefore, the impact of the loss of work due to the virus has been really hard and I had to try to find any solution to keep myself occupied and creative at the same time.”

Emanuele explains how he has used the extra time productively:

“The lockdown has been a sort of reset time from a personal and musical perspective, where I could finally have the possibility to practice and play my instrument every day (something that before C19 wasn’t possible due to lack of time) focusing on styles of music that suit me the most and working on my chops and phrasings.”

Educate

The broad range of skills needed to facilitate a successful career for a free-lance artist always needs updating. In addition to consolidating your specialist skills, you can spend the time learning new things that will help your career or that will simply inspire new ideas. Emanuele has been proactive in this regard and tells us how he’s been extending his skill set:

“Besides the playing aspect, I’ve started building up new skills that include audio and video editing through the use of multi-cameras and software like Final Cut Pro and Logic X. I’ve also been increasing my transcriptions with software like Transcribe and Sibelius. I’ve been using these elements in the creation of tutorial videos and content for my social media channels to share with the drumming community while developing my own brand and merchandise.”

Motivate

Setting short, medium and long-term goals and regularly checking your progress towards each of these can be hugely satisfying and help keep you on track at times when you may feel de-motivated.  However, there may be times when you need to absorb the thoughts, wisdom and encouragement of others to maintain your motivation. Thankfully, there’s no shortage of material out there to help and support, with much of it being available for free. Emanuele explains how being proactive in sourcing this type of information has been a lifeline for him:

“Reading motivational books and watching online webinars has been a huge part of the process as well, because they gave me a better insight of the business side and opened up to a new world of possibilities to help me make it through this tough time.”

Rodrigo Lopes, another of DIME ONLINE’s drum graduates, also cites the importance online webinars in staying motivated: “I recently checked out an amazing online drummer forum featuring (former) DIME ONLINE Head of Drums Gabor Dornyei and other great players. It was really informative and insightful, and it gave me lots of new ideas for my playing.”

Collaborate

Reaching out and collaborating with others on projects is a great way to keep the creative energy going. And while it may not be quite the same as sitting in the same room with someone, connecting online via Zoom or other platforms is becoming more and more the accepted norm for working.

Rodrigo has been repurposing his professional working to the online world and collaborating more with other musicians in this way:

“I started recording with many people from different places and I have had the opportunity of recording more than 15 songs from home in the last few months. Recently, I was invited to record a song and be part of the video clip with two Icelandic musicians, Eyþór Ingi (who represented Iceland in the 2013 Eurovision Song Contest) and Lay Low (famous Icelandic singer).  The song went to number one on many radio stations here in the country. Last Friday I was invited to perform the song live on RÚV, a TV program in Reykjavík.”

Replicate

Creative ideas do not occur in a vacuum. We have all been influenced by the creative output of other people, and it’s how these ideas are re-interpreted and re-expressed that result in a new work. Going back to study and replicate the work of one of your idols (e.g. a solo or a riff) may sound counterintuitive when you are trying to come up with your own creative output, but it’s often the discovery of pre-existing vocabulary that will serve as a catalyst for new . For a musician, you can learn or even steal the ‘licks’ or vocabulary of another artist, but it’s the sound you make, the juxtaposition of ideas and musical context chosen that can make your ‘borrowed’ vocabulary sound original. No one would advocate ‘cloning’ another musician, artist or writer; however, replication of what someone else has done can act as a scaffolding when trying to create something unique. This is particular true when you blend these ideas with the myriad of other influences that you already have. The way you combine all of these countless influences and express them will always be unique, because there is only one you! That said, being too derivative (especially in songwriting) can be challenged in the legal system, so it’s also important to remember that replication needs to be done with a degree of wisdom, respect and caution.

Meditate

The importance of your mental health in these challenging times cannot be overstated. Looking after your own well-being is critical to the creative process, and meditation and mindfulness can be powerful tools for maintaining wellness. It can be difficult to not be overwhelmed or anxious about the future when there is so much uncertainty. Most of us are prone to incessant cogitation that can be counterproductive, and we often need a break from our thoughts. Focusing on our breathing, candle gazing and nature walks are examples of mindfulness-based activities that can lift us out of unhelpful thinking (which is based either in the past or an imagined future) and back to the present moment.  If you can stay present and be the observer of your thoughts (rather than identifying with them) you stand a much better chance of maintaining a state of relaxed concentration where creativity can be optimised.

Alumni guitarist Jess Furneaux had this to say about the importance of well-being in relation to her creative output:

“Ensuring I take time out of my day to do some physical activity is very important. I suggest taking a long walk first thing in the morning or going to the gym for an hour, to get yourself into the right frame of mind and set you up for the day feeling energised and determined. Making sure I eat healthy foods and have at least 8 hours sleep is vital to ensuring I give myself the best chances to concentrate and produce my best. Nobody feels great when they’ve had a late night and eaten leftover pizza for breakfast.”

There are a number of free resources available mindfulness and meditation. An excellent app for this purpose is Insight Timer, which offers hours of well-organised content for no cost and much more for a small fee.