Prior to 2020, it was taken for granted that the majority of musicians, regardless of their chosen genre, create music with other musicians for the purpose of it being listened to and appreciated by other people, often with both performers and audience together in the same room or venue. Unfortunately, the COVID-19 global pandemic has now severely limited ‘physical’ gatherings and musicians have been forced to find ways of pursuing their art and interacting with their audience while working in isolation. And while the miracle of online technology allows people to stay connected to others anywhere on the planet, it is undeniable that it is difficult, if not impossible to replicate a pre-pandemic musical experience. So, with no definitive timeline available for the end of the pandemic as of this writing, what can musicians do to stay positive and resilient when so many opportunities for live rehearsal, performing and recording have been reduced or taken away?
While there is no single answer to this challenge, there are a number of common themes that seem to be resonating with the larger musical community. First, it’s possible that the simple act of accepting the situation as it currently stands may be a complete game-changer to your perspective. This is not to be confused with becoming passive or just giving up; rather, it is being mindful and present with the circumstances you are facing and ascertaining what is and isn’t in your control. Going down a path filled with fear, stress or anger based on things that you can’t control is a huge drain on your physical and mental energy. Doing this can feel like failure, so it’s important at these times to be observant of your own thoughts and not identify with them. This can take practice, and activities like meditation can be very helpful in developing this important skill. Being kind to yourself in every possible way (including getting good sleep and eating well) is crucial in optimising your resources and efficiency. Cultivating self-understanding and building capacity on an inner level through various forms of self-nurture will help to reduce unhelpful reactivity and protect your inner space.
Working remotely has been prevalent in the music industry even before the pandemic, and 2020 has seen many composers, producers and performers take this to the next level. However, in spite of the opportunities offered by working online, there is a palpable sense of loss (psychologically and monetarily) caused by not being able to physically meet together. Regarding the feeling of creating music in the same room with other musicians and an audience, percussionist Karl Vanden Bossche (Gorillaz) says this: “It’s a great feeling and I absolutely miss it, even when you it’s just what’s happening in a rehearsal room. The buzz, the banter, the love and the communication – it’s all very important to me, whether it’s a small gig or one with 20,000 people”. This loss of engagement with a physical community, along with the loss of professional earnings, has perhaps been one of the most difficult aspects for musicians during the pandemic, second only to being impacted personally by illness or even death.
And while creativity often requires solitude and inward reflection, isolation is not always beneficial with regards to creative output or well-being. This is why connecting with others can help, even if it’s nothing to do with your professional working. “Pick up the phone – don’t just text”, says Karl. “Speak to positive people with good energy, who can pick you up and just give you a laugh. Everyone’s going through this, so we need to stay supportive of each other. I phone my friends a lot and we speak about food, football, movies, etc. – it really helps”.
It’s when things are not working out for whatever reason that we may want to shut off and disconnect from others. Ironically, this is possibly when we need to connect most, to regain perspective and feel a sense of belonging.
While we may need to become more proactive in reaching out to others to maintain much-needed connection, we conversely should consider reducing how much time we spend on our screens. Those who already experience anxiety, depression and stress in their lives may feel overwhelmed with the avalanche of information from the media and beyond. Even if you don’t usually experience any form of mental unease, it might be something you begin to feel due to the lack of control that we’re all experiencing right now and the inability to make concrete plans for the future. Therefore, it’s important to find time to switch off and limit our exposure to news and social media, rather than endlessly tracking it.
As an alternative, you can make time for something that you enjoy, such physical exercise or even a new creative outlet such as drawing or writing. Additionally, incorporating meditation and focused breathing into your day can drastically reduce stress and anxiety levels. It can also increase physical capacities, enhance cognitive functioning and improve your general health.
Additionally, giving yourself permission to relax and ‘waste time’ doing something such as watching a film can reduce stress and unhelpful cognition. Says Karl:
“Watch funny movies – don’t just immerse yourself in music. Look at other things that bring a smile or inspire. There’s always loads of inspiring and entertaining films to watch to take you out of yourself”.
With so many cancelled engagements due to C19, musicians everywhere have been keen to use their extra time productively by learning new skills and improving existing ones.
Karl’s approach in this regard is straightforward:
“Keep practicing! There’s always a way you can practice, even if it’s just on a pad. Learn new things – it’s so good for your brain when you take on new challenges, persevere and then can finally say, “I’ve got it!” That energy will give you a buzz and inspire you to play and practice more”.
London session drummer and DIME Online graduate Emanuele Marchetti explains how he has used his lockdown time:
“The lockdown has been a sort of reset time from a personal and musical perspective, where I could finally have the possibility to practice my instrument every day, focusing on styles of music that suit me the most and working on my chops and phrasings. 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 and 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.”
And while lockdown can be a good time for productivity and personal growth, it’s important to set achievable targets so that you can monitor progress and reward yourself for each step forward. Creating a plan and routine for each day with small, realistic goals can be a great way of being productive without creating unnecessary stress and pressure for yourself. 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 when you may feel demotivated.
While we continue to find ways of navigating the many challenges presented by C19, it’s important to remember that while we may be physically isolated, we are not alone. Together, we form a massive community of creative people who are all experiencing the same thing. By maintaining connections with friends, family and collaborators, we share the burden and are able to give and receive support to each other. Be observant of what you’re feeling, with an awareness of what is and isn’t in your control as you take action for change. And remember that nothing is permanent – while the world has been dominated by the pandemic in 2020, there are good reasons to believe that the situation can and will improve in 2021. One thing is certain: our collective passion for creating, performing and enjoying music will not be diminished and will emerge stronger than ever when we are able to live life in a less restricted environment.
– Mike Sturgis