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How Musicians Are Staying Positive & Productive Amidst A Pandemic
Inarguably, COVID-19 has had devastating effects on the music industry. With dozens of album releases and live music gatherings indefinitely postponed, the ultimate ramifications may be as unfavorable as they are unforeseeable. Despite those fears and doubts, however, there are plenty of reasons to feel reassured, too. After all, countless artists are finding optimism not only by enhancing their creative and personal lives, but also by building deeper relationships with fans, promoting awareness of those in need, and much more. As such, they demonstrate endearing levels resilience and resourcefulness that signify how we’re sure to bounce back from this crisis even more in tune with ourselves and each other.
Here are a few inventive ways musicians are staying focused, positive, and productive during these trying times
Promoting Positivity Through Online Presence
One of the most immediate and widespread ways musicians are overcoming the pandemic is through their virtual platforms. Specifically, many of them are becoming more invested in using social media to interact with their followers. Katatonia drummer Daniel Moilanen views such tactics as equally necessary and beneficial, saying, “I see this as something that will be a new standard for ways to reach out to fans... I’ve seen many artists going further with that idea by doing regular podcasts.”
Case in point: six-string virtuoso Steve Hackett, who’s frequently been recording videos in which he plays a bit of music and/or discusses a fan favorite Genesis or solo tune.
Some of these creators are pushing themselves to adapt to previously unfamiliar mediums. “Before the lockdown began, I wasn’t even aware of platforms like Twitch, but over the last couple months I’ve noticed an influx of bands using it as a way of staying engaged with fans,” Haken guitarist Richard Henshall observes. Rock supergroup Flying Colors held a four-day “Backstage Summit” at the start of May via Zoom, wherein they offered Q&A sessions with each member, discussions of songwriting and production techniques, critiques of fan-submitted original music, and more. Clearly, they, like so many others, are keen to reciprocate the love and appreciation that their admirers have always shown them.
Elsewhere, numerous groups have uploaded either music videos, achieved stage shows, or collaborative tributes to those affected by the virus. Naturally, Queen + Adam Lambert recently issued “You Are the Champions,” a touching tribute that sees them reworking the beloved “We Are the Champions” over footage of people all over the world sustaining joy and togetherness amidst the turmoil.
Alternative rock trio The Used just put out a similar video for their track “The Lighthouse (feat. Mark Hoppus),” while OK GO—whose lead guitarist, Damian Kulash, recovered from the illness—produced a video while self-quarantining to raise donations for Partners in Health. Beyond that, greats such as Bruce Springsteen, Wilco, and Radiohead have posted older concerts in their entirety to comfort fans stuck at home. On May 9th, The Prog Report hosted “Prog from Home,” a three-hour YouTube hodgepodge in which over twenty artists came together to raise money for a few charities and bring viewers together.
Obviously, those prerecorded placations and interactive conversations are wonderful. But what about the thing that people seem to miss most: live music? Well, innumerable musicians working tirelessly to replicate the concertgoing experience through the internet. Dozens of bands, brands, organizations, and publications—such as As I Lay Dying, Magic Giant, Alanis Morrissette, Phish, and Katy Perry—are participating in digital festivals and formal performance streams within the next couple of weeks alone. Likewise, there are just as many musicians doing less official stints, like Ben Folds’ “Saturday Apartment Requests” series and Devin Townsend’s multimodal “Quarantine Project” (which has already garnered nearly $200,000 for hospitals). In fact, Dream Theater keyboardist Jordan Rudess just finished his 60th consecutive day streaming casual recitals on Facebook, and The Pineapple Thief frontman Bruce Soord “did an acoustic show recently and was amazed how many people tuned in and enjoyed it.” He adds, “When I finished and turned off the stream, it felt very similar to walking off stage after a ‘real’ show. I was buzzing.”
Whether at-home variations like those previous discussed or the fledgling yet promising notion of drive-in gigs, artists are visibly keen to put a positive spin on whatever options are available for concerts. Marjana Semkina—vocalist of Russian art rock duo iamthemorning—sees these alternatives as a permanent part of our lives: "More people will turn to live streaming and platforms like Patreon. . . . I’m sure a lot of [creators] will embrace the powers of community that they can build [that way]. It almost has a family feeling to it.” Correspondingly, Alter Bridge singer/guitarist Myles Kennedy says, “For me, the silver lining has been seeing how this has forced artists to think outside the box in order to perform and engage with their fanbase, as well raise money for those in need.” Atreyu guitarist Dan Jacobs concurs, relishing how such new tactics “will make all bands a little bit smarter and stronger . . . to survive.”
“When I finished and turned off the stream, it felt very similar to walking off stage after a ‘real’ show. I was buzzing.” -Bruce Soord
For Gazpacho keyboardist Thomas Andersen, online shows actually “make more sense that an actual concert in many ways.” He continues, “We get lots of requests from places that we have no chance of touring, and there is always a sense that we’re letting those people down.” Doing sets virtually would be a clear solution in that respect, and “an online ‘tour’ makes more financial sense, too, as you eliminate the cost of travel, so you can sink that money into production on site,” he explains. As already evidenced by the aforementioned examples, online shows can also bring a more personalized flavor to the experience. “Instead of getting a haggard group of guys on your local stage who have been travelling for the last month, you can get into their actual living rooms and get a better sense of who they actually are and what they are like,” Andersen concludes.
Using Downtime for Development
Offline, musicians are staying just as busy and adventurous with their artistic endeavors. In addition to completing already established projects, people are finding time to try new things and work with new people. For instance, singer/songwriter Ben Lee mentions that the present conditions allowed him to “reach out to people [he’s] wanted to work with for a long time to make some magic with no rules or expectations.” So far, those collaborators include Sarah Silverman and Shamir, whereas his Radnor & Lee partner in crime—actor Josh Radnor—has remotely produced material with Molly Tuttle in-between meditating and “doing the daily dance party at @FORWARD_Space on IG Live.” On the technical end, Neverending White Lights mastermind Daniel Victor has been working on his latest sequence, Act IV, by “trying to mix the album entirely alone while testing plug-ins and recording software.”
For Phideaux Xavier, the past few weeks have been all about revising material that he’s either forgotten about or never released. He clarifies: “The process of going into the past has been cathartic and helped me realize how to go forward.” For sure, they’ve found fresh ways to keep active creatively.
“Anything culinary is just as creative as the music process. It allows flexibility and experimenetation.” -Daniel Victor
Outside of that, they’re pressing on by staying in touch with loved ones, relishing nature, instructing others, and discovering new talents. Renaissance singer Annie Haslam reveals that painting and surrounding herself with “Canadian geese, foxes, raccoons, squirrels, and lots of bird varieties” has furthered her well-being, while Jethro Tull frontman Ian Anderson is enjoying “walking, bike riding, shooting, and photography” as he stays “very busy with desk projects.”
Fascinatingly, Victor has taken up “an online Masterclass in mixology” because “anything culinary is just as creative as the music process. It allows flexibility and experimenetation.” Jacobs has gone a more pedagogical route by “talking with School Of Rock about teaching some lessons, as well as taking lessons [himself] during the quarantine.” He expounds: “It’s important to inspire our next generation of musicians so we have some great music to look forward.”
Security and Solace
As these musicians prove, there’s hope, empathy, perseverance, and courage in simply making time for yourself and others.
Haslam surmises, “The future holds promise, with a new understanding and compassion for people,” which is a sentiment that Andersen echoes: “We should use this situation to right societal wrongs.”
As for Bowling for Soup vocalist Jaret Reddick, he reminds us that “human beings are survivors and music is a staple in all things,” whereas Semkina urges us to “not push ourselves too hard. If you feel uninspired and stressed and sad, let yourself feel those things. All you have to do is keep yourself and your family safe, sane, and happy.”
“It’s about progress, not perfection. When you get irritable and overwhelmed, do something positive ASAP." -Scott Stapp
Lastly, Creed lead singer Scott Stapp—who’s certainly overcome a lot in recent years—has a comparable take: “It’s about progress, not perfection. When you get irritable and overwhelmed, do something positive ASAP. The smallest things can help you overcome any obstacle, so stay focused on growth even when things feel stagnant.” Indeed, if we can just concentrate on the welfare of ourselves and those we love, then—as Porcupine Tree’s Steven Wilson once sang—all of the rest will flow.
Jordan Blum resides in Philadelphia, holds an MFA in Fiction, and teaches at several colleges and universities around the area. He’s also the founder and Editor-in-Chief of The Bookends Review, an independent online creative arts journal. He’s the author of two books—Jethro Tull: Every Album, Every Song and Dream Theater: Every Album, Every Song—that are a part of Sonicbond Publishing’s On Track series. Beyond that, he’s an Associate Editor at PopMatters and a contributor to PROG, Kerrang!, Consequence of Sound, Metal Injection, and more.
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