[Editor’s Note: This article was written by Patrick McGuire, and is the latest in our Life During Quarantine series. As we begin to reckon with the ‘new normal’ and parts of the world open back up, we’ll continue to chime in on how isolation has been impacting artists where we see fit.]
Every musician is being challenged by COVID-19 in a unique way. With the mass cancellation of tours and festivals, many have seen their main source of income vanish in an instant.
For countless others, social distancing has made band practices, recording sessions, and collaborative writing work difficult or even impossible. On the surface, the significant extra time at home seems like the perfect opportunity to delve into new writing and recording projects, but some musicians are surprised to discover that they aren’t feeling creatively inspired during the pandemic.
Here are some tips to help:
Acknowledge how Covid-19 is impacting you
If you’re suffering from a lack of creative inspiration, the last thing you should do is worry. There’s more than enough of that happening already, after all. The more pressure you put on your process right now, the harder it will be to regain focus on making music.
If you haven’t already done so, take a moment to reflect on how much the world is changing, and what it means for your music career in particular. Instead of dwelling on the negative, approaching music with an honest perspective that takes current circumstances into account is meant to help clear your head and help you focus on creating.
During moments of trauma and uncertainty, we’re often not able to create music like we’re used to because we’re scared, heartbroken, and distracted. Acknowledging how tough things are won’t fix things, but it’s essential for getting into a headspace where creativity can happen. If you find yourself unable to create or even care about music right now, you probably have some emotional processing to do.
Focus on ways of being productive
All musicians are seeing their routines become upended during the pandemic, but those in bands and collaborative writing relationships are especially being impacted.
It’s easy to get sucked into an obsession of what you can’t do right now because of the pandemic, but to stay productive and inspired, try focusing on what you are able to do. You always have the option to write and record alone from home, and there’s an increasing number of excellent digital collaboration tools out there designed to connect you with other musicians as well.
Lamenting over the ways you’re not able to create and perform right now makes sense, but if you’re committed to being productive during this tumultuous time, you’ll need to shift your focus to making the most out of using the tools and music-making methods at your disposal.
Incorporate resourcefulness into your process
Chances are the typical way you do things has to change in a big way right now, and that’s understandably frustrating. But if you can manage to create in resourceful and innovative ways during this time, you’ll have an easier time staying inspired.
To do this, you’ll need to make a conscious effort to view boundaries and limitations as opportunities and creative challenges during this time. It’s not easy, but trying to maintain an open, curious mind about making music in new and limited ways can actually result in great work.
Let the moment inform your work in a meaningful way
Whether you’re perpetually haunted by despair right now or happy to spend more time at home with loved ones, you can’t separate your emotions from your creative process. Rather than trying to keep your feelings at bay, lean into them and let them shape the music you’re working on.
It’s important to remember that however you feel is okay, even if it’s at odds with what your music is about. If you can find a way to transform your emotions into passionate lyrics and musical ideas, you’ll have a method for creating honest and meaningful work. And in a time where millions probably feel similar to you, producing work that comes from a genuine, unguarded place has never been more important.
Try deep listening
When you can’t seem to force yourself into feeling creatively inspired while making music, try deeply listening to someone else’s. You probably listen to a lot of music as a musician, but how often do you listen deeply and without distractions? Inspiration isn’t something you can force, but taking the time to appreciate and acknowledge what you love about music can help you find it.
Take a couple hours to listen to do nothing other than sit and listen to your favorite music in the world. Think about what makes the music you’re hearing impactful, and try to listen for things you’ve never noticed before.
Since there’s no telling when or if the world will ever return to normal, it’s crucial that musicians who want to stay productive learn to adapt and make the most out of their time at home. It’s not the advice any of us want to hear, but it’s the harsh reality of being a serious musician in 2020.
This is undeniably devastating, but something that should give you joy and hope is the prospect of helping others with your music during a time when so many are in need of comfort and inspiration.
Patrick McGuire is a writer, musician and human man. He lives nowhere in particular, creates music under the name Straight White Teeth, and has a great affinity for dogs and putting his hands in his pocket.