How to Survive Isolation as a Musician

Written by the_chelf@yahoo.gr

You are on an uncompromising composition journey, completely dedicated to your artistry. And you haven’t left home for 5 days. Before you know it, they turn to months. There are empty Chinese take-outs on the floor, stacked coffee mugs, cables all over the place. Has anyone seen the cat?

I started working on this article weeks before the Covid 19 quarantine. But the current situation sure gave me a boost to pick it up from my to-do list. You may find it more helpful now, than ever.

This one was meant to be for the ones that while furthering their expansive creativity through sounds, zoned out and forgot the basics. Now it applies to all of us.

Disclaimer: I am not a musician, nor am I an artist, but as a workaholic freelancer who works from home I have had my fair share of work isolation and all that it entails. I decided to utilize that experience and share some wisdom. I also texted my favourite people asking for tips.

DIY a comfortable working corner with a functional setup for hands-on activities. Having a set workplace will help you split your time and energy between work and other important aspects of your (ahem…) life. We all have patterns so take a look at your personal habits and general lifestyle. See what works for you, modify the things that don’t. Change your space accordingly. Be specific: On Tuesday afternoon (do we even know what day is it today?) I will take 2, 5 hours to modify/organize/improve my working area. A positive work environment encourages risk-taking, so you might end up recording that piece of Avant-Garde Metal you never thought you would.

You wake up in the afternoon. You reach for your phone and end up scrolling for the next hour(s). Memes are addicting but you’ve already wasted what could have been your most productive work hours.

Studies have shown that a musician’s mind is most creative at night but most productive in the morning.

So, take that idea you had last night and make it happen. Commit to a routine. You may find it challenging at first but trust me, it pays off. If you go around declaring your passion for music and how important it is to you, surely, you can make that ‘sacrifice’ right?

You are not paying for studio time and there’s no pressure on you to finish your project sooner. But this can go on forever so you end up with a bunch of unfinished projects, no motivation and no will to live.’

I once had a very interesting conversation with God Dethroned about that and you can read all about it here.

Ok. Get up and set your ‘office hours’ right now. Prioritize your tasks and make a list. A musician’s career is about more than just performing. It involves a tremendous amount of work and a long-lasting intensive music training from continually studying, practicing, creating new music, building a mailing list, and connecting with your audience, other band members and your crew, may it be your manager, label, booker, merch provider and so on.  There’s a lot of backstage work to be done, from creating an EPK, (check out my EPK guide here), to handling your publicity, create promotional events, Spotify lists, so if you think you don’t need to get organized you are mistaken.

A study that took place in Switzerland suggests that musicians do better than non-musicians in both auditory and visual timing tasks. Meaning, you can handle a simple list, you punk. Go make one.

Don’t be silly and overwork yourself, learn from my mistakes. The only way to maintain a productive workforce is to prevent burnout in the workplace. So. Prevent. It. And talk to other people even if you are a hermit. Pick up the phone, call a friend, and see how they are. I too hate interactions, but I found out the hard way that this behaviour leaves unfulfilled our very human need to connect with and matter to others.

Then we experience the “poverty of isolation”. Which is the worst thing that could happen to a musician, next to not being able to find a plug when you most need one. When you create a social barrier you limit your inspiration resources as a musician, let along as a human being.

Prolonged perfectionism is the enemy of productivity. It’s also a sign of shaky self-worth which does not match your rock star personality, right? Quit fiddling, stop tweaking and mix. Get the track mastered. Having said that, I, in no way encourage you to produce a piece of bad music. I encourage you to challenge your inner critic and dispute the negative thoughts that hold you back. I read somewhere that it took Michelangelo four years to paint the Sistine Chapel. He spent eight hours a day, six days a week, meticulously painting what is one of the greatest works of art in human history. How did Michelangelo know he was done? He ran out of ceiling. Find your musical ceiling and stop when you reach the endpoint.

We are the modern victims of a self-adapting system that learns from what we like and what we don’t like. That algorithm is both a friend and an enemy. On the bright side, it keeps our feed packed with stuff we enjoy so we have to look no further. On the downside it keeps our feed packed with stuff we enjoy so we have to look no further. So we never expand our horizons. In times of isolation that is a dangerous trap that can hold back inspiration. For a musician, that’s a frustrating, brutal fact. If you are kept unsurprised and unexposed to new music you stay in your comfort zone. To alleviate boredom challenge yourself to weave in and out of music genres and styles. Listen to each track individually. I’m not saying it will always be good, I’m saying choose an experience, not a song.

Create mind-blowing content by documenting your process and progress. Include bloopers, epic fails and interesting ideas. Show up consistently on people’s feed. Don’t try to oversell yourself, just share, be real and relatable, to make your audience a part of your creative journey. It’s also a great way to build trust as people get to know you. Which brings me back to my previous point: establishing human connections that will help you remain sane during your creative isolation.

I hope you found this helpful and that you will add to the list in the comments below.

Until the next one,

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