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Ingenuity or Collapse?
“Summer…maybe?!” “I’m thinking late fall!” “No, definitely by winter!”
All estimated time frames I have heard from friends on when we think our world of playing live music will return to “normal.”
That word seems to be the furthest thing from our vocabulary these days. Surviving a pandemic? Not normal. Seeing many of our loved ones perish in front of our eyes within a 12-month span? Definitely wouldn’t use the term normal to describe that. Seeing our means of living as professional musicians be taken from right under us with no immediate sign of return? Yeah, you get the picture.
Being a freelance musician already came with its challenges: inconsistent work, lack of sleep, consistent late nights, normalization of unhealthy coping mechanisms. All these things aren’t native to just a musician’s life, but their effects are magnified by the art we create, or in some cases don’t. A continuous cycle, we make our best music from our experiences, but we experience what music gives us, in order to live our lives.
That all changed when the pandemic hit. Local shows and tours were all cancelled. What we initially thought would be weeks turned into months. Months turned into seasons, and seasons turned into, “Man, I got a day job!”
At some point in our careers as professional musicians, we’ve all come to that crossroad of choosing between a “regular job,” that provides financial security, and doing what we feel we’ve been put on this earth to do, while being okay with not having consistent work sometimes. For some of us, it was a hard choice, and for others, a no brainer.
The pandemic acted as the driver for an overwhelming amount of us musicians on this bus. The destination: reality! No gigs meant no shows. No shows meant no income. No income meant stress.
Ingenuity as a musician during a pandemic looks like: reinventing our mindset about what that title looks like in the new decade. That means being our own engineers when we must record from home. Being our own publicists when we promote our content through social media to help grow our audience. It also means being our own accountants by establishing multiple streams of income with our other skills in order to survive. Being at peace with other career paths that highlight our passions, not only in music.
Collapse, on the other hand, looks a bit different. Collapse is choosing to do nothing and wait out the pandemic. It’s also actively choosing to not take the time to work on our craft but only on our well-being, now that we have all the free time to do so. Collapse is getting a day job as a first option rather than exploring multiple revenue streams as a musician.
With the distribution of multiple vaccines and the world seeming to be opening up slowly, it’s only a matter of time before concerts and live music return. Many of our favorite venues didn’t survive the pandemic, and the ones that did will definitely be operating on limited capacity for the near future, which raises the question: “What now?”
Do we return to operating under business as usual? Playing the same gigs for the same pay or lack thereof? Throwing all our revenue eggs into the same live performance basket? Returning to just being performers? The answer, for every musician, should be a resounding “Hell no!”
Those who became ingenuous during the pandemic should understand that music, and all the opportunities it presents to us, has been and always will be there. Those opportunities may not look like what we once thought them to be in simply just performing. They’ve evolved and changed as well.
The importance of taking time for ourselves outside of this profession we know and love has also become a topic of utmost importance for the ingenuous ones. Let’s leave the words should, could, and would in pandemic times and replace them with I did and I will.
The name of the game for the past year has been uncertainty—uncertainty in time, finances, health, and even occupation. Speaking for all of us, as musicians in 2021, we should all be certain that we won’t be the same musicians we were before COVID-19 hit.