by Greg Phillips
Reschedule, postpone, cancel. Unfortunately these have been the buzz words of the artistic community for the last 18 months. You get to a point where you think, is it even worthwhile booking a show anymore? Perhaps you’re in lockdown now, maybe you’re lucky enough not to be. If not, there’s still that overhanging fear that you soon will be. The pandemic is a drag. It gets you down. The arts seem broken and there’s no repairer in sight. For some artists it’s too much, you feel like throwing in the towel and start looking for a ‘real’ job but there aren’t any new jobs either. In these times it’s important to band together, help each other out, check on each other and reach out yourself if you’re in a funk. For many, all we have is time. Time alone with our thoughts. For others, lockdown doesn’t mean free time at all. For those with kids, obviously you’re situation is different, you have others to worry about. You’re home schooling and time is something you don’t have the pleasure of. So what can you do to keep the creative juices flowing and keep the darkness at bay?
We thought we’d throw a few ideas out there. Some are quite obvious but maybe you need a jolt, others not so much. We’re not trying to be flippant and we realise that everyone’s situation is different. We just feel that even if you get one tiny thing out of this list, then it’s been a meaningful exercise. It’s a bit of a stream of consciousness kind of list but anyway, here goes …
First up, the captain obvious … write!
Don’t feel like writing? What are the reasons? Write ‘em down. Journal your thoughts. It might be a line, it might be a long rave. Make yourself write something down. Get it out of your head and down on a page. You’re hating on Ricky today? Why do you hate Ricky? Maybe Ricky’s got a lot going on behind the scenes. Have you ever considered that? Secretly in love with Lurleen? Let it all out. Write it all down, change the name and make it about Shirelle. Can’t be stuffed making something of these thoughts and lines? Come back to it next week, next month and see how you feel about it all. If anything, you’ve made a start of some kind.
Begin a list of song titles. Add to it continually. Use the titles as a starting point for a song rather than an afterthought.
You’re a folk singer? Write a punk song. Get the frustrations out. Get the electric guitar and distortion pedal out. You’re an alt country type of artist? Try writing a pop song. Nobody’s watching, do what you like. Experiment with styles, tempos, gear. Is that rocker not coming together? Maybe it was meant to be a ballad!
Write down some random words or phrases. Chop them up and place them in a hat. Pick ‘em out one by one and lay them down next to each other. It might not work but maybe it will. You only need one gem of a line to begin to build a song.
Write lyrics from someone else’s perspective. What would that TV or book character do in every day situations? What if they lived in your world and not the TV or literary world they belong in? Respond to someone else’s song like Lynyrd Skynyrd famously did to Neil Young in Sweet Home Alabama … “Well I heard Mister Young sing about her. Well I heard ol’ Neil put her down, Well I hope Neil Young will remember. A southern man don’t need him around anyhow”. Retell a song from a different angle. What if that man that was shot in Reno didn’t die? What if the person who could make it anywhere didn’t make it in New York?
Learn and record a cover. Rework someone else’s tune. Take a ballad and up the tempo or strip back that epic opus. Be cheeky. Take a melody from one song and the chorus from another. Change a few chords, speed it up or slow it down and make it your own.
Do you write on acoustic guitar? Whack a capo on it and to get a different aspect to your tunes. They’re cheap and readily available.
Remix! Try a different take on a song you’ve already recorded. What would your song sound like in a dance club?
Livestream with a theme. Pick a genre or another artist, a word, a season, and link all of your live stream songs to it.
Reach out to your social media audience and ask them what they’d like to hear from you. Ask them to post their versions of your songs. Run a competition. Keep yourself engaged with them. Be geographically specific. Cancelled that gig in outback NSW? Target them with some online content.
Skill yourself up. Take the time to learn a new music program, play around with software plug ins. Watch Youtube tutorials. Make a YouTube tutorial yourself if you know a thing or two about a certain something.
Exercise. Brush the cobwebs off and go for a walk. Get the oxygen circulating and get into a rhythm. Listen to a podcast or music while you walk. Go for a drive (depending on covid perimeter restrictions of course). Experience the rhythm of the road and the world passing you by.
Practice. Get your chops up. Set yourself a goal. Aim to play that piece you could never previously master.
Spend the day unleashing your creativity with your camera/phone. Take photos or videos and create art which might match one of your songs or become an album cover one day. Upload them to your social media. Maybe post one a day.
Record some soundbytes from the outside world and see if they might fit into your music. It might be a conversation, bird song, a train, dogs barking … anything goes.
Update your social media, change the colour scheme. Try out some new art. Design a new logo.
Reach out to your music heroes via their social media pages. You never know who might respond. Make connections with those musicians you admire the most.
Get out the albums which inspired you in the first place and give them a spin.
Dissect a song or album. Really spend time picking it to bits. What attracts you to it? What are the elements underneath that you didn’t notice on first play. Who produced it? What other artists have they worked with? What was the artist going through at the time and is that reflected in this music? What other musicians are playing on it? What gear was used? Are the intros and outros long, short, interesting? Is the chord structure simple or complex? Is it all about the lyrics? Could you take similar elements or the spirit of it and create something of your own?
Feel like a break from music altogether? Fine, do it. Read a book. Knit a scarf. Paint. Do a jigsaw puzzle. Do a jig. Cook something puzzling! You never know where inspiration might come from. Forget about the creative process totally for a while and find yourself… lose yourself in something other than music. It’s ok not to feel like doing what people expect of you.
Watch a music doco. Learn how the music legends became legendary. Take notes, use the knowledge.
If you are fortunate to have some funds, upgrade your audio and video gear. Are your Youtube clips up to scratch sonically? Do you have good lighting for your social media videos?
Low on funds? Search the net for grants and opportunities. Search for song competitions.
Borrow gear from a friend. Is there a pedal or instrument your mate owns that you like the sound of but have never used? Ask if you can play with it for a week. Maybe it’s a keyboard and you don’t play keys. It shouldn’t stop you from trying new sounds and learning new skills. Sharing is caring.
Finding it hard to get some press coverage? Interview yourself. Use captions as questions and answer them on camera. Don’t know how to? Get yourself a free video editing package … download iMovie, learn it via YouTube. If you have the funds, purchase a good editing package. Create your own media buzz.
Target a specific music media outlet that you want coverage from. Learn about their demographic. Look at what interests them. Target a contributor. What’s likely to interest them? The shotgun approach to getting media doesn’t generally work. Before you approach any media outlet, take the time to research their content and audience. Pitch with purpose and don’t limit yourself to Australia.
Collaborate. Zoom up another artist and interview each other.
Check out what other artist are doing online and see if you can do a similar version of what they’re doing.
Work on your stage banter. Write down some killer lines to introduce your songs once you’re back gigging.
Not gigging or recording? Maybe it’s time to get your instrument serviced.
Do your annual tax. Boring but necessary. You often put off, do it while you can. You never know, it might return some unexpected cash for that new pedal, guitar or even just a guitar strap. It’ll put a bit of cheer in your day.
Learn a new language to record in and break into a new market.
Get all of your band members or mates to create a playlist for each other. Make it a regular thing. Discover new music.
Paint or stencil something on your instrument cases.
Google your band or yourself and see how far your music has spread. There might be some media coverage that you’ve missed.
Set yourself some short term goals. Write ‘em down and tick ‘em off.
There are endless ways your lockdown time could be spent. It’s the little things that make the difference, the ten percenters that set you apart from everyone else. You should not only think outside the box but think why do I even have this box in the first place and is it taking the space of something more useful? If we’ve hit on an idea that was useful, let us know.
Stay creative, stay well and stay in touch with your friends. We’re thinking of you.
Arts/Covid help links:
or phone 13 11 14