Playing It Safe: How the world is changing the way it plays music

playing it safe

playing it safeAs the world braces, educates, and prepares itself to overcome the COVID-19 virus, musicians worldwide—and everybody who’s professionally related to live music—has gone into a sort of indefinite hibernation. And as the entire industry takes a break from the stage for the pause, awareness for the future becomes acute as we listen to our peers, pals, and associates, local officials, governors, health officials, presidents, and prime ministers try to offer the reality and manage solutions. Toss in the great big wooden spoon of social media to mix it all together and we find ourselves in an episode that could easily be called:

What do we do now?

playing it safeOf course, we’ll continue to play at home and record at home, and share it all via electronic mediums. Naturally, people become most creative in challenging times. After all, “necessity is the mother of invention,” as they say. With this in mind, social distancing has—at least for the ambiguous now—become an art element.

One thing about musicians—regardless of anything—music can never be taken away from anyone. It’s in your head and in your heart. Considering that it is the most available medicine, the most reliable source of instant joy, a historical mile-marker, and a time-tested education enabler, it is no wonder that people from all over are finding ways to deal with the live performance hiatus. Some go online and play. Some study, practice, learn new material, catch up on their gear maintenance. Some learn new instruments. And some take home vacations and remodel their bathrooms or spend more time with their kids.

playing it safeHow we musicians deal with the COVID-19’s affect on our music and our industry, it also defines the path that leads to our live performance future. As a deeply interested participator, perpetuator and practitioner of live music, I asked musicians and music professionals of all types about what they are doing during this unique time. Below are a selection of the numerous responses I received from musicians around the US and across the globe:

I have concluded that while my finances are going to take a beating and my ‘best year ever’ is shot, I am really, really happy. I am working out, fixing gear, learning songs that interest me. Listening to music for fun for the first time in maybe a decade. I am consciously practicing, working on specific concepts and weak spots in my playing. I am getting back to finding my own sound as opposed to being the gun-for-hire chameleon.

I’m getting back in touch with the love of music as opposed to the business of music. I might have even caught a glimpse of my soul once or twice. A quarantine is what you make of it. This downtime is a great opportunity for serious musicians. When we finally hit the streets again, I will be playing better than ever. I will be refreshed, my gear will be fixed.

Sean Fried
Professional Guitarist
Syracuse, NY

Initially, I was upset to have to cancel two months of gigs. But then I did my first livestreaming concert and realized that there is a huge need for connection, and thus, a huge role for musicians and artists. I received a flood of appreciative notes from people saying that music is bringing them a sense of peace. The break gives me an opportunity to make up for lost time. I can appreciate the chance to connect with my kids and live in the house I am lucky enough to have. Also, I am using this time to work on new music, so hopefully I will come out of this with a new record.

Chris Trapper
Professional Songwriter, Musician
Buffalo, NY

I am staying positive and working on all of the things I can control. I have been practicing, transcribing and listening to LOTS of music. I also teach online lessons and do career consultations via the MEETHOOK app and the Zoom platform. I even did a speech and Q+A for the student body of Musicians Institute via ZOOM.

I’m also using the time to update all of my assets and materials to promote all of my businesses. Acting is a creative pursuit that brings me tons of joy, so I have been taking online lessons with the renowned acting coach Lesly Kahn. I go for a walk with my girlfriend everyday and then turn right around and get in an intense run for myself.

When the smoke clears, I hope to be just as focused, strong and positive as I ever was. I miss my band and friends and look forward to hugging lots of people and playing lots of music.
Stay positive, keep a schedule, focus on what you can control and we will be better than ever.

Rich Redmond
Drummer, Jason Aldean Band
Los Angeles, CA

Initially, the shock of the situation was debilitating. Everything I had going on was instantly not happening and I had just started what was to be a three week tour. I got home on Saturday, March 21 and sat around for a day. On Monday, I decided that sitting around was unhealthy for me mentally and physically; and started doing what has become a daily habit. Every morning I get up and rehearse and record a daily song video. I call these “Quarantine Diaries,” and I love feeling the connection with my friends, family and fans throughout the day as they watch and comment. I’m also developing a mass collaboration video among my peers in the jazz vocal and classic pop genre, as well as attending to things I’ve been meaning to do—for years, in some cases. All in all, this situation has been a reminder not to take anything for granted . It makes me refocus on what’s most important. I do look forward to the art that will be created during this time as all these creative souls are forced into solitude.

Tony DeSare
Atlanta, GA

I’m a singer/songwriter. I’ve been playing professionally for over 40 years. In my ‘day job’ retirement, I play a few gigs solo or as a duo and consistently at open mics. This compromises a very large portion of my social life as well. While the isolation of this situation is alleviated greatly by digital socializing, the energy flowing between performer and audience is impossible to recreate through the internet. I feed my musical need by basically doing a three-song open mic style live broadcast daily, called “3@3:33”. But, I’m eager to return to my friends and fans in the venues.

Bryan Dickenson
Syracuse, NY

I played in three bands before this virus caused everything to be cancelled. I’ve chosen to use my time to woodshed on my own playing, which has been refreshing since I’m always busy with the bands. I’m working on my personal ideas as well as song ideas. Rehearsing for a show is tough enough when you can all be in the same room. I am also involved in a studio project where we’re going to try swapping DAW’s on an iterative basis—at an appropriate ‘social distance’—and see how that goes. I’ve always been better at ‘guitar solos’ than I have been at ‘solo guitar,’ but all of what I’m doing throughout this craziness is making be better at both.

Charlie Loach
San Diego, CA

I haven’t sung since Friday, March 13. During this Coronavirus quarantine, I’ve been cooking a lot, taking walks, riding my bike, and Skyping quite a bit. Oh, and of course! My house is the cleanest it has ever been. Daryl and I cleaned a window the other day and he said, ‘holy crap—there’s a house next door.’

Anna Lopez-White
Oswego, NY

In the face of this pandemic, I believe music plays a leadership role to help those who are homebound, as well as those brave souls working out in the world to provide essential services for us all. People turn to music for comfort, distraction, motivation, and even as a window to predict how this scary and anxiety-producing scenario might play out for them and the world. I am listening to lots of music, while limiting how much “hard news” I watch, to keep my spirits up, and not get sucked into an emotional hole. I simply won’t let that happen.

Empowered by music, I am creating performance videos from my studio, several times a week. I am creating new playlists to engage and reassure people that staying at home is the BEST place to be during this crisis.

During this time, I am deeply connected to my friends who are musicians and artists—regularly having wonderful conversations during what people call “downtime.” I ask, “why are you looking at this circumstance as ‘down’ time? This is GO time.” This is the time to be inventive, creative and open to all kinds of collaborative opportunities. Never in our lifetimes will we have every great musician in the world sitting at home waiting for a recording session or writing opportunity. As for me, I have partnered with a new friend and we will be starting a “progressive rock band” made up of great musicians from all over the country. This never would have been possible without the pandemic. I have even changed the approach and messages of my music videos, so the music is always about helping to create the cure for a world so in need of a vaccine.

Michael Whalen
Emmy Award Winning Composer and Music Supervisor, Recording Artist and Author
Bronx, NY

Today I worked on 7th position scales, and then I played through some music that I hope to play to entertain seniors once this quarantine is finished.

Joanne Fekete
Bethlehem, PA

I am teaching 12 online piano lessons. I’m thankful for the internet!

Lisa Sargent
Des Moines, IA

In normal life, I play over 200 solo shows per year in small venues like regional wineries, breweries, restaurants, bars, clubs, and private events. I played as a side man in popular regional bands for about 20 of those years. They have also been some of the very happiest years of my life until the advent of COVID-19. However, they have also positioned me uniquely to be able to face these times head on, and from the very start of quarantine.

From March 16, 2020, I immediately started streaming live shows from home. From the moment I knew this might be a possibility, I started hatching my plan for how I wanted to execute the show. Now, my home studio is set up like a mini TV station/soundstage. I perform eight sets per week, at least two hours long, usually with no break. I stream live from my personal Facebook page with virtual tip jars open, both Venmo and PayPal. However, I stress every single time that this is my gift to all who are homebound. Essentially, they are virtual house parties.

I ask listeners to connect my stream to a Bluetooth speaker or any audio system in order to augment that of their devices and get the fullest sound experience, and the closest to an actual live performance possible. The most astounding thing has been the messages of support, both for me and each other, the messages of thanks and encouragement. It’s been overwhelmingly powerful and love filled.

Mark Nanni
Professional Musician
Syracuse, NY

It’s not happening in Southwestern Indiana. I was playing with different groups seven days a week, including the community band my wife and I founded 20 years ago. Everything is closed until further notice. Many community groups are tied to schools and universities. Those venues are all closed.

Dan Schultz
Newburgh, IN

During this COVID-19 pandemic, I play/practice outdoors in both my front and back yards. The music spreads wide. The acoustics are fantastic. The stories and appreciation I receive are wonderful. I even heard a tricycle-riding boy yell, ‘Mom! I hear a flute!’ The mom replied: ‘Yes you did! There she is up there!’ as she pointed at me. Fun… It’s nice to know that some young kids still are being taught about musical instruments at young ages.

Marie Buckner
Silverdale, WA

Ever since the COVID-19 arrived in South Africa the country was placed in lockdown within a couple of days. I busk at a mall on Saturdays and obviously now I cannot play. I just keep my fingers exercised but do not play a lot. Will have to ride out the storm.

Johan Kuhler
South Africa

Of course, all of my engagements for most of March through June have been cancelled, and it looks like July might follow suit. I had various concerts: solo recitals, orchestral engagements, judging competitions, masterclasses. I also created and run a 501(c)3, Beechwood Arts and Innovation, which was forced to cancel or postpone a number of events.

As a teacher, I have had to migrate my teaching to a completely online format, which has been both a challenge and an opportunity. It has also been an opportunity to explore the possibilities of what can happen online. Amazing creativity is coming out of this. The exponentially increased ease of access to the arts through technology does not replace the need for simple social gathering or live performance.

Frederic Chiu
Classical Pianist

It’s been cool checking out all the virtual concerts happening online right now, but I don’t think it will replace the live experience. In an intimate venue like ours, a big part of the appeal is being up close and personal with the artists and hanging with like-minded music fans. Connecting singer-songwriters with appreciative music lovers is what we’re all about, and I don’t think that will go away—though it will likely take some time to get back up to full speed.

Julie Briggs
Owner Proprietor
443 Social Club & Lounge

I turned to my husband and said. I think I’d like to go ‘live’ tonight.

From a music room upstairs in my Nashville, TN, home, with my husband acting as a camera man, and my seven-year-old daughter, my audience of one, we’ve been putting on a nightly show using my Facebook Live personal page. The show isn’t as much of a concert as it is a ‘talk show.’ I talk about our day, share important info we’ve learned that might be helpful to the community, and highlight needs I’ve read about. We try to also feature a nonprofit and share stories of hope, while giving shout-outs to local (and not so local) businesses, people who need prayers, and others who need some virtual love. I have a friend call-in (FaceTime) from somewhere in the world. Using a laptop as a monitor, I interview my guests. The musicians will sing songs, while other guests speak on important issues. We’re on Episode 12, and now that we know this may go on at least another month, I’m filling up nights with amazing folks. We’re keeping our hearts on local heroes and nonprofits, while interviewing TV personalities, Broadway stars, country music favorites, journalists, poets, and more; and even one night that’s just for kids!

Randi Driscoll
singer-songwriter, pianist
Nashville, TN

I am lead in a local music school’s adult rock band program. To keep our momentum going with learning new songs and playing ‘together,’ we decided to learn how to use a digital audio workstation (DAW) and collaborate remotely (using Skype for our weekly meetings) by putting together a studio version of a song, complete with all the tracks (more than four people could do live) to make it sound like a full cover.

Jim Buck
San Diego, CA

By day, I am a middle school math teacher. At night I put on my musician hat. On Tuesday nights I would have orchestra rehearsal playing clarinet at First Baptist Church of Ocala, Florida. On Thursday nights I would have rehearsal with the Lake Concert Band in Leesburg, Florida playing bass clarinet.

I have been in three other community bands since 1983. Right now I am so beside myself. I feel like I have lost a part of my life. Music is an essential part of my life, and making music with others has always been a joy for me and as well as a stress relief.

Making music now has become a solo. Yes, this social distancing will either make me a better musician or break me and send my days of playing to the grave. I am remaining hopeful, and while going solo, I hope to improve. And when I return to orchestra and band, I will find out that being an isolated musician has made me a better musician.

Stephanie Haw
Ocala, FL

I am a piano instructor and vocal coach based on Cape Cod. We moved here 3 years ago and love it. However, last fall my husband’s company placed him in Rhode Island. Seeking more opportunities in the arts, I found work there myself. But once the virus hit, schools and “non-essential” businesses were suddenly shut down. I returned home to the Cape

The RI music school where I had begun teaching,was offering training in remote lessons through Zoom. The technology does not come easily to me. As a piano accompanist, I am used to pounding out the show tunes for community and school musical theatre—and feeling the life and rhythm of singers and musicians around me. But now I am alone, setting up a keyboard in our kitchen “studio.” For local students lessons, I also use Skype or FaceTime.

Our son is a professional guitarist and instructor who patiently gives me Zoom tips. He and his wife live in NYC, one of the hardest hit areas by the pandemic, and both are working remotely out of their apartment.To help out, I now Skype mini music lessons with the grandchildren to entertain them while they are shut indoors. We sing nursery rhymes and silly poems, use finger puppets and make rhythmic songs. Even the one -year- old plays (baby-safe) maracas.

And If there is a positive side to the remote teaching, it’s that you might see things as a teacher that were not so obvious before. For example, a student who has a serious reading problem may display it in lyric interpretation, or even while trying to read notes on a staff. In another student you might see a challenge with focusing. These will be highlighted and brought to your attention. You might also see how the student’s home life either supports them in music learning, or holds them back.

Since I am accustomed to working so closely with private students and their families, and typically am familiar with their schools, I’m realizing how I can help, for instance: being a reading advocate—and still, remembering how very important their private music lessons continue to be. The students often count on their private lesson teacher to talk to about goals, audition fears, bullying, and so much more. Flexibility and adaptation as a teacher are key. We are healers.

Pamela A. Quirinale
Piano Teecher
Cape Cod, MA

Chuck Schiele is an award-winning musician, producer, editorialist, artist, activist and music fan. He still plays every day.

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I, like most Central New York musicians had to cancel a number of shows scheduled this late winter/early spring. I have spent this down time educating myself on building what at least I consider a prosumer audiovisual studio. It has been a steep learning curve and would not have otherwise had the time to learn all I have. I’ve mostly enjoyed seeing my wife, kids and I at the dinner table. Silver lining!

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