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Go With the Change…

Musician’s Inspiring Stories from Covid-19 [Part 1]

It transpires that this pandemic is brutal and relentless, especially if you’re in any way associated with the music industry. There are very few of us experiencing the Covid-drama without huge detrimental consequences. There are some, who on the surface appear to be doing very well… but a very tiny minority. These times are HARD. However, I believe there is always hope and there is always gold to be found.

As musicians, our best answers to problems are always creative solutions. We are creative by nature and, when faced with difficult situations, musicians generally survive best when turning to their art. This seems contrary advice when our sector has almost entirely been switched off, the key to survival seems to be asking for handouts or applying for grants (something we are rarely skilled in).

This collection of personal stories aims to uncover some of this gold; to re-ignite creativity and whet our appetite for musical adventure; trigger new opportunities and bring to full colour the whole spectrum of our art.

To those who have shared their personal stories, for our benefit, we are so grateful.

This collection of personal stories aims to restore this hope.

Important side note #1: Musicians tend to be crippled by jealousy when we sense success that we wish had been ours. For these stories to encourage us as they’re intended to do, we’ve got to lose this crippling insecurity and congratulate the generosity of the story tellers – and let it trigger fresh ideas in our heads.  

Important side note #2: This article is intentionally rose-tinted. Each interviewee was asked only to talk about positives during the pandemic. For this purpose I’ve omitted any negatives that slipped through. Just know that they really exist – and you are not alone in experiencing the challenges of this season.

Rachel Lynes   |   Founder of The Sing Space

Rachel Lynes

© Rachel Lynes

The Sing Space community has grown from 300 to 11,000 due to the free content we offered. It’s been a mind blowing journey. It started with a pledge to run a free vocal work out at 10.30 daily for my existing students. I kept them up for five months, also offering seminars and guest coaches once a week. I couldn’t sustain the free classes financially or mentally in the end and moved to a £5 per week membership. We’ve also been running open mics which have been lovely.

The Sing Space community has grown from 300 to 11,000

Also it’s been incredible to be able to offer our content without location limits. Previously we were 99% based in the square mile around Wimbledon – now we have members of our community in almost every country.

Plus, we’ve been able to connect with coaches and industry professionals across the world. We had a Tony award winning broadway composer dialling in for a Zoom class last month.

During the time when so many in the industry have lost work, our £5 membership enables us to provide employment to musicians, performers and other industry professionals.

our £5 membership enables us to provide employment to musicians, performers and other industry professionals

It was only writing it down here that I saw what a journey it’s been. It’s been all the feelings and I’m very grateful we’ve survived it so far”

Luke Faulkner   |   Pianist & Composer

Luke Faulkner Pianist

© Luke Faulkner

“I’ve found sheet music sales of my compositions have doubled since lockdown began, presumably as a result of people having more time to enjoy their hobbies (I write piano music). Additionally, streams of my music went up by 40% during lockdown (though a decrease in CPM resulted in a level net income). Ultimately more people were listening though, which is always a good thing!

The rise in sheet music sales gave me the nudge I needed to polish up the rest of my scores for publication (another 20 for the catalogue). I’m now thinking of making compilation editions since there has been some call for that rather than selling everything individually.

Lockdown seems to have led to more people playing and listening to music. It’s encouraging to see that, given more free time, a good number of people choose to spend it playing piano music!”

Lockdown seems to have led to more people playing and listening to music. It’s encouraging to see that, given more free time, a good number of people choose to spend it playing piano music!

Matthew Griffin   |   Music Marketing

Matt Griffin portrait

Matt Griffin – Photo © Andy Paradise

“I was working at the Royal Albert Hall at the start of the pandemic, and we quickly launched an online gigs series to support artists and keep the RAH going online.

I made the big decision to leave the Hall after ten years to join Help Musicians, where I started last month.

Help Musicians’ speedy pivot to get hardship funds out to musicians most affected by the sudden loss of work was incredible and I’m so inspired to be joining a team who have been working relentlessly to get as much support as possible to musicians during this time.

I absolutely love working in the world of music – being part of an ecosystem that supports humanity’s greatest collective passion. It’s a strange world of emotions, immovable deadlines and huge personalities, and many of us who work in it will be familiar with the mental pressures that come with this. The collective step-back that Covid has provoked has been refreshing for my mental health.

being part of an ecosystem that supports humanity’s greatest collective passion.

Seeing so many incredibly talented people struggle this year has been heartbreaking, but we will all rise again after this. The talent, dedication and personal investment from everyone from the artist to the box office staff can be a demonstration of humanity at its collective best. It’s in everyone in our industry’s nature to ensure the show goes on and, in time, it will. And how good will that be.”

The collective step-back that Covid has provoked has been refreshing for my mental health.

Ed Babar   |   Bassist

Ed is a London-based prolific session player and founder of the Charles Mingus inspired Blues and Roots ensemble.

“Spending time online has been hugely beneficial. There’s been such a wide promotion of concerts, live streamed gigs… especially from venues that were previously inaccessible, for example on the New York small venue jazz scene. This has been hugely inspiring for me and my playing.

I’ve had time to meet people, of course, it’s mainly been on Zoom, but everyone being free at the same time really has its benefits. It’s given me the time to put my project together as a fully registered charity too, which I kept not having time for.

There’s been plenty more practise time… and a greater appreciation for the gigs I have got… and any snippets of creative work is now wholeheartedly more appreciated.”

a greater appreciation for the gigs I have got … and any snippets of creative work is now wholeheartedly more appreciated

John Kelly   |   Musician

John Kelly

John Kelly Photo: © Benjamin Mole

One of the most influential and creative musicians on the UK accessibility in music scene – John Kelly – a truly inspiring, positive and optimistic human.

“I am blessed to have supporters who have stuck by me when my calendar emptied at the beginning of lockdown. The disability movement is very vibrant, and collectively began early on asking the question: “How are we going to respond [to the pandemic]?” Initially it was all focused on reaching out; checking that everyone was ok; making sure the audience was connected with, and no one left alone. It was all about the human need to make contact.

I had only ever dabbled in online video before lockdown, hosting Facebook live tours of hotel rooms – for fun – was as far as it went. I’d never played any of my music live on Facebook.

It was all about the human need to make contact.

Just as I started the journey [into online broadcast], my Logic software completely crashed.  When software fails, this presents a great opportunity to learn a lot more about it!

My house is set up to be accessible to me. We are going to be doing a lot more work from home even as we open up, so, our environment for creativity is vitally important.

I’ve spent my time: editing for podcasts and video; presenting keynote talks about disability and accessibility and music online – though actually more about accessibility online – how to ensure online content is truly accessible.

We held a campfire sing song, having fun, enjoying music and sharing stories, with some ‘latency friendly’ call and response songs. In this fun context it mattered less that the sound wasn’t perfect; the structure messy; we couldn’t always hear everyone; there were loads of mistakes; but over time, we learnt more about online soundchecks – discovering the necessity of leaving around two hours for a proper set up and soundcheck.

Don’t just treat [doing a gig from home] like you would treat a gig in a pub or a festival. Shape it for the medium that it is… essentially a small box! Think about the sound. It has to sounds good. Views were only around 10% of the peak viewing levels on the weeks we had bad sound.

We revived an old gig called “Bunk Off Friday” – which maintained a loyal following each week. We’ve created badges as a thank you for [the fan’s] loyal support. Engaging online is essential…as is remembering names and recognising faces; making new connections, sharing and responding.

I started writing a lot more. “Reasons to be Cheerful” went online which got me some national press. I got involved with an online campaign: “We shall not be removed” – again, all about engaging and maintaining the voice of accessibility in arts. We trended on social media, increasing the coverage of the rich tapestry of work by the disability art movement.

I’ve presented keynote speeches; online festivals; used to good effect the ‘premiering on youtube’ feature; hosted watchparties… basically, I’ve engaged with people. This is a new medium, we must embrace it and own it.

I spent 4 weeks making grant applications. I was lucky enough to get an arts council grant which kept me going for a couple of months.

This is a new medium, we must embrace it and own it.

My message is GO WITH THE CHANGE. DON’T WAIT FOR YESTERDAY TO COME BACK. Because it’s probably going to be really different. Embrace what you can do, and celebrate what you can do, and make it real and make it yours.

I’m going busking… online, across all the different platforms, and I’ve set up a paypal.me tips pot. We’ve just got to keep trying, and developing, and embracing what’s around us. Musicians have got a role. We’ve got to make other responses.”

GO WITH THE CHANGE. DON’T WAIT FOR YESTERDAY TO COME BACK.

These have inspired so many other stories

Did I wrongly presume you had been overloaded with support?!  Here’s UK Music’s up to date support database as a start.

This article is written by John Merriman, director of Crown Lane Productions, a South London music studio complex, with adjoining Coffee and Events Space, Metronome. He is chair of Merton Chamber of Commerce.

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